Boxing champions come and go but once in a rare while one rises above the pack. I knew little about Muhammad Ali but like most Filipinos he had a place in my heart. I knew he changed his name from Cassius Clay and became a Muslim. It was big news when he lost his boxing title and was thrown in jail for refusing to be drafted in the military in 1966, at the height of the Vietnam War.
He claimed to be “The Greatest”. According to Hauser, Thomas in The Importance of Muhammad Ali, “He set an example of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination during the 1960's Civil Rights Movement.” The Filipinos known for personal, family and national pride could relate to his racial pride.
The fight between Ali and Ken Norton in 1973 where Ali suffered a broken jaw literally brought tears to my eyes. The significance of this is that I have suffered personal tragedies like terminal illness and divorce without shedding a tear.
Then, the Thrilla in Manila happened in 1975. The third and final fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier was held at the Araneta Coliseum. Ali Mall, the first shopping mall in the Philippines opened in 1976, a block from Araneta Coliseum, in honor of Muhammad Ali’s coming to the Philippines. It has four floors, 100 shops & restaurants and has undergone expansions and renovations in the 80’s and most recently in 2009.
In 2006, I moved to Louisville, Kentucky not knowing it was Muhammad Ali’s hometown. There I found the Muhammad Ali Center, established in November 19, 2005, almost 30 years after the Philippines honored him with Ali Mall. Obviously, Ali is loved by the Philippines more than the city where he was born.