The Fighter: Message from the Morning Man
by Kojo Yankson
6th June 2016
It’s been a sad weekend. The greatest boxer of all time, passed away on Friday evening, and the whole world is feeling the pain of tragic loss. It’s quite remarkable, if you think of it. Ali hasn’t thrown a punch since December 1981, yet, not only the boxing world, but the human race, feels the loss. That’s what I want to talk about this morning, for the first in a series of messages exploring the inspirational life of the World’s Greatest.
Muhammad Ali took every opportunity throughout his life to remind us all that he was the greatest. And the thing is, he wasn’t bragging. It was true. The debate rages on as to whether he was the greatest boxer in history. On one hand, he lost some key fights, never really beat Joe Frazier convincingly, and should have quit while he was ahead, but on the other hand, he won the heavyweight title three times, and nobody else has done that before or since. Either way, one thing nobody disputes is the fact that he was the greatest man to ever wear boxing gloves.
George Foreman described him as, ” one of the greatest human beings I have ever met. No doubt he was one of the best people to have lived in this day and age.”
Now this is someone who first-hand experience of Ali’s boxing prowess, but notice how Foreman’s reverence for his one-time opponent has little to do with his life in the ring. Foreman’s respect is for the kind of man Ali was.
Long before he ever set foot in a boxing ring, Ali was a fighter. He was a man who fought tooth and nail to defend whatever he believed in. After winning the world heavyweight title for the first time, he converted to Islam, and changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. He insisted that everyone use his new name, and not his old “slave” name. Some people chose to disrespect his faith. One such person was a promising young boxer called Ernie Terrell. In the run-up to his fight with Ali, Terrell taunted the Champ by calling him Clay, and refusing to recognise his opponent’s newfound faith. Ali spent 15 rounds making the bigger, stronger Terrell regret ever disrespecting him. In-between hefty punches, Ali kept asking Terrell, “What’s my name”. I’m sure the poor guy would have given anything for just a moment’s breath to respond, “Sir, please, your name is Muhammad Ali”.
Every opportunity Ali had, he stood up for what he believed in. In the sixties, the USA was at war with Vietnam. It was an ugly, unpopular war, and the Americans were losing it. Badly. Back then, the law permitted the US government to conscript any able-bodied person into the army. Ali was conscripted, but he refused to go. He didn’t understand why he should leave his ongoing fight for civil rights at home to travel abroad and fight some foreign enemy with whom he had no quarrel. He spoke openly about his choice to be a conscientious objector. He stood up not only for his own beliefs, but for those of his fellow black men who were being sent to Vietnam by the thousands to fight for a country that didn’t think they had a right to use the same washrooms as white people.
Ali was a pillar of hope for the civil rights movement. He stood with Martin Luther King, with Malcolm X, and many other civil rights activists in a time when defiance was dangerous. His contemporaries were assassinated. That didn’t shut him up. In one interview, he said. ” I’m not fighting one man. I’m fighting a lot of men, showing a lot of ’em, here is one man they couldn’t defeat, couldn’t conquer.”
That was Ali. Single-minded in his defence of what is right, unwavering in his protection of the weak. A fighter.
Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative disease that has cut short the lives of a great many people. Ali lived with it for thirty-two years. Complication after complication failed to cut his life short, until last Friday when he finally took his place among the stars above. Even Parkinson’s found it difficult to defeat the Champ – a fighter to the very end.
So my friends, what’s my point? Muhammad Ali didn’t become great in the ring. he brought greatness to it. God has given us all talents and opportunities to make our mark here on Earth. The size of the mark you make depends not on how you use your talent for your own glory, but on how you use it to help others. Ali could have simply won the world title three times in a row and just made a name for himself as a great boxer, but he took his talent and used it to fight for others. Today, I want us to ask ourselves: who is benefitting from our gifts besides ourselves?
My name is Kojo Yankson, and I love my job because it lets me work for YOU.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!