Ali’s lovely bout with Jamaica
Muhammad Ali, the man who was christened Cassius Clay at birth over 74 years ago but changed his name for religious reasons, died last Friday in Arizona, USA, where he had lived for many years.
The reason he gave for changing his name was that Clay was his slave name, while Ali meant "Most High".
Since his death, people from all over the world have been paying tribute to the great man and Jamaicans from all walks of life have joined in those tributes because he was loved and revered here. Many see him not only as a great boxer, but one whose life should be emulated because he stood up for what he thought was right.
Ali had a ring career that started on October 29, 1960, when he scored a unanimous decision over Tunney Hunsaker at the Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, and ended at the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre in Nassau, Bahamas, on December 11, 1981, when he lost by unanimous decision to Jamaican heavyweight boxer, Trevor Berbick, who himself died tragically 10 years ago.
Ali ended his career with 56 victories, 37 by knockout and five losses, one by technical knockout, to Larry Holmes.
Ali was not only a boxer who blazed a trail of excellence, but was also a religious activist and humanitarian who stood up for what he thought was right.
When he refused induction into the United States army - on religious grounds - he was charged, found guilty and sentenced to prison.
This sentence was later quashed by the United States Supreme Court in a benchmark unanimous decision, but in the interim he lost more than three valuable years of a career that sparkled nevertheless.
All his fights were memorable and some like the 'Rumble in the Jungle' against George Foreman in 1974 and the 'Thrilla in Manila' against Joe Frazier in 1975 will be talked about for a long, long time.
Jamaicans loved him and he paid two memorable visits here, one in 1961 when he was the young Cassius Clay and the other in 1974, when he was invited here by then Prime Minister, Michael Manley, who was a great boxing fan and an Ali supporter.
When he came here in 1961, he was new to the professional ranks and did not come to fight. He was invited to come along with Chris and Angelo Dundee, the promoting and training brothers, who played a major role in boxing in the USA and particularly in Florida at that time.
Jimmy Beecham was in Jamaica for a fight and promoter Lucien Chen asked Angelo Dundee to bring the then promising young boxer, Clay, to Jamaica with him as part of the publicity for the fight.
That night, Clay assisted Angelo Dundee in the corner and carried the bucket that contained ice and water to ringside. He was playful throughout the evening and had a lot of fun with the boxing fans present.
In 1974, Ali was invited to Jamaica by the then Michael Manley Government, for a four-day visit, and it was a spectacular affair.
He was honoured at a mass rally that took place at the National Stadium on December 29, which was attended by an estimated 20,000 persons. The main point of the ceremony was the presentation to him of the symbolic Keys to the City of Kingston by the then mayor, Councillor Ralph Brown.
At the rally, Manley described Ali as "a symbol of courage and a man who has climbed to the mountaintop and stretched out a helping hand to help the suffering people of this earth".
Before presenting the Keys to the City to Ali, Brown welcomed him officially to Jamaica and hailed him as "a symbol of freedom to all black brothers in Jamaica and throughout the world".
He also pointed out that Ali was seen as a "choice person to be awarded the Keys to the City of Kingston".
The citation to Ali stated, in part, that as a young man, he had "set an admirable example to the youth of today as regards his strength of character in moral and social issues and the ability to face up to adversity with unswerving courage".
In his response, Ali thanked the people of Jamaica for their warmth and hospitality and on a playful note said that he hoped that the Keys given to him would be able to open money vaults.
Ali was also invited to a reception at Jamaica House, to which a wide cross section of persons were invited. He said that that he was particularly happy to be introduced to members of the boxing fraternity, who shared stories with him and he even had a mock sparring session with Jamaican boxing great, Bunny Grant, the former Commonwealth lightweight champion.
Ali will be buried in his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky, in a private ceremony, but before that there will be several public events that will allow his many fans to pay tribute to the great man and his legacy.