The Martyrdom of Muhammad Ali

Dr. C. Adrian Johnson

By Dr. Christopher A. Johnson

Except for the Independent online publication that alluded to Muhammad Ali’s life as a martyr towards the end, few commentators have analysed this important decipher of one of the world’s controversial but yet colourful sportsman. His movement towards martyrdom status was evident in the ring and outside of it. Martyrdom is usually associated with sacrilege, sanctity and all things pious. It also denotes acts of persecution, torment agony and other forms of torment. The beliefs of individuals and their reasons for such values could easily be distorted by a host of complex-laden concepts and conventions that don’t offer mirror the uniqueness of the human psyche. In every person, there is an element of martyrdom, a desire to accomplish, a passion to sacrifice for a purpose that is meaningful and a chance to take risks to achieve that almost elusive goal or objective. Such is the elemental nature of human beings.

Unlike other sporting professionals of his generation, Ali epitomised a symbol of self-sacrifice etched with pomp, hilarity and self-adulation. The attention-seeking that he mastered or supposedly craved, masked the motive of a compelling desire to help, support and improve the lives of others affected by forms of injustice or other. Many of the boxers who fought him also enhanced their public persona while securing material trappings. Amid reverence and loathe, most of the fighters who challenged Ali were more interested in pugilistic prizes –high earnings and a reputation. Ali himself used boxing to sustain his campaign for justice and due recognition for people of colour –in the USA and the world as a whole. His fights around the globe was a powerful reflection of his maytrdomic inclinations.

Image of Muhammad Ali

If ever there was a man who was ‘master of his fate’, that man was Ali. For he exercised that fate as a means to an end; he articulated it and sealed it with his personal and professional life alike. To him boxing was more than a sport, it was a metaphor for honing justice, an instrument for welding societies, and a vehicle for transforming the human spirit. His success transcended the ‘Sweet Science’ (boxing). It also brought a level of partial respectability to the downtrodden and the oppressed. He was a signifier of triumph over travesty and indignation of the worst kind ever imagined in the 20th century. In fact, some of these epic battles are still being fought today despite the tirade of clichés and multiple platitudes.

Ali’s martyrdom as a man and professional, was also typified by his relentless act of giving. Stories of him giving to noble causes –individually and collectively –are now legendary. His natural personality was also a stimulus for greed and exploitation by some who naturally benefitted from his box office earnings.

Yet, there is no doubt that Ali’s martyrdom can have a transformative impact on men and women irrespective of their backgrounds. Throughout his life (even towards the end of it), he exemplified moral strength, the essence of nobility and unerring magnanimity. Indeed, very few sports have seen the likes of a symbolic talisman like Muhammed Ali. May his deeds remain truly immortal for succeeding generations in the global stratosphere and may his soul rest in peace.

Dr. Christopher Johnson is an award-winning author, publisher and business management consultant. Dr. Johnson can be contacted at


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