Cassius Marcellus Clay was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky to Christian parents who attended the Baptist Church. He was young, gifted and black and moved to Miami to further his training as a boxer. He was funded by a group of honest businessmen from his hometown at a time when the sport was being run by the mafia and linked to organised crime.
It is relatively rare for someone with his Christian upbringing to convert to Islam but after forming a friendship with Malcolm X he was persuaded to do just that. The driving force behind his conversion appeared to be the idea that integrating people of different colour was not something he believed in. Against what we in the West assume, Cassius Clay wanted segregation by colour to remain.
Set in the early sixties when Martin Luther King was fighting against all forms of segregation it seemed an unusual path to go down. Clay befriended Sam Cooke and many others in the music business who came from Gospel singing backgrounds but was undeterred and became known as Mohammed Ali.
Unlike a lot of his opponents Ali lived a quiet sober life eating healthily and rarely touching alcohol which ultimately helped him to gain the title of Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. He used the media to his advantage and was always available for public appearances dressed in a stylish fashion.
Author Stuart Cosgrove’s love of the music business comes shining through and the reader is bombarded with an abundance of stories about the emergence of soul music which was taking over the airwaves. Cosgrove includes Ali’s visit to Britain and gives a detailed account of the Profumo affair which diverted the media attention from the boxer who continued to claim “I am the Greatest.” But too much ground is covered and the book ultimately tells us more about life in the early sixties, the music business and the private lives of the upcoming stars than the story of the boxer. Cassius X reads more like an encyclopedia of facts than the story of a man’s conversion, but nevertheless, there is much to peak the interest in this enigmatic character.