All Because of a Stolen Bicycle
By Michael Vincent
To receive a Bicycle on your birthday has to rank as a happy moment for any youngster. I can only imagine how the young Cassius Marcellus Clay felt on his 12th birthday to receive such a gift from his parents. Let's assume he was happy beyond measure because his life and ours was about to transform in the most dramatic, entertaining and moving way imaginable.
His bike was stolen while he was in a store looking for some free candy with his friends. His discovery of his stolen bicycle would be a turning point in his life. In the next moment he declared; "I wanna find who stole my bicycle and give them a whupping"
How would you have reacted in this moment?
Young Cassius's declaration led him to the local police station where he ended up in a conversation with Joe Martin. As it happens, Joe Martin ran the local Boxing Club and said to the youngster, "you better learn how to fight before you go beating anyone up".
As simple as this story is, it set the young Cassius on a worldwide journey of self-discovery, personal transformation, and hardship. In the process, he took us with him and left us transformed too.
The 1960s were a time of turbulent conversations, the civil rights movement was in full force; Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were doing their bit to push the civil rights movement forward. Martin Luther King preferred to use non-violence as means of expression, where as Malcolm X was open to any means necessary for the rights of black people to be valued and respected. In the meantime, Cassius Clay was staking his own claim to greatness.
On the night of February 25th 1964, he shook up the world, in more ways than one. He became the Heavyweight Champion of the world, defeating the fearsome Sonny Liston. He immediately proclaimed himself The Greatest and the prettiest champion of all time. This was unheard of, a heavyweight champion, so vocal about his prowess and good looks. It is important to understand, that before Clay, heavyweights did not speak out, their managers did all the taking. If they did speak it certainly wasn't with the flair of the newly crowned “King of the World”. No, this was different; this was a new era in boxing, sport, entertainment and show business on scale never seen before.
What happened the following morning would shake up the world right to its very core. At the morning press conference, Cassius Clay was no more, to the world press, he introduced himself by his new name, a name which would become synonymous with truth, self expression, freedom and liberty for all.....Muhammad Ali.
The world was in shock
Cassius Clay during his build up to the fight with Liston had become a member of The Nation of Islam.
His new name, Muhammad Ali, was the name bestowed upon him by their leader Elijah Muhammad. Ali's mentor during this time was the Nation of Islam's charismatic spokes person Malcolm X WOW......this was big news for the worlds press. His conversion to The Nation of Islam was big news, it caused a lot of controversy and it certainly made people dislike him.
Over the course of the 1960s decade, Muhammad Ali would consolidate his proclaim to be the greatest heavy weight champion of all time with stunning victories. One of which was a re-match with Sonny Liston, which lasted less than a round. Floyd Patterson and probably his greatest night as a heavyweight with his artistic display against the big puncher Cleveland “The Cat” Williams.
The Williams fight for Ali was a showcase of hand speed, fancy footwork, mind games and the famous enough “Ali Shuffle”.
I was just a toddler during this period; I have my mother to thank for introducing me to Ali. I was born the week before his first Liston fight. My mother watched the fight cradling me in her arms.
I have loved Ali ever since I first heard his name, which was around 1970/71. I have vivid memories of seeing the newspaper review of his fight with Joe Frazier. I was too young to know let alone remember the significance of this fight, which Ali lost.
1964 to 1967 were the golden years for Ali. The big turning point in Ali's life came when he point blank refused to be inducted into the Armed Forces to fight in Vietnam on the grounds it conflicted with his religious beliefs.....ANOTHER BOMBSHELL MOMENT FOR THE WORLDS PRESS.
Stripped of his title, not allowed to work, three years spent in exile, Ali's world came tumbling down.
Without realising it, this singular event in history would become an important moment in the civil rights movement, global conversation about the Vietnam War and public opinion about Muhammad Ali.
This Undefeated Champion became the People's Champion and it would be a title he would never lose. This was a victory of the highest moral order. He regained his license to fight again and set out to regain his crown. His loss to Joe Frazier would illustrate how difficult it would be because boxing had moved on, new and more powerful, crafty heavyweight boxers emerged during his exhale. The Ali of the 1960's would require a re-invention to live with this new breed of heavyweight.
The 1970s proved to be the most exciting decade for world boxing, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Jimmy Elis, Bob Foster, Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonanvana, George Forman, Joe Bugner, Henry Cooper (still fighting) and Ali were all attempting to reach the zenith of sporting achievement – to be crowned The Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Frazier loses his title to Foreman in Jamaica.
Ali and Frazier fought the re-match; Ali gets the split decision.
Ali loses to Norton with a broken Jaw.
What is exciting is the fact that all the top heavyweights fought each other.
The jewel in the crown for this decade was the epic "Rumble in the Jungle".
Ali Vs Foreman
This fight takes place in Kinshasa Zaire at 4 am in the morning.
This is the fight Ali was supposed to lose.
George Foreman was another version of Sonny Liston only worse. Sonny Liston at his best would not have beaten George Foreman no way.
Ali had no way of winning this fight..................on paper.
The Greatest found a way through the Foreman defense. Ali found a way into his mind and out thought him and knocked him out. I saw this fight as it happened.....I was ten years old and remember it like it was yesterday.
Ali was on top of the world…again.
If he had retired then perhaps the rest of his life would have been in good reasonable health. As we all know, Ali’s health began to deteriorate after "The Thriller in Manila", his third and truly epic fight with his greatest opponent Joe Frazier. Ali won the fight after 15 brutal rounds with Frazier retiring on his stool. However, he suffered greatly due to the complications of Parkinsons disease.
The writing was on the wall, he had a few more fights with Ernie Shavers, Ken Norton, Chuck Wepner and Leon Spinks – he lost the title to Leon Spinks and won it back for the third time.
Ali’s worst night as a boxer came against Larry Holmes, he suffered the indignity of not not winning a single round, battered and bruised and left a wreck on his stool like Frazier in Manila. This was heartbreaking to watch. Ali was my hero and to see his end come to this was truly sad. Yes, this was the end of Muhammad Ali the boxer.
His very last fight was against Trevor Berbick, which he lost, after this fight, I actually lost interest in boxing for quite a while.
Ali drifted into relative obscurity.
With failing health to Parkinsons disease, it was only a question of how long it would be for the great Muhammad Ali to live.
I am writing this tribute because, on June 4th, Ali passed away. He had lived far longer than most people who were plagued with this debilitating condition. This is a tribute to Ali’s strength of character and will.
This strength of character and will was born back in the 1960’s during his exile.
What impressed me about Ali was that he still made appearance in public…around the world, supported by his Lonnie. He made several trips to London during the 1990s.
One evening in 1991, I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Ali and entertaining him and his family with a performance of magic.
He invited me to his hotel to teach him a few magic effects. I had the pleasure to see first hand, up close and personal how well he looked, he looked fit to me, his speech was slurred, however, we enjoyed a good conversation and enjoyed our magical time talking tricks. He invited me and my mother to have dinner with him and his family; as you can imagine, she was made up. This was truly wonderful.
I would like to end this tribute with a very special letter I wrote to Muhammad.
I hope you can read this in heaven.
My mother held me in her arms the night you fought Sonny Liston. She told me years later she was afraid that Sonny would spoil your pretty face. That night, you made history on two counts. Firstly, you shook up the world and secondly, the seed was planted deep into my mind by my mother about your existence.
I never imagined in my wildest dreams that my passion for magic would bring us together. I could not believe it when I got the call to entertain you and your family.
You made me feel I was YOUR BEST FRIEND.
TEACHING YOU MAGIC JUST DOSENT get any better. We had fun the following morning discussing magic.
Come to think of it, you were my very first student; The Vincent Academy has done well since 1991.
Having dinner with you and your family made Mary's night; I have not seen my mother so lit up by anyone since. That was special beyond measure.
Now that you have returned to the commune with "THE FORCE", we are left to ponder the great teachings of your life.
The lessons I learnt from you are to be open to having a renewal of my mind, that gift comes from God. With my mind anew, I can see the world and people differently.
I can speak my truth coming from a position of love.
My time on earth is short, spend it doing the things I love, make people happy, spread joy and love everywhere, smile, bring peace to hostility, love to fear, compassion to those who need it, forgiveness and humility to all.
Most off all, love to myself as a man who as every right to be here and fight for my little piece of heaven here on earth.
Thank you Muhammad, you taught me the greatest love of all.
With Ali now resting in heaven the world has become still. I felt it; I had this same feeling when Princess Diana passed away, as if, the world stopped spinning just for a moment.
I am sad beyond measure and yet feel so privileged for having met one of the finest examples of a human being ever.
We are left to carry on, perhaps, I little piece of Ali will be left within me, I hope so, I will really miss him.
Magician, Lecturer, Speaker.