Peerless and fearless: simply The Greatest

By Raffique Shah
June 11, 2016

Raffique ShahIn death, as in life, he straddled the world like a colossus. All the major international news networks suspended regular programming to pay homage to Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer ever, the supreme sporting figure of the 20th Century, the defiant one who sacrificed a successful career on the altar of principle.

Just four years older than me, Ali symbolised the rebelliousness of so many of my generation, it was almost as if we knew him, grew up with him, that when he spoke out, confronted what we had dubbed “the establishment” in those heady days, his was our voice.

In the boxing ring he was peerless and fearless. As Cassius Clay, he first came to my attention (I think I write for many of my generation) in 1964 when he challenged the fearsome heavyweight champion, Sonny Liston. By then, Ali had won gold at the Rome Olympics in 1960 at age eighteen, turned professional, and beaten a few notables, among them the legendary but ageing Archie Moore and British champion Henry Cooper.

Liston was another kind of animal: he had won all his fights in recent times, many by knockout, including the demolition of the great Floyd Patterson in two fights, both in the first round.

And here was this brash, handsome challenger vowing to “whip him in eight”, poking insults at the giant he called the “Big Bear”. Liston was the overwhelming favourite, and that night as I sat glued to the radio to listen to the fight, my heart was thumping, probably faster than Ali’s.

When Ali survived the first round, it seemed like a miracle. As the fight progressed and the announcer described Ali’s lightening-like fists and foot-works, that he was actually punching Liston and absorbing blows from the Bear, my mood changed, my spirits soared. By the time Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round, I was delirious, dancing and singing, “Clay won! He beat Liston!”

It was one of the biggest upsets not only in boxing, but in sporting history-and we were there, radio-side, to witness the birth of The Greatest. Such moments are cherished for a lifetime. From then on, Ali-he would announce his name-change and his acceptance of Islam shortly after that victory-became my hero.

No pun intended, but he would go on to prove that unlike so many icons who flatter to deceive or who would crumble when faced with an establishment bent on breaking them, Ali did not have feet of clay.

In the ring, he reigned supreme. In the three years after he took the title and was stripped of it for refusing to fight in Vietnam, he floored Liston in round one in the return match, demolished Patterson in like manner, and ended the boxing careers of Cooper and Zora Folley.

His fight against racism in America and against being drafted into the army to fight in Vietnam endeared him to radicals across the world. However, White America hated him and literally prayed for him to be beaten by any opponent who derided Ali’s radicalism and his new religion.

Both Patterson and Ernie Tyrrell, who insisted on calling him Clay, and who said they were fighting him “to win back the title for America” (suggesting that Ali was unpatriotic), paid a bloody price for their folly. As he flogged them, he taunted: What’s my name? Call me Ali!

Ali did not dodge the draft because he was unpatriotic or a coward. He fought Liston when Cooper and other challengers were afraid to tackle “The Bear”. He refused to fight in Vietnam because he believed it was an unjust war-as did millions of other Americans and people of varying ethnicities across the world. Some of the biggest antiwar demonstrations were staged in the UK and Europe.

Ali had the guts to say: I’ve got no war against the Viet Cong…no Cong ever called me nigger!

The hypocrites who to this day label Ali a draft dodger never point to other very prominent Americans who avoided or evaded being drafted: ex-Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton; ex-vice presidents Dan Quayle and Al Gore; Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, Michael Bloomberg…

Above and beyond his prowess as a boxer, Ali fought the Washington establishment and at least 200 million hostile White Americans, not to add several million Blacks (oh yes-Uncle Toms all) based on principle: the war against Vietnam was unjust and made no sense. He was right, they were wrong.

In his second coming as a boxer, he was nowhere as pretty as he had been in the 1960s. But his stature as a world statesman, a humanitarian, someone who would stand up and speak out for what he believed was right, never dimmed.

That eternal flame remains with us even after Ali breathed his last.

2 thoughts on “Peerless and fearless: simply The Greatest”

  1. I was in primary school when I learned about Ali. I remember in school there was a boy name Nizam Ali. The week heading up to the fights was exciting it was all the kids would talked about. The day after the fight with excitement high, Nizam would come to school all the boys surrounding him and he would give a blow by blow commentary. Hands moving in typical Ali fashion talking about his hero with great admiration and respect. Needless to say that week was an emotional high.

    Ali was not only a boxer but a “showman” he knew how to use the media to his advantage. He would “talk up” his next fight and predict the defeat of his opponent. He would turn his fans across the world into an almost fanatical feeding frenzie. Millions will tune in to see the champ battle some of the best boxers of the time. Ali believed in himself and psychologically attacked his opponent by frustrating them in the ring, using words like “that’s all you got”. He knew that if he could get his opponent angry or off their game plan he had them beat. This he master. RIP champ.


    According to the Rev. Dr. Kevin Cosby (and I para phase )Playing by de rules , are always important . There are sadly , an unmentionable many , who tend to sit on de sidelines, and then quickly jump up to place bets, bud only when the race is already won, and or ,the horse is parading in the victory circle.
    Can’t only embrace an issue , a struggle , a challenge, when White people see merits in the act.
    Oh yeah , and how much we do love America, or honor the life of Boxing great Activist Mohammad Ali, but what about our local sufferings?
    Does his life and fight, inspire any here to eradicate suffering ,pain, and social neglect amongst our growing poor , and lower caste?

    I ‘m talking about our still struggling , abused T&T women- that cut’s across our two major competing- dominant tribal lines.
    I am talking about our CHIEFLY fatherless ,Afro Trini kids, who -in addition to numerous social problems as a result of such a state, endured by their emotionally overwhelmed mamas -still endure daily brutal acts of corporal punishments, by misguided parents/ guardians , whose ancestors, endured centuries of floggings, by White barbarian Massa.
    I am referring of course to desperate Indo Trini -chiefly female children – who long before their still developing bodies , should be dealing with the pain of motherhood,are forced into marriages by lawless parents,Imams,and Hindustani High Priests,from as young as 9, 10, 12 , 12 , 14 , and 16.
    As such they are deprived of a wholesome education, since they are too busy servicing pot belly hombres. Yeah Sat , we know , it’s your religion, so you and likeminded members of de tribe are victims , since ‘you alze,’ are unable to marry poor, Indo Trini – underage female kids.,229078.html

    I am otra vez talking about discriminated, exploited ,and sometimes unfairly persecuted ,Immigrants /economic migrants, of color , and least we continue to ignore ,our recently fleeing Latin border state -politically devastated refugees hermanos , Y hermanas , who seek some refuge, in an economically bless- though also struggling – country called Trinidad & Tobago.
    I am talking about the unemployable incarcerated, and we can throw in sometimes mentally unstable , to are destined for a life of misery ,and social degradation , due to the stigma of their past labels – namely -convicts,& insane.
    Unfortunately , there are the conniving few, who naively think, nation building is some obscure, escapist , theoretical exercise, they can dance around with /indulge in in ways that fit their own tribal, or worst yet , class fancies.
    They think that engaging in selective outrages jig/ dance/ tassa whine , and limbo dances ,is a part to a sure part to authentic ,sustainable development. What folly!
    Sorry guys , but straddling the fence , while dreaming on incessantly about the so called greatness of White , insular Scandinavian enclaves such as Norway , is ‘an exercise in futility’ – as we like to say on de streets.
    Where is the modern day Pat Chokolingo ,who with the help of an idealistic ex military firebrand called Rffique Shah , and a Rastaman photo journalist Keith Sheapherd ,created a media empire , to address the rights, and needs of oppressed folks?
    It was not only Mohammad Ali, who helped address social injustices in America,and the world at large , but also Trinidad born Black Power- Political activist Skokley Carmichael, Trinidad born Pan Africanist heroes ,such as George Padmore, and CLR James, Jamaica’s own Marcus Garvy,murdered Guyana’s Dr Walter Rodney , and Grenada’s Maurice Bishop, but many of our younger generations won’t know that ,and here is why.
    White folks hate them , and so many others especially of color would likewise. Hopefully ,I just made my case.
    Like Mohammed Ali , I too stumbled upon a new spiritual part at a similar age , that -in my case -I have tried to walk over the past 3 decades.
    Buddhism at it’s core , embrace a philosophy of non violence to all sentient beings, as well as propagate a policy of peaceful coexistence towards others.
    Most importantly for me however, is that uncompromising ideal of ending suffering as it exist today, amongst fellow humans – irrespective of race, tribe/ ethnicity, gender, age, class, or geographical origins.
    The greater lesson one can take away for the selfless, heroic life of the late Mohammed Ali is , to make a difference from where you stand, by using all the resources at your disposal. In essence , and in the words of his murdered mentor ,Malcolm X ,change can be derived ,”by any means necessary.”
    To this I can add , one must be uncompromising , yet prudent while so doing. This latter , can of course pose a serious challenge , as the usual , short sighted cynics, are always lurking.
    There is work to be done.

    Stay vigilant T&T, and remember -Your influence counts , so use it!
    As usual , great article Uncle Shah.

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