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‘Float like a butterfly’

By Bisi Lawrence

Muhammad Ali had become a legend in his lifetime. At his death he left behind a world of fans of every race and colour, spread across the spectrum of the young and old, the highest and the lowest. Not even the most highly regarded royalty has been known to be accorded the magnitude of the tributes that have been paid to him in the past week. Today, this page joins the rest of the world to pay our respects. And to do it for us a “superfan” of this superman who wrote a biography from which we are exposed to an aspect of the great man’s life which removed him far above his peers as a sportsman, and makes him unforgettable— his “gift of the gab”. Our narrator is the inimitable sports writer and recipient of the National Sports Award, Chukah Momah.

Famous Ali Quotations:

The ‘’Louisville Lip’’at His Brillant Best

Ali
Ali

‘’Whatever the punishment, whatever the persecution is for standing up for my religious belief, even if it means facing a firing squad, I’ll face it. I’m ready to die.’’ {Ali, on refusing the Vietnam draft}. “ I was forced to make a choice when Elijah Muhammad insisted I break with Malcolm. Turning my back on Malcolm was the mistake that I regret most in my life. I wish I had been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he was right about so many things. But he was killed before I got the chance.’’

‘’You want me to do what the white man says, and go fight a war against some people I don’t know nothing about—get some freedom for some other people when my own people can’t get theirs? You want me to be scared of the white man, I’ll go and get two arms shot off and ten medals so you can give me a small salary and pat my head and say, ‘Good boy, he fought for his country.’ Everyday they die in Vietnam for nothing.’’

‘’America is my birth place. They make the rules, and if they want to put me in jail, I’ll go to jail. But I’m an American and I’m not running away.’’{Ali, on refusing the Vietnam draft}. ‘’What do I like in a woman? I like black girls, and only black girls, the darker the better. And tall, because I’m tall, with long shapely legs.’’ “I said I was the greatest…not the smartest.’’{After failing the written exam at the Army Induction Center}.

Chuka Momah
Chuka Momah

‘’I took care of the Big Ugly Bear, made it a habit to whup the Rabbit, punched the mummy in his tummy, and won a thriller from the Gorilla. Turned the washerwoman into a girl, and tamed the clumsy, slippery squirrel. And when I stop Shavers, I’ll beg his pardon, but the place for Acorn to fall is the Garden. Class dismissed.’’{Ali before fighting Earnie Shavers].

‘’Jooooe Frazieeeer.  Ain’t he ugly? He’s too ugly to be champion of the world. The Champ should be pretty, like me.’’ ‘’My toughest fight was my first wife.’’ {Ali reflecting on his turbulent marriage and eventual divorce from Sonji Roi}. ‘’That night, if Frazier had killed me, I would have gotten up. I would have become the first dead champion in history.’’{Ali commenting on his third fight with Frazier}.

‘’You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned? Wait till I whup George Foreman’s behind. I done something new for this fight, I done tussled with a Whale! I done handcuffed lighting, throwed thunder in jail! Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick, I’m so mean I make medicine sick. Fast, last night, I cut off the switch, was in bed before the room was dark.’’ {Ali before the fight against George Foreman].

‘’I’m so fast I can play Ping Pong by myself.’’ ‘’Africa is the home of the Original Man, the black man and that Africa, where the slaves were stolen from, has all kinds of rich history.’’ ‘’I’ve seen the whole world. I learned something’ from people everywhere. There’s truth in Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, all religions. And in just plain talking. The only religion that matters, is the real religion—love.’’ ‘’People have died by the thousands since my case. Good people. There’s so much dying that’s been bigger than mine. Martin Luther King. The Kennedys. Poverty, disasters, murders, wars. Why should I matter so much? It’s because of what I stand for.’’

‘’I won the title, became champion. Powerful and strong. And then God tries you, tries your health. Fixes it so it’s hard to talk. Hard to walk. I’m blessed and thankful to God that I understand he’s trying me. This is a trial from God. He gave this illness to remind me that I’m not number one; He is.’’ {Ali reflecting on his affliction with Parkinson’s syndrome}.

‘’Since I won’t let critics seal my fate, keep hollering I’m full of hate. But they don’t really hurt me —         none cause I’m doing good and having fun. And fun to me is something bigger than what those critics fail to figure. Fun to me is a lot of things and along with it some good I bring. Yet while I’m busy helping my people, these critics keep writing I’m deceitful. But I can take it on the chin and that’s the honest truth, my friend. Now from Muhammad, you just heard the latest and the truest word, so when they ask you what’s the latest, just say: Ali, Ali. He’s still the greatest.’’

‘’The first person I ever knocked out was my mom.’’ [Legend has it as confirmed by his mother that as a toddler, Cassius Clay threw a punch that knocked out her tooth]. ‘’My left hand was shaking because of Parkinson’s, my right hand was shaking from fear. Somehow, between the two of them, I got the thing lit.’’ [Ali after lighting the Olympic torch at the 1996 Games in Atlanta]. ‘’I’m young, I’m handsome, I’m fast, I’m pretty and can’t possibly be beat. They must fall in the round I call.’’ [Cassius Clay, early on in his career].

‘’In the ring I can stay until I’m old and grey because I know how to hit and dance away.’’ ‘’My mama told me I was always in a hurry as a child. I even had measles and chicken pox at the same time.’’ [Cassius Clay, early in his career]. “The man said: ‘We don’t serve Negroes.’ I said, I don’t eat them either!’ They shouted, ‘Boy, get out!’ I looked at my gold medal and thought, ‘This thing ain’t worth nothing, it can’t even get me a hamburger!” (Cassius Clay on being refused to be served in a restaurant after returning to the USA with a gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960).

‘’There are a lot of boys that are stronger than me that could be great champions, but they can’t fight temptations. Temptation is all around us. Pretty girls with their chests big and ripe.”(Ali, early in his career). ‘’Life is a gamble. You can get hurt, but people get hurt, but people die in plane crashes, lose their arms and their legs in car accidents; people die everyday. Same with fighters: Some die, some get hurt, some go on. You just don’t let yourself believe it will happen to you.’’

‘’I’m the people’s Champion. You can walk up to me and say: ‘Hello’ without paying… . Try getting near to Frank Sinatra or Elvis. There are no bodyguards around this camp.’’ ‘’How tall are you? So I can know in advance how far to step back when you fall down.’’ (Ali talking to an opponent at the pre-fight weigh-in). ‘’I don’t say we shall overcome, because I done overcome.’’ ‘’I am America. I am the past you won’t recognize; but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky, my name not yours. My religion, not yours. My goal, my own. Get used to me.’’

‘’It’s just a job. Grass grows. Birds fly. Waves pound the sand. I beat people up.’’ (Ali reflecting on his career). ‘’I’ve got speed, power and endurance and anyone who fights me had better take out extra life insurance. ‘’Those ads on selling slaves should be in every history books in our schools, so everybody can see that we were treated no better than animals.’’ ‘’There used to be signs on Miami Beach that said: No Jews or Negroes Allowed. ‘Y’ know what the Jews did? They got mad and bought the beach.’’ ‘’We know that every white ain’t devil-hearted, and we got black people who are devils, the worst devils I’ve run into can be my own kind.’’

‘’You call my poetry horrible? I bet my poetry gets printed and quoted more than any that’s been turned out by the poem writers that them critics like.’’ ‘’At home I’m a nice guy, but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people don’t get very far.’’ ‘’You people out there, you all got the connection and the complexion to get Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, the right protection, which leads to good affection.’’


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