Status: 01/15/2022 10:18 a.m
Muhammad Ali is the only athlete to have been world champion of all boxing associations three times. Beyond the ring, he was a crowd pleaser and voice of the black civil rights movement. Today he would have been 80 years old.
In October 1974, Muhammad Ali, who at the age of 32 had already been scrapped by many experts, met the much younger heavyweight world champion George Foreman. Promoter Don King is hosting the fight with financial backing from local dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in central African Zaire. The fight, which was then called “Rumble in the Jungle”, has gone down in sports history and, with an estimated one billion television viewers, is the most-watched TV event of its time. But the fight is also the testament, legacy and eternal sporting monument of an unparalleled athlete, a 20th-century icon.
The spectacular end of an extraordinary boxing match in Kinshasa: Shortly before the end of the eighth round, Ali knocked Foreman to the ground and regained the world title. The audience is just as ecstatic as Ali – and the moment of defeat becomes an iconic image.
Image: SWR/Getty Images
Cassius Clay, who demonized his birth name as a “slave name” in his early 20s, converted to Islam and called himself Muhammad Ali from then on, made history. In the ring, he proved early on that the young man is an exceptional talent: At 22, he is the youngest heavyweight champion. His exuberant self-confidence also allows him to challenge larger, supposedly stronger opponents and mock them in advance in a media-effective manner. He begins to announce his own KO wins to the exact round before the fight – and the press loves him for it.
Welcome talk show guest
As Ali throughout his career beats the greatest of boxing’s golden era – Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, Foreman – he begins to take his influence on the public beyond the boxing ring. The good-looking, charming, sly, exceptional athlete is a welcome guest on US talk shows and he uses his popularity to denounce social grievances such as the lack of equality for black Americans.
He refuses military service and as a result loses his world title and boxing license. The reason he gave for his decision at the time was that he was not willing to kill foreigners in the Vietnam War in the name of a country that was oppressing the black population in its own country. This is how Ali becomes a loud voice in the burgeoning civil rights movement. His temporary proximity to more radical forces like the “Nation of Islam” and their spokesman Malcolm X is discussed controversially, but it can never harm his career.
Documentary about boxing legend Mohammed Ali
Thomas Denzel, SWR, daily topics 9:45 p.m., 14.1.2022
Rapped insults from opponents
In later years, Ali’s influence on the sport in the ring waned. His Parkinson’s disease is already casting its shadow here. Through appearances such as the show fight in 1976, when he boxed against a Japanese catch wrestler Antonio Inoki and almost incidentally delivered the first mixed martial arts fight in history that was widely documented by the media, he remained a pioneer.
Today’s generations of hip hop, soul and R&B artists even recognize a cultural precursor to rap in the legendary abuse of his opponents at the press conferences accompanying the fights, which Ali likes to rhyme rhythmically and sings in a bitingly pointed way.
Ali’s speed, cunning and recovery power have made him a legend in and out of the boxing ring. But his charisma and his provocative play with the media also made him such an influential figure of the 20th century.
In honor of his 80th birthday, an event focus in the ARD media center and a long night in the first (on the night of January 16th to 17th, 2022, from 0:05 a.m.) allow different perspectives on the man, the boxer, the resistance fighter and the culturally influential figure Muhammad Ali (1942-2016), including the award-winning documentaries “When We Were Kings”, “Facing Ali” and “Soul Power”.