ON this day Muhammad Ali would have been 75 years old. The great man died last year and was mourned across the world.
Thomas Hauser, the author of the authorised biography and most recently ‘Muhammad Ali: A Tribute to the Greatest’, spoke to Boxing News about the meaning Muhammad Ali. “Young people today know that Ali stood up for his principles but by and large they have no idea what those principles were. And a lot of that was learned in the tributes to Ali [after his death]. They know that Ali refused induction into the United States army. They know that he was an exemplar of Black pride, both of which are true and both of which involve courage on his part. But they don’t understand for the most significant years of his life, from the early 1960s to the 1970s, Ali adhered to Nation of Islam doctrine, which is very different from orthodox Islam,” Hauser said.
“He moved from that to a different plane, just as Malcolm X did. But in order to really give full tribute to Ali and understand how remarkable he was. People have to understand the journey that he travelled. Not just that he was witty and charming and charismatic and had a big mouth. But the way his own thinking evolved. So he moved from preaching what many people saw as a doctrine of hate to being the embodiment of good will and love, which is really what he was in the latter decades of his life.”
Hauser also discussed how Ali should be remembered. “He’s a very complex individual,” Hauser said. “I’ve been asked a lot what I thought Ali’s legacy would be and I pointed to four things. One, he was arguably the greatest fighter of all time… Trust me that was important to Muhammad and Muhammad would have very much wanted that to be part of his legacy.
“Two, he was a beacon of hope for oppressed people all over the world. Every time he looked in the mirror and said I’m so pretty, he was really saying, before it became fashionable, is black is beautiful.
“Three, when he refused induction into the United States army, he stood up to armies everywhere in support of the proposition that unless you have a very good reason for killing people war is wrong. Obviously the people of the world haven’t learned that yet.
“Finally the reason we had this extraordinary outpouring of emotion when Ali died is over the years, he became a symbol of good will and love… When that became very, very obvious was at the 1996 Olympics when he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta.”
“What you have in Ali’s case some very powerful economic forces have tried to file away the rough edges, sanitise Ali for commercial reasons and you don’t have to do that. If you tell the whole story then people can make their own judgements and understand how great Ali really was,” he concluded. “I can’t think of any outpouring of emotion like the outpouring that occurred when Muhammad died.
“With Ali people really felt a personal loss, people who had never met him felt a personal loss.”