On Friday, the world mourned the death of boxing legend and civil rights activist, Muhammad Ali, who according to NBC News died at the age of 74 from respiratory complications.
The late Ali heavily influenced, current WIBA world champion boxer, Keisher McLeod who goes by the boxing name “Fire.”
Fire is a four-time Golden Gloves champion and two-time world champion amateur boxer and her home gym is Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, New York. She has been boxing for more than a decade and is the first Gleason’s Gym World Champion to win a world title since 2009. She won the title in 2014.
Ali has connections to Gleason’s Gym, as it is where he trained for the fight of the century in 1971, which then took place at Madison Square Garden between Ali and Joe Frazier.
Fire shares her thoughts on losing the famed boxer and icon.
Describe how you’re feeling today after we’ve lost one of “The Greatest of All Time,” Muhammad Ali.
Unfortunately, I saw it coming so I kind of prepared myself already. The thing is, Ali is the only celebrity that I’ve ever wanted to meet. At Gleason’s we meet a lot of athletes, actresses, and models; I’ve always wanted to be in his presence but I never got the opportunity and that was sad.
How did Ali inspire you?
When I was an amateur, they used to call me a female Ali. They used to call me a lot of other names that I didn’t know but Ali was one that I knew. Once I started to learn more about him, I saw that my style was similar to his. The night before one of my fights in 2003 at Gleason’s Gym, I wasn’t sure I would win so my trainer at the time, Lee Shabaka, sent me a quote from Ali: “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing!” This was when I realized that this is what I wanted to do. That night I won the gold medal.
How has that quote impacted your life?
That quote was just a reprise for all who thought I couldn’t become a world champion. That is one of my favorite quotes ever and is hanging on the wall in my house.
You never got the opportunity to meet him but if you could have, what would you have said?
I think I would be shaking like I did when I met Mike Tyson. But I would probably just say thank you. I would also share with him what that quote meant to me and how it stuck with me.
What have you heard about him from your peers that have met him?
I’ve always heard he would walk around the gym and talk to everyone. He was a ladies man but also talked to all the guys too. He was a people person and always made people feel welcome. A lot of celebrities have a wall up but he was never like that. That’s why I wanted to meet him so bad.
What would you tell someone in the future about his legacy?
There’s just so much… I guess if someone asked me about him, I’d tell them about the meaning of my favorite quote and how it’s universal. It doesn’t just apply to boxing. It was a big symbol for me and may be my next tattoo. That one quote went a long way.