• 11 Jun - 17 Jun, 2016
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Obituary

Almost everyone (from the 60s and 70s) has a personal recollection or a story about Muhammad Ali, whether it's a favourite fight or an unforgettable poster, but this scribe wasn’t even born at that time. What I remember is just a song played continuously by my father on his vinyl record:

Sing, Muhammad, Muhammad Ali He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee Muhammad, the black superman

Who calls to the other guy I'm Ali catch me if you can

The singers Johnny Wakelin and The Kinshasa Band chanted about ‘the king of the ring’ in their tune The Black Superman and left traces in the memories of his ardent followers who live miles away.

Muhammad Ali, the three-time world heavyweight boxing champion who helped define his turbulent times as the most charismatic and controversial sports figure of the 20th century, died on June 3, 2016 at the age of 74.

The cause of death was confirmed as a septic shock by a family spokesperson. Ali had Parkinson’s disease for more than 30 years. Lately, he had been suffering from a respiratory illness and was hospitalised.

Ali was the most thrilling heavyweight ever, carrying into the ring a physically lyrical, unorthodox boxing style that fused speed, agility and power more seamlessly than that of any fighter before him.

Born Cassius Clay, he started to box at 12, after his new $60 red Schwinn bicycle was stolen off a downtown street. He reported the theft to Joe Martin, a police officer who ran a boxing gym. When Cassius boasted what he would do to the thief when he caught him, Martin suggested that he first learn how to punch properly.

Ali had an agile mind, a buoyant personality, a brash self-confidence and an evolving set of personal convictions, which fostered a magnetism that the ring alone could not contain. He entertained as much with his mouth as with his fists, narrating his life with a chatter of creative balladry.


Ali was as polarizing a superstar as the sports world has ever produced – both admired and vilified in the 60s and 70s for his religious, political and social stances. His refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War, his rejection of racial integration at the height of the civil rights movement, his conversion from Christianity to Islam and ditching what he perceived was his “slave name”, changing it to be, Cassius X, and then Muhammad Ali, all were perceived as serious threats.

Loved or hated, he remained one of the most recognizable people on the planet for 50 years.

George Foreman, who lost his world title to Ali in the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" fight in Kinshasa in 1974, called him one of the greatest human beings he had ever met.

Asked how he would like to be remembered, he once said: "As a man who never sold out his people. But if that's too much, then just a good boxer. I won't even mind if you don't mention how pretty I was."


In later life, Ali became something of a secular saint, a legend in soft focus. He was respected for having sacrificed more than three years of his boxing prime and untold millions of dollars for his anti-war principles after being banished from the ring; he was extolled for his unselfconscious gallantry in the face of incurable illness, and he was beloved for his accommodating sweetness in public.


Muhammed Ali made two memorable visits to Pakistan during his lifetime – in 1988 and 1989.

He visited Lahore’s Kinniard College in 1988 where he met and took pictures with students. He participated in fourth South Asian Games in 1989 in Islamabad as a special guest. His visit here was no less than an honour for the countrymen. King of Punjabi films, Sultan Rahi also took memorable pictures with him. He can be seen landing a punch on Ali’s jaw.

The legendary boxer paid a visit to Data Darbar in Lahore and got photographed with the then chief minister Punjab and current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif as well.


Crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated and "Sports Personality of the Century" by the BBC, Ali was noted for his pre- and post-fight talk and bold fight predictions just as much as his boxing skills inside the ring.

He shot to fame by winning light-heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Nicknamed "The Greatest", the American beat Sonny Liston in 1964 to win his first world title and became the first boxer to capture a world heavyweight title on three separate occasions.

He was handed his first professional defeat by Joe Frazier in the "Fight of the Century" in New York, only to regain his title with an eighth-round knockout of George Foreman. He eventually retired in 1981, having won 56 of his 61 fights.

In 2005, calling him the greatest boxer of all time, President George W. Bush presented the Medal of Freedom to Ali in a White House ceremony.


Soon after retiring, rumours began to circulate about the state of Ali's health. His speech had become slurred, he shuffled and he was often drowsy. Parkinson's Syndrome was eventually diagnosed but Ali continued to make public appearances, receiving warm gestures wherever he travelled. He lit the Olympic cauldron at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and carried the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Games in London.

If there was a supertitle to Ali’s operatic life, it was this: “I don’t have to be who you want me to be; I’m free to be who I want.” He made that statement the morning after he won his first heavyweight title. It defined every aspect of his life, including the way he boxed. – Syeda Zehra

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, 17 January 1942
61 fights over a professional career lasting 21 years
56 wins including 37 knockouts
3 times crowned World Heavyweight Champion
1 light-heavyweight Olympic gold medal
31 straight wins before being beaten by Joe Frazier


“Not only the boxing world but all those struggling against injustice will miss u.. U won ur fights & our hearts. RIP” – Tweeted Chief Minister Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif’s Office

Saddened to hear of Muhammad Ali's death – the greatest sportsman of all times. Ali had great talent, was highly intelligent & courageous. What set Ali apart from other great sportsmen & what I most admired him for was his refusal to compromise on his belief & value system. – Tweeted PTI Chairman, Imran Khan

"His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today." – US President Barack Obama

"Ali, the G-O-A-T [Greatest Of All Time]. A giant, an inspiration, a man of peace, a warrior for the cure. Thank you." – US actor and fellow Parkinson's battler Michael J Fox

"With an incomparable combination of principle, charm, wit and grace, he fought for a better world and used his platform to help lift up humanity." – Spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon