Magazine article Variety

Muhammad Ali and His Fight for Freedom

Magazine article Variety

Muhammad Ali and His Fight for Freedom

Article excerpt

ONE OF ALI'S BIGGEST STRUGGLES culminated in 1974's Rumble in the Jungle, when it seemed as if the spirit of all things progressive in the world was about to battle the spirit of the repressive status quo.

Early on, Ah related to the wider world. His father had an interest in Marcus Garvey and pan-Africanism. The teenage Cassius Clay started reading Muhammad Speaks in the early 1960s. Buried in the center pages was news of national liberation struggles in the Third World, Patrice Lumumba, gleaming new pubhc housing in Nkrumah's Ghana.

Then, when he became world champion and changed his religion and declared himself free of every Jim Crow assumption and expectation including his slave name ("I had to prove you could be a new kind of black man") and began the biggest fight of his life, he outraged everyone from white racists and mainstream media to Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Joe Louis. Ah knew he now bore the burden of symbolic representation to Black America. He embraced it. He would build a motivational figure made out of hfe itself. His life. And it cost him. Denouncing the war and refusing the draft cost Ah the revocation of his boxing licenses and a fighter's best years, 25 to 29. Both struggles reached their zenith in Kinshasa in 1974.

The Rumble in the Jungle polarized the world. Ah, the angry jokester, the genius athlete who spoke truth to power, was the spirit king, the inspiration for "black, brown, and poor people" rising up from below. Foreman personified (unintentionally) the moderate establishment devoted to order, "who paternalistically feel they can set the timetable for another man's freedom" (MLK, Jr.), who feel they can determine when people held down are allowed to arise from the abyss.

In that blistering ring, pounded by Foreman, Ah, now past his prime, deep into ropea-dope, would rather die than be defeated, both as a fighter and because of what it meant to a whole world watching.

In his prime, he fought with the speed and agility of a welterweight but hit as a heavyweight. He threw punches 25% faster than Sugar Ray Robinson but weighed 50 pounds more. In the ring, the shuffle bewildered you. You couldn't tell by his footwork if he was leading with his left or would hit you with a right. Combined with a flurry of head and shoulder feints, snapped lightning jabs disrupting your vision, the result was confusion - and then came the right hand. …

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