Can anyone truly be compared to 'The Greatest'?
The fast talk, the dancing, the political conviction, even down to the Ali shuffle and fist shakes before they fire. The truth is, no one can truly compare to Muhammad Ali but, should they have to? Could they not dare to aspire to be even more? Quite a shoe to fill, but then, at least we have the shoes.
Like yesterday, as today and come tomorrow there will be issues close to our hearts. If a title or a badge gives a person an opportunity, if they wish to be heard, then good. However you cannot fear what others may think. In todays over saturated media, above all you must be LOUD, at least with substance if not volume. The latter works both in and out of the ring.
For Ali, in the end it was not just his own race who admired him, it was everyman and that, that right there, is quite a feat. It is a true acclamation that boxers today, 35 years after Ali's retirement and now sadly his passing, are still as influenced now as they were then. It is but a natural continuation that some (if they can) cannot but help emulate him.
In boxing, for Ali it was Sugar Ray Robinson who inspired and impressed him. Sugar Ray's footwork was impeccable, he was a man who could fight in a variety of styles, whose speed was immeasurable and for his soul, it was Islam.
Like his trainer said, "He did it all wrong but it all came out right." Angelo Dundee understood Ali, he knew he could get away with his arms down low, leaning back the way he did because of his speed and reflexes. Angelo allowed his man to be himself in and out of the ring, he made him feel as though he thought of everything, feeding him confidence and the combination was magic. There is a lot to be said for a great man in your corner.
It is much the same with music, one hears a composition that sends shivers right down the spinal chord and thus must go forth and play the piano with the zest of Tchaikovsky, with the exuberance of Mozart, with the hypnotic rhythms of James Brown. Life is, as it should be, full of inspiration.
Ali's personality was, as many believed to be an exact mix of his father Cassius's hard headed, talkative and brashly confident manner with his mother Odessa's warm, big hearted and understanding demeanour. With such an amalgamation we have a man who, quite uncharacteristically at a time of civil unjust aspired to go above and beyond his dreams when so many young African Americans felt that their biggest ambition to date, was to be a teacher, if they were the fortunate ones.
In fact, with this dynamite concoction it enabled him to talk to anyone and still make a point without forcing a fight (unless of course it was for a fight, in which case good luck!) As a boxer Ali always maintained he never wanted to hurt a man so badly it would destroy them. He always recognised the human frailty and danger of the sport and did not believe in hitting a man on their decent because, they were sons, fathers, brothers and health was paramount.
Despite all his accomplishments Muhammad Ali was forced to question why he was a Olympic gold medalist but could not use the restroom or eat in a restaurant. He questioned why he was the World Heavyweight champion but lacked civil rights as did his race, much like the musician and close confidant of his, Sam Cooke.
It was after hearing the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and befriending Malcom X during a terrible time in African American history that it opened his already wide eyes. These meetings he attended resonated so deeply in the young Ali who always questioned everything, who sought empowerment despite his significant sporting stature.
His religious beliefs overtime became rooted in the softer ways of the Isalmic faith of Sunni whom, had a more open view on the Muslim faith which appealed to him. This delighted Ali because his white friends, which included his corner men could then, if they wished, become Muslim and it was no longer restricted to people of colour. Ali loved this because he unconditionally loved people.
As a black man surrounded by such civil misconduct, he felt so strongly about all that was wrong that he spoke up for the people who could not. Not only speaking but making his fellow people understand and believe that they are somebody and furthermore, to be proud.
He used his position to be noticed and his words counted.
Although often asked, he did not want an official position of power because he felt with the American flag flying over his head outside of his office would only hinder the cause. That in such surroundings it would cause distinct limitations despite having a 'platform' he would lose his freedom of speech. Instead he spoke where and when he could and to all who would listen.
He took stands and risks and refused to do what others expected of him. One being his stance on the Vietnam war. The refusal to fight in the war certainly was a huge spotlight on him and catalyst for many.
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?..."
With his refusal he faced imprisonment, was stripped of his title and had arduous legal battles. After three years of being denied the right to box he finally returned and fought in the most talked about fights in history. Not to mention becoming a three time World Heavyweight Champion. He possessed the ability to touch all nationalities and they fell in love with him, albeit slowly. Those who did not, had to at the very least admire him for all his other achievements. If he never spoke a word outside of boxing, he would still be remembered.
Ali's resumé without question is impressive and will inspire young fighters and frighten others. The bar may be high but You can speak freely, you don't need to be a duplicate, instead endeavour to be the best of your ability. Stay true to your beliefs and voice them where it matters.
I get it, I am very aware when photographing and writing about boxers today whom I am fortunate enough to see. YOU are our very own future pugilists and I, as well as others will play our part in immortalising you.