Muhammad Ali: The Fight He Could Not Win

Blog-Muhammad Ali The Fight He Could Not Win

Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016. He was “The Greatest.” He told us so himself. And Sports Illustrated named him the greatest athlete of the 20th century. He is a three-time winner of the heavyweight championship.

Ali was polarizing. When he converted to Islam, he rejected his birth name or what he referred to as, his “slave name,” Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. and renamed himself, Muhammad Ali.  On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali publicly refused the military draft because of his new-founded religious beliefs. He was then convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, and was stripped of his boxing titles.

On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction for draft evasion, but because he was banned from boxing, he lost three prime years of his career. Nonetheless, his protest to the Vietnam War made him a hero to many.

My father, the child of Italian immigrants, loved boxing because so many successful boxers in his youth were Italians like Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Graziano, Gus Mercurio, Nino Benvenuti, and Rocky Castellani. The list goes on.

March 8, 1971, one of my fondest childhood memories was when my father and I attended the closed circuit telecast of the first Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fight, known as The Fight of the Century. This was, of course, long before I learned just how bad boxing was for the brain. Frazier won that fight, but Ali prevailed in their next two rematches.  In 1974, Ali also prevailed in his famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight with George Foreman in Zaire. During this fight, Ali used his famous “Rope a Dope” strategy, letting Foreman pound Ali with brutal blows round after round until Foreman wore himself out. Then Ali staged his comeback and knocked Foreman out in the eighth round.

Ali’s performance with Foreman was heroic. But, he received blow after blow from Foreman during that fight. Larry Holmes, “The Easton Assassin,” himself a remarkable heavyweight fighter, said it was Ali who was “the dope” during that fight because of how many times Ali allowed Foreman to hit him. Ali’s strategy during the “Rumble” was far from the “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” strategy that Ali so often bragged about. And his brain surely paid the price for being a human punching bag for Foreman.

In his prime, Ali was larger than life, but his brain health eventually gave out because of all the punches he absorbed during his career. We remember those sad scenes from his later years—the trembling giant who could hardly move because of Parkinson’s disease.

Best-selling author Jonathan Eig is coming out with an Ali biography later this year that promises to document the number of times Ali got hit during his fights. We’ll have to wait until the October 2017 publication date to learn that number. Ali himself reportedly estimated that he’d been hit 29,000 times in his fights. Plus, how many more times was he hit during his training sessions?

Regardless of that total number, getting hit in the head accidentally or receiving repeated head blows form sports is terrible for the brain. Had Ali realized all the damage that he was doing to his brain, would he have stopped boxing? Probably not, but with so many of our kids playing sports – whether it’s boxing, football, soccer, snowboarding or lacrosse – Muhammad Ali’s life is a sobering reminder that we must protect our brains.

At Amen Clinics, SPECT brain imaging allows us to see the damage caused by head injuries. Every day we see lives ruined by daily bad habits that could have been avoided.  Protect your brain.  And if you or someone you love is suffering from a head injury, come in to see us.  We can help. Call today at 888-288-9834 or visit us online to schedule a visit.


Dr. Joseph A. Annibali graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a Senatorial Scholar, and from which he received an Honors award for studies in Biological Chemistry. Dr. Annibali is the Chief Psychiatrist at Amen Clinics Washington DC.  Author of Reclaim Your Brain—How to Calm Your Thoughts, Heal Your Mind, and Bring Your Life Back Under Control.


  1. I remember that when Ali died, his doctor stated that his boxing career did not contribute to him contracting Parkinson’s.

    Comment by Sharon Radigan — July 14, 2017 @ 8:06 AM

  2. Ali had some slowness in his movements even before the Parkinson’s diagnosis…

    Comment by kaythegardener — July 14, 2017 @ 9:33 AM

  3. Bingo. And who in their right mind, no pun intended, would NOT find an association?! Deliberate denial and active deception is what is practiced in much of mainstream “healthcare” today.

    Comment by Crystal Stingray — July 14, 2017 @ 9:47 AM

  4. Well , all about the causes of brain injury is true , but also those people
    who are trying to make a fortune based on people’s brain injury are well
    immoral Doctors and charging hug amount of fees for taking a brain
    scan alone and other charges for medications which may not work for
    some people ….

    Comment by Walter — July 14, 2017 @ 10:10 AM

  5. Amen. Not sure, if it’s true that these can be about $3,000.

    Comment by Ruth — July 14, 2017 @ 12:21 PM

  6. I’m not dumping on doctors. I just found it interesting because I have Parkinson’s and I’ve never gotten thumped on the noggin:)

    Comment by Sharon Radigan — July 14, 2017 @ 12:38 PM

  7. Parkinson’s symptoms can appear 10 years before the diagnosis

    Comment by Rowena Lewis Gerber — July 15, 2017 @ 8:37 AM

  8. My husband went to the Amen clinic in NYC last year. It may well have saved his life because traditional medicine did NOT find evidence of brain damage (which explains a good deal of his behaviour) or sleep apnea (which subsequent testing has shown that he had one of the worst cases of sleep apnea in our geographic area and he’s been on a CPAP machine since September and having better sleeps than he’s had his whole life – he’s 60), as well as some other issues which help us cope better with his ongoing behavioral problems. They put him on diet and gave him natural supplements which, compared to a myriad of pharmaceuticals he’d been given by psychiatrists who DIDN’T use scans as diagnostic tools in the past, helped take the edge off things…we are grateful…

    Comment by Ellen Christine Smith — July 15, 2017 @ 4:50 PM

  9. In view of what has been learned about the brains of football players, even as young as high school, it’s difficult to believe his brain was not adversely affected by boxing. Ali’s may not have had Parkinson’s Disease, an idiopathic disease, but rather Parkisonism, the same symptoms but for known reasons, like trauma to the brain, chemical reactions, medicines, etc. And one does not contract Parkinson’s; that implies one can catch it like the flu; Parkinson’s developed because of changes in the brain’s chemistry, like many other neurological disorders. I doubt Ali ONLY suffered from Parkinsonism; he likely had much more wrong, as is Parkinson’s wasn’t bad enough.

    Comment by Teresa Baker — August 12, 2017 @ 5:42 AM

  10. My wife was diagnose with cbgd. Which is brain cell degeneration.dont know to much about except there isn’t any cure. Any info would be appreciated

    Comment by Tony Pisanu — August 13, 2017 @ 8:49 AM

  11. I am a brain trauma support worker.This article was fascinating.

    Comment by Elaine Wilson — April 22, 2018 @ 8:09 PM

  12. I agree with you

    Comment by Damian — April 16, 2019 @ 4:06 AM

  13. I am so sorry I hope everything is well.

    Comment by Damian — April 16, 2019 @ 4:07 AM

  14. I liked how in this article they posted information on his childhood.

    Comment by Damian — April 16, 2019 @ 4:12 AM

  15. I am 60 year old who was diagnosed 24 months ago with Parkinson's. I have severe calf pain, muscle pain, slurred speech, frequent falls, loss of balance, difficulty in getting up from sitting position, I was having a problem accepting my diagnosis, even though I've read every thing I can find to read. I've been put on Sinemet 3 times daily but it doesn't seem to be helping. I also have difficulty writing. Getting in bed, turning over.this year our family doctor started me on ( Health Herbs Clinic ) Parkinson’s Disease Herbal mixture, 6 months into treatment I improved dramatically. At the end of the full treatment course, the disease is totally under control, no case of Parkinson’s disease, hallucination, weakness, muscle pain or tremors. I’m strong again and able to go about daily activities.

    Comment by Dorothy Garvey — October 19, 2022 @ 8:46 AM

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