Overconfidence is regarded as a bad trait to possess. It is something which leads to the downfall of even the most iconic and powerful individuals. One heretic who has completely defied this dictum is Muhammad Ali. He famously proclaimed himself to be ‘The Greatest’ and rightly justified his proclamation throughout his life.
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. Growing up in an America where racial prejudice and discrimination was quite prevalent, Ali had a tough childhood. Ali’s tryst with boxing was a fortuitous event. At the age of 12, his bike was stolen, and he told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief. Martin told him that he better learn to fight before he goes on challenging people. The police officer Martin was also a boxing coach who trained young boxers at a local gym. Ali started working with Martin and soon began his boxing career.
Ali shot to fame by winning light-heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics. In an impeccable career spanning twenty-one years, Ali won 56 of his 61 fights. He was known for his flashing hand speed, an unusual characteristic for a heavyweight boxer. He stayed on his toes, literally, during a bout, sometimes quickly moving his feet forward and backwards while his upper body stayed in place. A famous quote by Ali, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” very well brings out his aggressive yet subtle style of boxing. He was in a league of his own, his brashness bashed opponents even before he entered the ring. He taunted them, provoked them, challenged them, thrashed them and then proclaimed his greatness.
The philosophy behind his life bore striking similarities to his style of fighting. He was a controversial figure in America. As a young heavyweight champion, he converted to Islam, spoke publicly against racism in the United States and refused to serve in the Vietnam War, thus becoming an inspiring symbol of strength, eloquence and courage. He was a showman whose ideals transcended sports, borders, race and religion. His fights in the ring were spectacles, but he embodied and fought much greater battles.
After retirement, Ali was diagnosed with the Parkinson’s disease. Ali’s motor skills and his ability to speak coherently were affected drastically, but his indomitable spirit couldn’t keep him out of the public spotlight. Even when his health was on a decline, Ali immersed himself in the service of humanity. He travelled the world, met with the head of states, made appearances, raised money and pushed philanthropic causes. This speaks volumes about his magnanimous nature. He was a ferocious fighter in the ring, but outside of it, he was a humanitarian soul who stood and fought for the oppressed and underprivileged.
Ali represents a way of living. He taught the world to work hard, stand for what one believes in and live a life full of self-belief. I have been a huge admirer of his attitude and his ideals have uplifted me in times of despair. For a person whose life is defined by a string of inspiring quotes, it seems fair to end this tribute by quoting the man himself. Following is how he wants the world to remember him:
“I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him…who stood up for his beliefs…who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love.
“And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”
This post was first published on Quora.