Sunday, June 5, 2016

Goodbye Muhammad Ali, Goodbye Albert Chua

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali (right) has died at the age of 74.

He died late on Friday at a hospital in the US city of Phoenix, Arizona, having been admitted on Thursday. He had been suffering from a respiratory illness, a condition that was complicated by Parkinson's disease.

Muhammad Ali was, at his peak, arguably the most famous man on the planet. His prodigious boxing talent was matched only by a towering self-belief.

"I am the greatest," he had proclaimed and who could doubt a man who won the World Heavyweight Championship three times.

I can recall his extraordinary manner in the ring which involved dancing around his opponents. He taunted them, delighting crowds with his showboating, shuffling feet and lightning reflexes. He was certainly quick with his fists.

But Ali was much more than that.

He was a great showman whose off-the-cuff quips and improvised poetry won him many admirers.  

I also recalled his most famous quote that he made just before he was about to take on world heavyweight champ Sonny Liston: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see". 

The phrase was often repeated to describe his style in the ring, and became shorthand for the man who had considered himself "The Greatest" before the rest of the world cottoned on.

"I wrestled with an alligator, I tussled with a whale, I handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail, I'm bad man...Last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I'm so mean I make medicine sick," he had said to much laughter ahead of his famous "Rumble in the Jungle" bout with George Foreman in 1974.

And the following year, Ali used another play on words to predict the pummeling of Joe Frazier at the "Thrilla in Manila": "It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila."
Once he was asked how he would like to be remembered and he said: "As a man who never sold out his people. But if that's too much, then just a good boxer".

Then he added: “I won't even mind if you don't mention how pretty I was".

The world came to know of Ali in 1964 when he, then known as Cassius Clay, stunned the boxing world in February by upsetting seemingly invincible Liston. At 22, Clay was the youngest boxer to take a title from a reigning heavyweight champion.

Three years later, he was stripped of his boxing title for his opposition to the Vietnam War. He was drafted but refused to enter the armed services, saying, "I ain't got no quarrel with the Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger".

Ali had to put his fighting career on hold for three years.  

In any case, his boxing record was impressive:

And his high profile had given his espousal of civil rights additional weight and he was a hero to large numbers of black people both in the US of A and further afield.

And late in life, when this magnificent athlete was brought low by Parkinson's disease, his quiet dignity impressed everyone he met.

Indeed, as US President Barack Obama put it – “Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it”. Indeed, rarely has any person transcended his sport in the way he did. Indeed, he is one of the best-known figures of his time.

Also I am saddened by the passing of fellow Toastmaster, Albert Chua (left) on Saturday.

I was privileged to have known him when I first visited Phoenix Toastmasters Club many years ago. A down-to-earth person. A committed Toastmaster. A good sounding board.  

Rest in peace, my friend!

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