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Muhammad Ali Ali's legacy a complicated one for opponents he defeated

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died on Friday at the age of 74, leaving behind a legacy difficult to match.

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Muhammad Ali's spirit has left this world, but the world will never forget his spirit.

Ali died on Friday at the age of 74, but left a mark with not only fans and the media, but his opponents. And not just physical ones. For opponents, the "sting like a bee" part of his persona wasn't limited just to jabs and uppercuts that helped make him a legend. That also described how his taunts left them feeling decades later.

play Muhammad Ali

 

After defeating Sonny Liston to claim the heavyweight title in 1964, Ali, who was born Cassius Clay, defended his new title against former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. Patterson said in a 1989 interview that Ali's bravado initially rubbed him the wrong way, but he ultimately realised it was part of who he was.

"Well, when I first saw Clay, he was on television, he was yelling to the top of his voice about what he was going to do his opponent. Ah, I found this very, very funny, ah, in the beginning," Patterson said. "But after a while I began to dislike it because he said demeaning things about his opponents. And that's something that in boxing I always thought was a 'no-no'. You never down another guy to up yourself. But then as time went on I realised that he was doing this in order to give himself more confidence, convincing himself that he could do it."

 

Ali's taunting didn't win everyone, over, though. Joe Frazier, perhaps the boxing nemesis most often associated with Ali, expressed a level of bitterness with him that still simmered more than 20 years after they last met in the ring.

"Truth is, I'd like to rumble with that sucker again — beat him up piece by piece and mail him back to Jesus," Frazier said in his 1996 autobiography. "Now people ask me if I feel bad for him, now that things aren't going so well for him. Nope. I don't. Fact is, I don't give a damn. They want me to love him, but I'll open up the graveyard and bury his ass when the Lord chooses to take him."

Joe Frazier play Joe Frazier (Culture Box)

 

In 1974, a 32-year-old Ali met a prime George Foreman in what is known as the famed "Rumble In The Jungle", and emerged victorious despite being the heavy underdog against the undefeated 25-year-old Foreman. More than 40 years later, Foreman credits that fight with changing his life.

"That night something strange and mysterious happened to me. I lost, of course, and I just couldn't understand," Foreman recently told The Telegraph. "The punch that I had learnt to count on. I ran those punches and nothing happened. I thought it was kind of mysterious that I myself would be counted out.

George Foreman play George Foreman (CDN Images)

 

"I left there trying to find answers, there had to be more to life than just 'one, two, three, you're out'. And I started looking for answers and that fight started me on my journey of looking for big answers. And because of that fight I found great answers too."

Ali's personality and self-promotion rubbed many the wrong way, including his opponents, but he also helped drive others to find their higher self. Love him or hate him, there was no way the world could ignore Muhammad Ali, whose life and career were continually evolving. 

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