Muhammed Ali embodied the contradictions of the human condition in the most public way possible. He admitted that he was a greatest, but not the smartest (but other observers of boxing would disagree). He was engaged in the most brutal sport, but refused to go to war. Ali was a black man who stood for and with African Americans and also communicated across national and cultural boundaries. He possessed a kind of humility that formed an unlikely complement to his swagger and taunts.
Even the most iconic image of Ali, Neil Leifer’s photo of Ali standing above Sonny Liston during their rematch in Lewiston, Maine remains clouded with contradiction as many still consider that fight fixed.
If you haven’t had an opportunity, now would be a great time to check out some of Ali’s greatest fights.
Clay – Liston I (1964)
Ali – Liston II (1965)
Ali – Williams (1966)
Ali – Terrell (1967)
Ali – Frazier I (The Fight of the Century, 1971)
Ali – Foreman (The Rumble in the Jungle, 1974)
Ali – Frazier III (The Thilla in Manilla, 1975)
More appropriately, though, read President Barak and Michelle Obama’s statement on Ali here. And, do read Elizabeth Alexander’s poem “Narrative: Ali” which captures the man in his brilliant contradictions.
Finally, it might be appropriate to listen to Miles Davis’s “Ali” which he recorded during the Jack Johnson sessions in in 1970. It was released in 2003:
Bill Caraher is the assistant to the directors on the Western Argolid Regional Project and an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of North Dakota.