And I do not simply mean the greatest fighter.
Ali could be argued as having the greatest impact on our culture. He was unafraid when it came to speaking his mind, and going against the grain during a time where tolerance of anything deviating from the norm was not accepted.
Born Cassius Clay, Ali came up during the Civil Rights Movement, when he was not afraid to mouth off to White America how great he was. He joined the controversial Nation of Islam, where he changed his name to Ali. He hung with the likes of Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, both of whom were hated and feared by the great number of white people.
Ali also peaked during the Vietnam War era, and was drafted to go into Vietnam. While reportedly he would not even had to see a day of combat (more so an “ambassador” of sorts if you will), Ali did not believe in the war in Vietnam and stood his ground. Being that a “draft dodger” was not a popular thing to at the time, Ali was punished by having his world heavyweight title stripped and banned from boxing for three years.
Ali was hated by mainstream America for what he did, and was loved by young Americans at the same time. He was seen as inspirational by many – whites and blacks – for the stand he made.
In reclaiming the heavyweight title from George Foreman in Zaire a.k.a. “The Rumble in the Jungle”, Ali officially moved into “iconic” status. Ali would go on to become the first and only three-time World Heavyweight Champion. Oh, and who could ever forget this:
There may not be another person who could be like Muhammad Ali. Perhaps that is the real reason why he is called “The Greatest”.