Photo Credit: The Web.
Although the legendary pugilist retired in 1979, his ferocious presence in the sport of boxing didn’t retire with him, we still grew up associating boxing with Mohammed Ali just like we associated music with Michael Jackson, even though Michael was at the peak of his career and was still reaping the massive fruit from his mind-blowing ‘Thriller Album’—Thriller, today, remains the highest ever sold and still selling album with over 65million official count, some even suggested about 110million plus. Yes, no one cared which of the two legends was still in the business or had retired; you threw at your friend a massive right hand punch, you were ceremoniously called Mohammed Ali. You threw few coordinated dance steps, you were called Michael Jackson. But then, the king of pop music died of health complications that may not be said to be related to singing… how possibly can we categorically say, the greatest boxer in the history of mankind was killed by boxing after about 37years of retirement?
Let me go a little down Mohammed Ali’s Career lane…,
Ali’s problems probably started in the last decade of his boxing career. In 1967, after winning the bout against Terrell in an unanimous decision (which lasted a tumultuous 15rounds), Ali was stripped of his title, boxing license and sentenced to three and a half years in prison with a fine, for refusing to render his services to the army in the Vietnam War.
In 1971, after serving his jail term, Ali tasted his first ever loss against his fierce enemy on the ring, Joe Frazier (the fight was nicknamed Fight of the century), Ali received some serious beatings towards the end of this bout.
His second ever loss came in 1973 to Ken Norton, Ali didn’t only receive serious whipping from this guy, he also took home a broken jaw as a takeaway gift from Norton.
After winning a few bouts and also winning again against Frazier in 1975 in ‘Thrilla in Manila’( I only heard about this in quiz competitions back in secondary school), Mohammed Ali later lost all his major bouts, including losing his heavy weight title to Trevor Berwick, and retired in 1979 at age 37.
Why 37, Other Successful Heavy weight Boxers Lasted 40 and above?
Even though, professional boxers have now been advised to retire as early as 32 to prevent a more serious health sequale after retirement, Mohammed Ali could be said to have retired early in his time. Few years before his retirement, doctors noticed some neurological symptoms (including tremors) in one of his bouts. He would later be forced to retire, and was not diagnosed of Parkinson’s disease until 1984.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease, and What Business Has It Got With Boxers?
Parkinson’s disease, PD, is a condition affecting the neurons of the brain. The condition is progressive and usually elaborates more as an individual grows older. I shouldn’t forget to mention that it is a disease of the old people and more common in Males and Whites. PD causes loss of coordination of motor functions (seen as tremors in the hands, legs and jaw, at rest), body rigidity seen as stiffness, slow movement (Bradykinesia), abnormal walking gait like someone walking by shifting both legs without lifting them up properly, soft voice, and Dementia.
Dementia may not be as common in PD as other movement/motor problems, however may manifest as impairment of memory function (majorly forgetfulness) and impairment of other cognitive functions like intelligence, learning, perception, and even emotional involvement! This manifest in the form of deteriorating social and occupational functions as they forget easily and easily get confused.
Without boxing, the aging Mohammed being a man was at a risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, but such risk was very low! I mean how many old men have P.D? Just 1% of individuals older than 60years!
Without proper management, complications of Parkinson’s Disease may lead to death as the condition progresses. Perhaps this was what happened to Mohammed Ali.. or may be not, because he must have received one of the best available treatments in a country that has some of the best neurologists (doctors that specialize in diagnosing and managing medical problems of the brain and spinal cord) in the world.
According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals who have suffered head injury are four times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than those who have never suffered head trauma. Neurologists could not definitely say whether Ali’s symptoms were a result of his boxing career, but many specialists confirmed that, persistent punches in the head does increase the risk of PD.
Asides Mohammed Ali, Floyd Petterson and Freddie Roach are notable boxers who after receiving great amount of punches on the head later developed Parkinson’s disease!
What Other Health Problems Are Boxers Exposed To After Retirement?
One of the problems in PD is Dementia, Dementia without PD is very common in boxing, hence the name Dementia Pugilistica. As highlighted above, demented retired boxers forget too quickly and get confused easily. The I.Q declines fast also, and learning about new things becomes difficult as they may also forget things that have been learned previously.
The Pug look:
The Pug look is a popular term for pugilists/boxers looking like breed of dog called pug, after they might have suffered series of broken parts of their face and subsequent rough scaring might have occurred. The dog breed was named after the retired old boxers with this look.
Painful Swelling of the small joints of the hand may occur after years of retiring from boxing. Multiple trauma on the fist result to inflammatory responses which cause wearing and tearing of the cartilages lining the joint space and subsequent narrowing of joint space. With protective gloves, the risk of developing traumatic osteoarthritis is reduced.
Terms like Shaken baby syndrome, Punch Drunk Syndrome are also commonly used for boxer who had incurred various forms of head injuries after receiving massive whipping on the head.
Now, reports have confirmed that Ali died of respiratory complications. Because pneumonia and respiratory arrest are serious complications that could kill a patient with PD, the cause of Mohammed Ali’s death could rightly be said to be complications of Parkinson’s Disease which he was predisposed to from years of boxing. Through the same line of thought, would one be right to say he was killed by boxing? It all depends on the way you see it. Thanks for reading.
Mohammed Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. In 1942
Converted to Islam in 1964 after learning of Malcolm X.
He initially changed his name to Cassius X before later sticking to Mohammed Ali.
He also became an activist and believed in moral justice and fought against racial abuse of blacks.
He was well known for throwing fierce remarks at his opponents before a fight, thus Killing them mentally before punishing them physically.
The famous people.com. Mohammed Ali’s Biography
Livestrong.com. PD and Boxing
Medscape App. Parkinson’s disease, epidemiology
Hollowverse.com. Mohammed Ali’s religion and political view
Wikipedia.org. List of southpaw stance boxers; left handed boxers
Greennews.com.ng. Breaking news.