A few weeks ago, Jessica was once again competing in The World Robotics Championships in Louisville, Kentucky (she also went last year, but this year her team were UK national champions!). Brian accompanied her there. And he was particularly taken by one, fantastic, musem:
“The Muhammad Ali Center is a museum is dedicated to the life of the three-time heavyweight champion boxer, and was the highlight of my brief time in Louisville.
My visit began in the Orientation theatre, and the multi screen short film sets the mood perfectly. James Earl Jones and Maya Angelou read alternating verses of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” and the footage has been expertly edited to match the words. The section accompanied by the line “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two imposters just the same” ends with Joe Frazier spectacularly knocking Ali onto his back. The woman beside me gasped.
There was much more to see in the museum than just boxing footage. The first section was about social history in racially segregated Louisville, and the set of a diner was used to re-enact the discrimination the 18 year old Ali experienced when he was refused service in a whites only restaurant after winning his Olympic Gold medal. The onscreen interviews describe how Ali gave confidence and pride to African Americans, encouraged by his lack of fear.
His press interviews and chat show appearances are mesmerizing and entertaining, but the museum does not hide from any of the controversial aspects of his life – his association with Malcolm X and conversion to the Nation of Islam, changing his name from the “slave name” of Cassius Clay, and refusing to fight in Vietnam.
Ali’s story is inspirational, and his many charitable works are highlighted, but the museum certainly does not idolize the man. The interview footage describes him as a womaniser, shows him not allowing his first wife to speak on camera, calling white people and Jews “devils”, and repeatedly taunting Ernie Terrell in the ring with “what’s my name, Uncle Tom…what’s my name”. So, no saint, but what a story.
Despite all his fame and fortune, Ali seems to have suffered more than his fair share of disappointments and hardships. He grew up in poverty in a segregated city, was vilified for his religious beliefs and banned for over three years when he should have been at his peak of his career, having to wait another three years to fight for the undisputed title again after losing to Frazier. He also boxed on well past his prime, and was then afflicted with Parkinsons’ disease in his later years. The footage of him lighting the torch at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 was truly touching (even though I had seen it many times before).
One of the highlights of the museum was the film “The Greatest” in which Ali’s boxing career is projected onto a full-sized boxing ring one level below. His great fights against Sonny Liston, Frazier and George Foreman are spectacular.
The museum also has lots of interactive boxing displays where you can “train with Ali”. I loved holding onto the punchbag that simulates how hard you are hit when punched in the stomach, and being able to shadowbox with him. The speed of the bursts of punches was frightening. You can also receive onscreen boxing lessons from Ali’s daughter Laila in a boxing ring setting, and can enjoy hitting a speed bag at head height. I had a great time in this section practicing my boxing moves, particularly as there was no-one around at the time to watch me!
Ali proclaimed himself as the “greatest”, and perhaps he was. I can imagine a young Mike Tyson giving him a good run for his money in the ring, but Ali was bigger than just boxing. With his incredible good looks, charisma, showmanship and larger than life personality, it is no surprise the BBC named him ‘Sports Personality of the Century’ in 1999.
The museum is a great place to learn more about the man and his legacy.”
The Muhammad Ali Center is open Tuesdays to Sundays. It costs $9 for adults, $8 for those aged 65+, $5 for students and $4 for children aged 6-12. Children aged five or under are free.
Also on Family Travel Times
Also by Brian