5 Things We Bet You Did Not Know About Muhammad Ali
Let’s talk about stuff of legend a bit. You know, it’s not all in the body and the physical training, the mind needs to be kept focused and in good shape as well. So today, we’re going to eat some tasty food for thought, and share with you some interesting things about one of boxing’s greatest legends – the great Muhammad Ali. Knowledge is power as they say, so let’s start punching!
#1 HE CHANGED HIS NAME SEVERAL TIMES
It’s common knowledge that he began his life as Cassius Clay, and only decided to change his name to Muhammad Ali in the 1960s due to his conversion to Islam. But not a lot of people know what Muhammad, or shall we say, Cassius, wanted to change his name plenty of times before.
According to his biographer, Davis Miller, Muhammad Ali first rebranded himself as Cassius X – possibly out of respect and admiration for the great Malcolm X. However, soon thereafter, Malcolm X left “Nation of Islam” right about the time when Cassius X actually joined it, which could have been another factor in the name change. According to Cassius Clay, or then Cassius X, he was “given the name of Muhammad Ali” by the then religious and political leader of Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, who initially intended the name for Malcolm X.
These were times of great social upheaval and reform in the United States, with many movements vying for increased justice and equal treatment. Muhammad Ali had both the honor, the popularity, the boxing genius and the depth of heart, to be crowned as one of the main proponents of change at the time. He boxed not only for the sake of boxing, but of justice as well.
#2 HE WAS A PEACEFUL SUFI
While Muhammad Ali was a great fighter as a boxer, he was actually pacifist. During those times (around 1967), he received an order to be inducted into the United States Army, which he rejected. Immediately after that, he was stripped of his heavyweight title.
While he was always a Muslim, and did approve of some militant goals of Nation of Islam, later in his life Ali changed his views and adopted a more peaceful, mystical part of Islam, also known as Sufism. Sufi literature is considered a joyous, love-infused wisdom of compassion and understanding for all beings, and in 2005, Ali said that of all the sects of Islam, he felt most closely connected to Sufism. It is said that Sufis believe that we are all one, and that inflicting harm to any person is actually hurting all of humanity. Seeing the microcosm as intimately connected to the macrocosm, the mystical philosophy is exceptionally peaceful, seeing the destruction of the world in the crushing of a flower.
Like Sufism, Muhammad Ali also softened. From the greatest boxer in the world, now he’s become a wizened, gentle giant.
#3 HE BECAME A BOXER BECAUSE SOMEONE STOLE HIS BIKE
When he was a kid of around 12 years of age, the young Ali (then Cassius) rode his bike to an exhibition in town. After the event was finished though, he returned to the place he left his bike only to find it was missing. Confused and upset, he asked for a police officer for help, but a passerby told him that the nearest one is just close by in a nearby boxing gym. The police officer’s name was Joe Martin, who was an avid fan of boxing, and suggested to the then young Cassius Clay to perhaps learn some boxing to prevent further incidents like the stolen bike. Cassius eagerly applied, won his second match after just several weeks, and ultimately grew to become Muhammad Ali.
#4 DUE TO PARKINSON’S DISEASE, HE FOUND A NEW WAY TO COMMUNICATE
In 1984, at the age of 42, Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The tolls of boxing had finally taken their toll on the boxer’s health, and he was left with a permanent difficulty to speak. This led him to develop alternative ways to express himself better, chiefly through the innovative ways to use gestures. Winks, finger clicks, gestures with his hands and face make up the repertoire of Ali’s often joyful demeanor. It is not uncommon for him to tease almost everyone who visits him, by tickling the inside of their hands during a handshake, or blowing on top of people’s hair to tickle them, or flashing a big happy grin at them.
Besides this, he often spends time in a wheelchair. While he can walk, the disease has made it very difficult for him to do so, so this great boxes is now a kind, jocular old man.
#5 MUHAMMAD ALI IS AN AMATEUR MAGICIAN
One of his famous mantras before entering the ring was this:
“Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”
But besides being a cool rapper delivering some clever rhyme, Ali also has other tricks up his sleeve. As we already mentioned above, he’s developed some impressive, nimble hand movements due to the Parkinson’s disease preventing him from speaking. But Ali didn’t stop there and went one step ahead – during one of the visits from his fans, the great Muhammad Ali pulled off a series of magic tricks, making everyone’s face light up with amazement and joy.
According to the eye witnesses, Ali successfully made a red scarf disappear into thin air from his hand, bit metal coins in half and then magically made them whole again, and so on. But the great magician Muhammad Ali wasn’t done yet! Miraculously, he also managed to fool everyone into believing that he was levitating in the air – a trick commonly pulled off by putting one’s feet close together and rising on the toes of one foot only.
But Ali’s love for magic tricks isn’t exactly new – during a match once, he went to the center of the ring, he covered one fist with the other, and then opened his hand. A small bird launched from his hand and fluttered to the ceiling of the hall. Ali turned to the audience and with a smile on his face, told them:
“The man without imagination has no wings – he cannot fly.”