Muhammad Ali: Hero or Villain?

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Muhammad Ali will be remembered long after his death. Considered by many to be the greatest boxer ever to step in the squared circle, Ali was blessed with the speed, power and stamina to become the world's heavyweight champion. Ali was also no stranger to controversy throughout his career as many have praised him for his actions whilst many have criticised and condemned him. Ali, even over twenty years after his retirement from the sport that gave him fame, he is still one of the most recognised figures in the world today. Countless books, articles, documentaries as well as blockbuster films have featured the great boxer. The fact that Ali will be remembered is undisputed. How he is remembered varies greatly. Some view Ali as a great champion not only inside but also outside the ring. Other views see Ali as an arrogant, unpatriotic, outspoken racist. The different views create an historical debate, which is affected greatly by context. In the case of Muhammad Ali, the responder witnesses how traditionally he was mostly viewed from a very negative perspective but in a contemporary society he is now seen, by the majority, in a positive light. These conflicting views can be seen through a number of historical texts and how they interpret events and areas of Muhammad Ali's life. Through analysing these texts as well as the events in Ali's life this essay discusses and decides whether Ali truly is a hero or villain.

Muhammad Ali was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. As a young boy Clay was always more interested in boxing than his studies. This passion for boxing began when Ali's bike was stolen as a young teenager. Clay reported the crime to a policeman who referred him to boxing trainer Fred Stoner. This would be the beginning of Clay's passion for the sport that brought him to prominence.

Clay became a star boxer during his high school days, where Ali won 6 Kentucky championships, 2 national Golden Glove championships and 2 Amateur Union championships. From this Cassius Clay went on to win a gold medal, representing USA, in the 1960 Rome Olympics in the light-heavyweight division. Clay had established himself as an American hero.

Clay on return to the United States turned professional and successfully began to rise through the ranks. Clay soon fought Archie Moore to be #1 contender to Sonny Liston's world title. Over 16,000 fans paid money "in hopes of seeing Archie Moore button the brash kid's lips". They were disappointed as the young boxer went on to defeat Moore with ease. Ali was on his way to his world title bout with Sonny Liston.

Promoter Bill McDonald briefly cancelled the Clay-Liston fight, as concerns grew over Clay's safety as well as the saleability of the fight. Clay, in reality Cassius X due to his belief that Clay was his 'slave' name, had affiliations with

Malcolm X and the anti-white Black Muslims. This was already seeping into the news but the scheduled fight still went ahead despite concerns. On February 25, 1964, Clay took the title from Liston as the public was stunned. The public was even more stunned as Clay announced his conversion to Islam. Cassius was soon renamed Muhammad Ali by the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad.

Whilst the newly named Muhammad Ali seemed convinced of the righteousness of his cause, few at the time accepted the religious message of the Nation of Islam. Its racial rhetoric, preposing radical if not violent solutions to domination by white people, betrayed hatred that in turn provoked widespread hostility against its leaders and followers. This went against American values and extreme measures would be taken to recapture the title from the hands of the Black Muslims. This worried 'White America' along with the growing strength of the Civil Rights Movement. History as recorded by the sportswriters of the time would have us believe that, in February of 1964, Islam itself struck a blow against the...
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