Muhammad Ali is known for being “The Greatest” by even the most novice of boxing fans. But few understand why, exactly, he was given that coveted title.
Indeed, Ali was a man whose boxing skills were unmatched. He had one of the fastest jabs, arguable the best, in the history of the sport. His reflexes were akin to that of a pugilist thirty-pounds lighter. And his tenacious resolve to fight through adversity (He he fought through a broken jaw in a loss to Ken Norton) is match only by the greatest of sports Gods. But, it is his integrity as a man that solidifies his helm atop the boxing world.
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In 1967, at the height of his career, Ali was the World Boxing Association (WBA) Champion when he refused a call to serve in the United States Army. He was promptly stripped of his belt by the The New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) and the WBA as a result. Ali was arrested and found guilty of draft evasion.
Edwin B. Dooley, chairman of NYSAC, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “(Ali’s) refusal to enter the service is regarded by the commission to be detrimental to the best interests of boxing.”
M. Robert Evans, president of the W.B.A., told The Times, “I feel that Muhammad Ali has defied the laws of the United States regarding selective service. His action today leaves me no alternative.”
Ali, in true form, had this to say of his refusal to join Uncle Sam’s Army: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong…No Viet Cong ever call me Nigger.”
Watch Muhammad Ali Talk About Refusing To Join The U.S. Army
Ali was sentenced to four years in prison, but was never imprisoned due to the active appeal of his conviction. His case made it all the way up to the Supreme Court where the justices ruled in his favor. While he won the moral war, his legal battles kept him out of the ring for nearly four years.
(He did, however, fight in 1970 against Jerry Quarry because the Atlanta Athletic Commission granted him a license to fight)
Nearly four years out of the ring would have kept even the most gifted boxers outside of the ropes for good. But Ali was not merely a gifted fighter.
He was “The Greatest.”
Ali returned to action and lost a thrilling match against Joe Frazier in 1971. He rebounded with multiple victors in 1972 and eventually regained his title on October 30, 1974 when he beat George Foreman in the “Rumble In The Jungle.” That fight is considered one of the greatest sports events in the history of athletics. He retired in 1981 after losing to to up-and-coming fighter Trevor Berbick.
In today’s sport’s culture where athletes seems to speak for nothing, Ali stood and spoke for everything and everyone that keeps America honest. He refused defend his country when it was not quite ready to fight for his rights. He was unwilling to trade in his integrity for money and endorsements, something few superstar athletes of today would do.
It is for this reason that we thank Muhammad Ali for standing up to America and making her better. Thank for being, “The Greatest.”