[Viewpoint]A true champion keeps fightingLegendary heavyweight boxer Muhammed Ali was awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities by Princeton University on Tuesday. On what grounds did the university confer an honorary degree in humanities, but not in sports, to the former boxing champion?
The reason cited by the university was not so different from the reason Ali received the prestigious Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold from the UN Association of Germany in 2005.
The award recognized “not only his contribution to worldwide activities to save children from hunger and his role as a UN messenger of peace, but also outstanding service for peace and international understanding, especially his lifelong commitment to the American civil rights movement and to the cultural and spiritual emancipation of black people throughout the world.”
The humanities is an academic discipline that studies the human condition, including the life and very existence of human beings.
Ali’s life itself, a fierce struggle for survival, provides more than enough reason to award him an honorary degree in humanities ― perhaps as many as 10 of them.
Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., started boxing at the age of 13 because he made up his mind that he would not be beaten up by the gangsters in his neighborhood.
Five years later, he won, at the age of 18, a gold medal in light-heavy weight boxing at the 1960 Olympics held in Rome.
Even though he won a gold medal in the Olympics, he was still not allowed to enter whites-only restaurants.
Ali threw his Olympic gold medal into the river out of raging indignation and bitterness.
After the incident, Ali began his professional career.
At the age of 22, he won the World Boxing Association’s World Heavyweight Championship by defeating Sonny Liston on Feb. 25, 1964.
During the weigh-in on the eve of the fight, the ever-boastful Ali created a legend by declaring that he would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”
Ali converted to Islam under the influence of Malcom X, a radical black human rights activist, at about that time. And he renamed himself Muhammad Ali from Cassius Clay Jr.
After the point, he didn’t hesitate to speak out against delicate issues such as racist practices and black human rights.
In 1967, he was deprived of his world heavyweight championship title and imprisoned for having protested the Vietnam War and for refusing conscription.
After the court returned a verdict of “not guilty,” Ali returned to the ring in 1971 ― a gap of three years and five months.
But he was defeated on points by the aggressive Joe Frazier after 15 rounds in a championship match.
Three years later, Ali, a 32-year-old veteran boxer, challenged George Foreman, the hardest hitter in the history of the sport.
Foreman won the heavyweight championship by knocking down Joe Frazier with a single blow in 1974.
In the fierce match between Ali and Foreman held in Kinshasa, Zaire, on Oct. 30, 1974, which was called “The Rumble in the Jungle,” Foreman was a 10-1 favorite to win.
He beat Ali up continuously until the seventh round. But in the eighth round, Ali threw a lightning punch to Foreman’s jaw after he saw Foreman breathing heavily.
Ali won a dramatic come-from-behind victory, making him the world heavyweight champion for the second time.
About four years after that, Ali, the 36-year-old veteran champion, was defeated by a young and powerful boxer, Leon Spinks, and deprived of his championship title.
But he recaptured the championship belt by defeating Spinks at a return match in September of that year.
With that, he became the first person to win a world title for a third time, which is unprecedented in the history of heavyweight boxing.
In the world of professional sports, where there are no permanent winners, he demonstrated the spirit needed to win in a competition by regaining the world heavyweight championship title for the third time after losing it two times.
He retired from boxing in 1980 at the age of 38.
Ali fought a total of 61 matches, winning 56 of them, including 38 knockouts. He lost five times.
But his fight is not yet over. This great boxer is now having a difficult fight against the last rival in his life, Parkinson’s disease.
He may lose the fight, but his defeat will not mean subjugation to the disease.
Ali is still alive and he is preaching to us loudly that we should lead a more competitive life.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong