At 18, he won the gold medal in boxing at the Rome Olympics, middle-heavy class, surprising and pocking with punches Zbigniew Pietrzykowski, a Polish boxer who up to that moment had many Olympic and European victories. At 23, having become a professional, he conquered the heavyweight title by wiping out a tough guy like Sonny Liston.
Nonetheless, his excellence was to have been a great man before being a great boxer.
In fact, no other sportsman, or protagonist, in our time has been able to transcend the borders of his world like Muhammad Ali did in order to become a positive example, a person accepted by everyone, even by those who, in the ‘60s, despised him for pretending to be more than the champion he was, much more than that wonderful innovator in boxing, from which he took out the violence, and to which he gave, often, the movements of a dance, the joy of a party, almost in an artist’s style.
Then this young, beautiful and, apparently, superb youngster, who influenced his adversaries rather with mocking behavior than with the will to hurt them, wanting to give voice, taking advantage of his fame, to a people, millions of African-Americans who were still struggling to impose their own rights and still had to conquer a full emancipation in the United States.
Half a century after that, a black man with African roots, Barack Obama, is the president of that nation and the merit for this incredible social evolution belongs to people like this boy from Louisville, Kentucky who died Friday at 74 years old and, influenced by the African-American writer Malcolm X, changed his name to Muhammad Ali, converted to Islam, refused because of his religious convictions to fight in Vietnam and, for this, was deprived of the world championship title he would have won back only six years later against George Foreman, defeated by knock-out in Kinshasa, Congo, in what was called the “match of the century.”