The first time Ali fought Sonny Liston I was just a boy. Dad, reluctant to miss his favorite boxer (Sonny) tuned in the old black and white and we kicked back to watch the show. Boo’s and jaunts greeted Ali at his introduction, and dad shook his head grumbling that the young challenger was all mouth and did not stand a chance. The conclusion to the fight left dad disappointed.
Ali kept on winning and attracting new fans. However, many Americans were disenchanted by the brash outbursts of the charismatic boxer. They were more used to the quiet muted voices of the past. They failed to notice the country was changing, that it called out for new direction. For Ali it was changing to, and that meant it would not be long until he would be in the ring facing the most devastating opponent of his career, the attitude of a nation…
Reeling from the Civil Rights Movement, and engaged in the Vietnam War, America was splitting at the seams. Divided by two separate cultures, the younger generation sought change. The Old Guard, shaken and afraid of losing their power over the country, was struggling to maintain control. Ali, unaware of the monumental battle that was about to erupt, would soon become an instrument to provide the impetus for their sought after continued domination.
A man of faith, Mohammad Ali objected to war and violence. As politicians and the wealthy applied for and received deferments to keep their children out of the war, common America received the orders to fight the battle in Vietnam. Defiant, Ali said no to a war he did not believe in and “The Establishment” seeing their opportunity, moved in.
On April 29 1967, the WBA took the world heavyweight boxing title from Ali, The media excited by the news bashed Ali as what they termed “un-American”. The pundits said Ali would never fight again. His days in the ring were finished. A few short months later on June 20 1967, Mohammad Ali was sentenced to five years in prison for draft evasion. America brainwashed by the commentators, cheered, and turned against the disgraced world champion.
At this point, other men would have thrown in the towel declaring defeat but that was not Mohammad’s way. Ali kept jabbing and punching, persistent, determined to win the battle. Little by little, perception of the reality of Mohammad’s truths gained support from the heart of America. It took three and a half years of dogged determination for the battle to reach its conclusion. In the end, Ali stood in the center of the ring, arms raised, and his feet shuffling the victory dance. As for the court battle aimed at five years of confinement, it never happened. Ali had fought for his ideals and had beaten the bias of the courts, and the prejudices of an entire nation.
In 1996, the world watched in adoration as Mohammad Ali deliberately mounted the steps to light the torch at the World Olympic Games. His face holding the wonder of an innocent child, he raised the torch and lit the flame as the world cheered. Ali had won it all.