Muhammad Ali firmly established himself as one of the greatest professional athletes in sports history. His bubbly personality, coupled with his dominance in the ring, made him a must-see attraction. However, Ali‘s decisions late in his boxing career may have contributed more significantly to his health issues in retirement.
Muhammad Ali’s legendary boxing career
Muhammad Ali spent over two decades in the ring, where he established himself as one of the greatest boxers.
Ali ascended to stardom early in his career after beating Sonny Liston in his first title fight at age 22. From that point forward, he became one of the most polarizing and exciting professional athletes across the globe, behind his dominance in the ring and his legendary trash-talking.
Ali had many memorable moments, such as his trilogy of fights against Joe Frazier and “The Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman. During his prime, Ali was the complete boxer that left a lasting impact on the sport.
Beyond his iconic fights, his ailing health after his career became a massive part of his life’s story.
Muhammad Ali willingly ignored his doctor’s stern warning about his declining health
As Muhammad Ali progressed through the latter portion of his career, there developed evident telling signs of his declining health.
These health issues were outlined in Jonathan Eig’s “Ali: A Life,” as Ali’s ring doctor Ferdie Pacheco told him in the mid-1970s that he was already showing permanent brain damage. (H/T Oregon Live)
He insisted that Ali’s “reflexes were only 25 to 30 percent of what they should be,” but the champ waved off him. “He didn’t see that,” Pachecho said. “He didn’t think he was brain damaged. He didn’t remember things. He was stuttering and stammering…I couldn’t stop him. I tried.”
Ali was a headstrong boxer that wanted to continue fighting as long as he could. However, his declining health led the Madison Square Garden in 1977 to state it would no longer hold fights for him due to the concerns regarding his health.
He chose to fight four more years with six fights over that span, losing three out of his final four bouts. His decision to continue boxing had a lasting impact on his health, contributing to his problems in the many years following his career.
Health struggles worsened in retirement
In 1984, he was officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and initially managed to operate largely independently.
He participated as a special guest referee for a match at the first WrestleMania in 1985 and helped negotiate the release of American hostages in 1990.
He became a huge ambassador for the disease that to him creating the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute. Ali also started an annual Celebrity Fight Night that raised more than $100 million in donations to the cause.
As the years passed along, his physical capability and speech delivery deteriorated. He required help to move around in his daily life, guiding him to stay out of the public light. All that led to him suffering a respiratory illness in June 2016 that only worsened and resulted in his death at age 74 due to septic shock.
It is widely believed that the numerous head blows that he took over his boxing career led to Parkinson’s disease. Ali reportedly took 200,000 headshots in the ring that contributed to him suffering brain damage much earlier in his career.
As difficult as it was to see Ali in that state of health following his days in the ring, the admiration and respect toward him has remained strong well past his life.