Muhammad Ali was one of a kind, his influence extending well beyond the sport he made his name in.
We all know he was born Cassius Clay and took his more famous name upon entering the Nation of Islam. However, not a lot of people realise that for a short time he was Cassius X, much in the same mould as Malcolm.
To the NOI, the “X” represented the original family names lost through slavery. But to most of us outside the Nation, X is the unknown quantity, beyond boundary. Ali, like most black Americans a mixture of African, Native American and European blood, renounced the doctrine of the NOI and advocated for a world beyond racial and religious boundaries. Ali was a Muslim at a time when nobody was bothered about it except maybe some in evangelical Christianity who equated Allah with a pagan Arab moon god. His movement from a racist sect to mainstream Sunni to Sufi mysticism carried no pretence of fundamentalism. In fact, he strongly criticised Islamist groups on several occassions. No doubt if he was healthier he would have knocked Bin Laden and his cronies for six!
And so “The Greatest” finally fell. His many battles caught up with him, his Parkinsons as much a souvenir of his career as his three heavyweight championships.
A pugilist of peace.