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Friday, June 10, 2016

Ali's greatness was grappling with hearts and history

Photo by Kurk D. Johnson and enhanced by Tomi Johnson
All praise to the Creator who sends us messengers, great and small, who draw us closer in love despite success or failure.---Tomi Johnson

Mohammed Ali was the only fighter to be heavyweight champion three times. He was memorable because he made many hearts flutter and break inside and outside the ring. Three times boxing champion; four times married. 

Ali claimed to be the greatest, but his real message was that if you reach for greatness in whatever you love doing, you can grasp it for yourself!

Ali never lost his fight for the hearts of people all over the world, including the ones he loved and divorced. Ali never forgot where he came from and the history of Afro Americans in the United States, although he became a HOPE international ambassador loved by many, regardless of age or race or background. He was a titan who, like all of us, returns to God. 
Photo by Tomi Johnson, Ali Center, Louisville, Ky.
What I remember most about Ali was his huge hands, big eyes, trash-talking, warm heart, and flirtatious nature. I personally encountered him in the basement of Denzimore Robinson's private home in Huntsville, Alabama.  He asked us two questions in slurred speech: "You from Louisville?" he said after we told him we were from Kentucky. "Where are you going?" he asked as we were leaving the party. He seemed to be enamored with my niece who was young and beautiful. This was in the early 1980s.

Photo by Tomi Johnson, Ali Center, Louisville, Ky.
As I reflect back on Mohammed Ali (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.), I remember reading about his successes and challenges both inside boxing rings and love arenas, in Jet and Ebony magazines which were reading staples in our household. 

The articles I remember focused on his boxing titles, his failed first marriage, his religion and name changes, his refusal to fight in Vietnam, his many women, his bout in Africa, his 1978 boxing defeat to Leon Spinks, his severe medical diagnosis of Parkinson's disease; his faithful wife, Lonnie.

After traveling to his museum this Memorial Day weekend, I learned he had transitioned six days later.

Ali flashpoints:  

Photo by Tomi Johnson, Ali Center, Louisville, Ky.
He received a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. His professional boxing debut was against Tunney Husaker on October 29, 1960.  

He defeated  Sonny Liston in six rounds to become heavyweight champ on February 25, 1964. He met Sonji Roi, a singer/model/waitress, in July 1964 and asked her to marry him the first night they met. They married one month later.
Photo by Tomi Johnson, Ali Center, Louisville, Ky.
He embraced Islam in 1965 and divorced Roi in 1966. He refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army and was stripped of his heavyweight title on April 28, 1967. He was convicted of draft evasion on June 20, 1967, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000, and banned from boxing for three years. 

Photo by Tomi Johnson, Ali Center, Louisville, Ky.
He married 17-year old Belinda Boyd (Khalilah) in 1967 and divorced her ten years later after having four children. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970, knocking out Jerry Quarry in Atlanta in the third round. 

He fought Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” on March 8, 1971and lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional boxing career. His conviction for evading the draft was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 28, 1971.

Photo by Tomi Johnson, Ali Center, Louisville, Ky.
He received a robe from Elvis in 1973. He defeated Frazier in a rematch January 24, 1974 by decision in 12 rounds at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. He beat George Foreman on October 30, 1974 of that same year and reclaimed his heavyweight champion belt at the hugely hyped “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire, with a knockout in the eighth round. 

He beat Joe Frazier for a third time at the “Thrilla in Manila” in the Philippines  in 14 rounds on October 1, 1975 where it was rumored  he was dating Veronica Porsche. His 2nd wife, Khalilah Ali, spoke in an October 30, 1975 Jet interview, saying she would rather "share him than lose him...Ali is a sex symbol; women love him," she said.

He lost his title to Leon Spinks in a 15-round split decision. He married Veronica Porsche in 1977 and divorced her in 1986 after having two daughters, one who is Laila Ali, also a boxer. He won back his boxing title on February 15, 1978.

He announced he was retiring from boxing in June 1979 but returned to the ring on October 2, 1980, fighting heavyweight champ Larry Holmes who knocked him out in the 11th round. He left the ring for the final time, with a 56-5 record after losing to Trevor Berbick on December 11, 1981.

He revealed he had Parkinson’s disease in 1984. He married Yolanda "Lonnie" Williams in 1986, and she was his wife until the day he died. He carried the Olympic Torch in Atlanta at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympics.
Photo by Tomi Johnson, Ali Center, Louisville, Ky.

Ali lost his last fight against death in Arizona at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center on June 3.

It's awesome how death brings us closer to our heroes.
Me with Ali's Rolls at Center. (Photo by Kurk D. Johnson)
Additional info. researched from and


  1. GC says: Thousands lined the streets on a nineteen mile procession and the memorial service is something the world should see!!!


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