Why Muhammad Ali Was More Than Just "The Greatest"

Muhammad Ali was more than just the greatest. 

Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, won the light heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics at 18. Four years later, he triumphed as an underdog against Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion of the world. 

But titles were not the only reasons why Ali was revered. In his prime, Ali was quick. He zipped about the ring, endlessly in motion and often unguarded. He fought in the heavyweight division and there, Ali was lightning with a strike to match.

In the ring, his style was unorthodox. Off it, his personality was as enthralling as it was irreverent. He spoke his mind and his rhetoric was riveting. "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble," Ali said prior to his title bout against Sonny Liston. "The crowd did not dream when they laid down their money that they would see the total eclipse of the Sonny."

He did just that, winning and shuffling to the center of the ring after Sonny Liston failed to answer the bell in the seventh round. After the fight, he announced that he had accepted the teachings of a black separatist religion known as the Nation of Islam and took the name “Muhammad Ali", given to him by his spiritual mentor, Elijah Muhammad.
Ali's dominance came at a turbulent time where America's involvement in Vietnam was peaking and racism against African American was prevalent. His life intertwined with both. 

In 1966, he famously said: "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong," and refused to be sent to the front lines to fight in the Vietnam War citing his religious beliefs. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

"No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. 

"The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.… If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

He was subsequently convicted for draft evasion and in the interim stripped of his title and banned from championship boxing for three and a half years.

In one of his last fights before his ban, opponent Ernie Terrell riled Ali when he insisted on calling him "Clay". Ali went on to plummet Terrell for the full 15 rounds and yelled "What's my name," in the midst of the fight.
During the ban, Ali spoke at colleges on topics like the Vietnam War and advocated African American pride and racial justice. He onced addressed a college audience: “I would like to say to those of you who think I’ve lost so much, I have gained everything. I have peace of heart; I have a clear free conscience. And I’m proud. I wake up happy. I go to bed happy. And if I go to jail, I’ll go to jail happy. Boys go to war and die for what they believe, so I don’t see why the world is so shook up over me suffering for what I believe. What’s so unusual about that?”

By 1970, the anti-war sentiments picked up, and a judge ruled that Ali was allowed to box professionally again. In 1971, Ali was scheduled to fight reigning world heavyweight champion Joe Fraizer in what was billed as "The Fight of the Century".  Ali lost none of his charisma and cockiness. He taunted Joe Fraizer pre-fight, saying "Joe is going to come out smoking, but I ain't going to be joking. I'll be pecking and a-poking, pouring water on his smoking. This might shock and amaze ya, but this time I'll retire you, Frazier." But Ali's perfect record was broken by Fraizer. Shortly after that fight, his conviction was overturned. The pair's rivalry would extend further with their head-to-head ending 2-1 to Ali. 

In 1974, an older Ali, having lost his prime boxing years from conviction would go on to regain the heavyweight title against George Foreman by employing "rope-a-dope" which he popularised. 

In 1978, Ali, with a career record of 55–2, lost his title to 1976 Olympic champ Leon Spinks in a 15-round split decision. However, Ali would go on to win back the title in a unanimous decision shortly after. By the next year, he announced his retirement only to return on the decision. By then, Ali's career had waned and he retired for the second and last time in 1981. 

He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three years later but continued to use his fame to champion peace and civil rights. 

Muhammad Ali was by no means perfect. He was contradictory at times to what he stood for in his words and deeds. He was full of himself but really he fought for a cause larger than himself. Ali wrote in his autobiography: "My fighting had a purpose. I had to be successful in order to get people to listen to the things I had to say." And said he did. He was anti-establishment in a time of bigotry and conflict. He fought for civil rights and peace. Ali has passed on but his legacy has transcended sport. Besides leaving a mark on his many sparring partners, he left an indelible mark on society.

Parkour In Singapore A Balancing Act

It takes fine balance to be a parkour pro but it also takes some balancing to organise parkour events in Singapore.

Last month, Singapore held its biggest parkour event. The Lion City Gathering (LCG) 2016, in its second year, saw over a hundred local and international traceurs take to the Singapore heartlands to hone their craft. The three-day event saw Indonesian, Taiwanese, US and even European traceurs negotiate Singapore urban structures in Bedok, Bishan, and Clementi.

Held around residential estates, local parkour group, Parkour Singapore, ran into bumps while hosting the event as residents' complaints and police intervention plagued the event.

Organiser and local traceur Mr Koh Chen Pin, 22, had tried applying for a permit months before the event but was rejected. "We first sent out emails only to be rejected without explanation. Next we made a video to show the MPs and Town Council how much we really wanted the permit for Bedok Maze (a parkour spot), and we went down to the Meet-The-People session at Bedok and actually spoke to the MP himself." said Mr Koh. "However, the Town Council only sent me a letter with almost the exact same reply as the email they initially sent me."

The East Coast-Fengshan Town Council website states open spaces as a common area facility that can be used for "Social Gatherings, Wedding Receptions, Engagement, etc" for a fee of $50. The Sunday Times reported on Feb 7, that the Town Council turned down Mr Koh's application for this year's event for safety and secruity reasons after an incident during last year's LCG in which two traceurs trespassed on the roof of HDB flats.

Despite the rejection of a permit, LCG 2016 proceeded as planned. Mr Leonard Chiang, 22, a co-organiser said: "Parkour, unlike other activities, doesn't need a fixed area. We can go everywhere so at least for this year we continued on with it." Mr Chiang added that many international traceurs had already booked flights. There were also stricter regulations in place. Mr Koh shared that he informed the practitioners not to go up to HDB flats.

However, within an hour into the first day of the event, the organisers ran into problems. "Residents complained about the amount of people gathering below their blocks and we had to move off right away as soon as the police found out that we did not have any permits." said Mr Koh.

The organising committee was prepared for the reaction and had contingencies to cooperate."We printed out the particulars of all the guests present at the event to ease screening. We had back-up spots if we had to move out. We also started to spread the big group up into different groups and disperse to different spots within the area." said Mr Koh.

"There was nothing they could do as police had to fulfill their responsibilities of dispersing the crowd when they receive a complaint. On our side, we had no choice but to move on. We had to continually switch spots for a bit as the residents complained everywhere we went."

Residents were generally curious as to what was going on and cited noise, concern about damage to public property, and danger posed to the public using the common spaces among the reasons for complaints.

On the third day of the event at Bishan, one resident pointed out that the metal railing structures at the spot were loose and clanged loudly when used by the practitioners. The resident was worried it would deteriorate further.

Singapore Sports Stories was at the event spot on the third day and noticed that despite the large gathering, the practitioners were not rowdy. Apart from a few clangings from the metal railings and the occasional cheer, noise level was generally low.

LCG 2016 also took practitioners to Singapore's dedicated parkour gyms to train but ultimately the heart of parkour lies in negotiating urban landscapes and structure.

Mr Koh suggested parkour parks as a mean to satisfy the stakeholders here. "Most other countries have already built parkour parks in support of the sport." said Mr Koh. Denmark, Spain, and England are among some countries who have outdoor parkour parks. "They should definitely think of building one for us. There are plenty of skate-parks in Singapore already."

A group shot of participants for The Lion City Gathering 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Koh Chen Pin
Looking forward, Mr Koh wants to add credibility to parkour in Singapore. "We are going to form an association and start bringing up Parkour Singapore's name. Once our reputation is built, I hope it will make us much more trustworthy and thus easier (for us) to handle permit applications."

"I feel that Singapore needs to start accepting parkour as it's only going to grow bigger. It's really sad how an event with so much potential like this is going to waste just because the people here do not support it. It (LCG) is one of the biggest parkour gatherings in the world, held in Singapore due to its amazing training spots." said Mr Koh.

Despite the hiccups, the three-day event ran its course. Mr Chris Rajcevic, 41, one of the international participants at LCG 2016 shared that back in the US, the parkour community does not encounter such problems as much. "Not so much like here. I think maybe there is a more open mind towards parkour community there than here maybe."

Parkour In The Heart Of The City: The Lion City Gathering 2016

Parkour practitioners from around the world came together in Singapore for The Lion City Gathering 2016 on the weekend of 29 January. 

The three-day jam session saw local and international parkour practitioners - traceurs - from Indonesia, Taiwan, and USA among others take to the Singapore heartlands to perfect their moves.

Parkour is a sport where its practitioners move rapidly through an area by running, jumping, climbing and negotiating obstacles along the way. 

The Lion City Gathering 2016 brought the traceurs to popular spots in Clementi, Bedok, and Bishan to challenge themselves at the urban structure in these areas. One of the organisers, Mr Leonard Chiang, 22, said: "We are doing it mainly at the better spots for parkour which can really hold a lot of people with spots all around.

"One of the spot, they call it The Maze at Bedok is considered by the world to be one of the best parkour spots." said Mr Chiang.

Mr Chris Rajcevic, 41, from the US has been practicing parkour for three years and made his way to Singapore from the Philippines where he stayed for a few months. "I think Singapore has a lot of really good Parkour spots. Singapore has a lot of really good places to train for parkour. That's why a lot of people like coming here." said Mr Rajcevic. 

He added: "The best thing for me was getting to meet other people and learning from them, the training opportunity and the chance to meet some of the more advanced players in parkour."  

Also at The Lion City Gathering 2016 was 28-year-old traceur from Indonesia, Mr Yosua Setiawan, who missed out on last year's edition. "Last year, I really wanted to go but I do not have enough money. I don't come from a rich family. It takes one year for me to save money to go to Singapore. For me this is my first time going outside Indonesia too." Mr Setiawan is a partner of an online apparel shop that sells clothes themed around Parkour. 

He added: "I love making new friends and having fun jamming together. I think the togetherness and friendship among us are much more important than just showing off skills." 

Mr Chiang shared the same sentiment. He shared that one of the aims was to bring parkour communities closer together. "Everyone is just positive. Some people are earning minimum wage, some people are really wealthy but everyone can just mix together. You don't see it anywhere else quite like this." he said. 

The event was convened by local traceurs and saw about a hundred participants. This was the second year The Lion City Gathering was hosted.

Singaporeans to Compete in World Armwrestling Championships

Six members from Singapore's Armwrestling's team will travel to Malaysia for the 37th WAF World Armwrestling Championships come 26th September.

Some of the Singapore Armwrestlers at one of their training sessions. Photo: Courtesy of Valen Low

They will be in familiar ground as the team regularly competes in Malaysian armwrestling competitions. "There is a slight advantage because it is more convenient, We know Malaysia and the weather, we are all accustomed to it. We are familiar with the area and we know the people." said Valen, who heads the Singapore Armwrestling team. 

Valen won big last year, triumphing in the XIII Asian Open Arm Wrestling Championships under-70kg category and the FitX Invitational Arm Wrestling Cup 2014 under-80kg category but this World Championships will be his biggest competition yet.  "It is my last year in junior and next year I will be serving NS." said Valen. 

He targets a podium finish for his dominant hand. "For my right hand, my aim to is to get top three. For my left hand, it depends, there are around 14 to 15 competitors in my class so maybe about half, top seven or top eight, realistically."

It is the first time the world championships is hosted in the South East Asia region with this year's edition taking place at Berjaya Times Square Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Valen reckons this year's championships is a great opportunity for the region's arm wrestlers. "It is also a stage for South East Asia and arm wrestlers around the region to see where we actually stand in the arm wrestling world."

Singapore will be represented in numerous categories with Joshua Tay in Junior 18 boys 55kg, Joshua Chen in Junior 18 boys 60kg, Joshua Park in Junior 21 men 60kg, Tay Jia Jun and Valen Low in Junior 21 Men 65kg while the team's oldest arm wrestler, Dave Hum will compete in the Master Men 70kg. All will be vying in both left and right hands. The championships will run from 26 September to 4 October.

5 Lesser-Known Sports that Galvanised Singapore SEA Games Campaign

50 Golds was the initial target for Singapore's 28th SEA Games campaign and that goal has been thoroughly smashed, with traditionally strong sports like swimming, sailing, and table tennis gathering the golds.

Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/surveying/

The tally (as of time of publish) stands at 233 medals - 74 Golds , 65 Silvers , 94 Bronzes -  for Singapore, more than twice of the 2013 campaign. This record haul is no less thanks to some sports that have not necessarily been in the sporting spotlight, until now. 

Here are 5 sports that have galvanised Singapore's SEA Games campaign. 


An unprecedented haul of 7 Golds and 5 Silvers sent the Singapore canoeists surging to the top of the medal tally for the sport. The men's team notched two golds in the K1-1000m and K2-1000m on the first day of racing before their female counterparts took a clean sweep of golds on the second day, winning the K1-500m, K2-500m, and K4-500m. They concluded the games with another two golds in the Men's K1-200m and Women's K1-200m. 

2013 medal haul: 2 Golds, 2 Silvers, 2 Bronzes
2015 medal haul: 7 Golds, 5 Silvers


Singapore's wushu exponents also made their mark on home territory, picking up 3 Golds on the first day, 1 on the second day and another 2 on the last day.

2013 medal haul: 1 Gold, 2 Silvers, 2 Bronzes
2015 medal haul: 6 golds, 3 Silvers, 3 Bronzes


The sport last featured in the 2011 edition and Singapore took 1 Gold, 2 Silvers and 2 Bronze with Sasha Christian winning a shade each in Indonesia. The water skiers have improved their tally, taking 3 Golds and 2 Bronzes with a day of competition left.

2011 medal haul: 1 Gold, 2 Silvers, 2 Bronzes
2015 medal haul: 3 Golds, 2 Bronzes


Singapore's Leona Hui (left) after her semi-final bout with Josie Gabuco of the Philippines. Photo: Dickson Phua, https://www.flickr.com/photos/gunman47/

The Singapore boxers excelled in this edition, improving from 2 Bronzes in 2013 to 2 Silvers, 4 Bronzes at this year's games. 

2013 medal haul: 2 Bronzes
2015 medal haul: 2 Silvers, 4 Bronzes

5. Fencing

The sport was also not in the 2013 games, last featuring in the 2011 edition in which the Singapore fencers picked up what now looks like a paltry haul of 1 Silver and 2 Bronzes. This year's games saw the fencers racking in medals in the double figures. 

2011 medal haul: 1 Silver, 2 Bronzes
2015 medal haul: 3 Golds, 3 Silvers, 7 Bronzes 

Combined haul for 2015 SEA Games: 19 Golds, 13 Silvers, 16 Bronzes

As much as the games has brought these sports some much deserved attention, these sports have galvanised the Singapore's SEA Games campaign, sending Singapore up the medal table. Now, support, in all aspects of the word, for these sports will perhaps grow as the athletes race, fight, or perform and that will no doubt make a stronger Team Singapore. 

Singapore's Valen Low wins China International Armwrestling Championship 2015

In his first foray to the mainland, 21 year old arm wrestler Valen Low has taken the right hand under-70kg title at the China International Armwrestling Championship 2015 on 23 May 2015. 

Champion: Valen claimed the under-70kg title after beating Chinese arm wrestlers in their homeground. Photo: Courtesy of Valen Low

Held in Shenzhen, Valen shared that in the right hand under-70kg category, there were about 60 competitors hailing from China and Hong Kong. He took down 5 competitors, losing only one round in his final match before clinching the title. 

Coming into the competition, the 21-year-old was expecting a top three finish, and had sight on winning. It was also a first for China to organise an international arm wrestling meet. "The competition was good even thought it is their first time organising international competitions," said Valen.

"It was amazing, China armwrestlers are very hospitable and generous. It was good to see the sport of arm wrestling there and there were a lot of potential and strong arm wrestlers." 

Valen also clinched third for the left hand open category and competed against the top two under-90kg arm wrestlers for the overall open and was able to put up a strong challenge despite being much lighter. 

Singapore Strongman Series 2015 in Full Swing

In a first for the local strongman scene, a series of competitions has been lined up for local and international strongmen to test their strength through different lifts. 

Strength: The Singapore Strongman Series is not just limited to males. The Singapore Axle Deadlift Open 2015 saw four strongwomen compete. Photo: Derrick See

Coined Singapore Strongman Series 2015, the competitions span from March to September, with the Singapore Axle Deadlift Open 2015 recently concluding on 21 March 2015. Upcoming competitions include Singapore Log Press Championship 2015 - 23 May, Singapore Axle Squat Open 2015 - end July, before the series finishes with the Singapore Strongman Championships 2015 in September.

Founder and local strongman Ahmad Taufiq Muhammad said the series was built on the idea to sustain interest for strongman. "It came about after last's year's Singapore Strongman Classic and I sat down and asked 'What could be done better for 2015?'. Strongman competitions tend to be a one off event and after a competition and that's it. But there was a key word that came up - sustainability. So how can we sustain an athlete's interest to be competitive throughout the whole year and at the same time raise the standard of competition?" said Taufiq. 

"So I've decided on doing a series format that would serve as a qualifier and a points system that would ensure that all athletes by the end of the year would be ranked according to performance in various competitions this is following closely to Strongman Champions League (SCL) where there are 16 competitions around the world and it functions on a points system."
Photo: Singapore Strongman Series 
Scoring follows a ranking system where each competition that athletes enter will allow athletes to earn points. Points will be accumulated through the series into a ranking system that places the athletes in their respective weight class. Placing first gives an athlete 12 points while second gives 10, and the points decrease down the places.

The series is also open for athletes from Malaysia, Brunei and Australia. Taufiq said: "One of the main purpose of this decision is to grow the strongman community in Asia-Oceania." 

"So far athletes from Brunei are keen, even athletes from Australia are asking me how do they earn an invite to compete in Singapore. Even some of my strongman friends in UK, Norway and Sweden have ask how do they earn an invite. After seeing the photos and updates on social media it has raise the competition profile by a few notches. If the winner of Australia's Strongest Man 2014 asked me how does he earn an invite, I think it's safe to say that's quite a compliment." 

On the goal of the Singapore Strongman Series, Taufiq shared that one of the aims is to use it as a platform to build the sport locally both professionally and at the amateur level.

55 athletes competed in round one with some hailing from other countries. The next round in the series will be the Singapore Log Press Championship 2015 held on 23 May.