Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Free to Be Muhammad Ali covers almost the entire sweep of Ali’s life in boxing. Robert Lipsyte relates Ali’s life story beginning at the age of twelve, when he first became enamored of the sport, through triumphs, banishment from boxing in 1967 for refusing to be drafted into the Army, to a comeback in 1970, and a loss in 1971 to Joe Frazier. The book then depicts Ali regaining the heavyweight title by knocking out George Foreman in 1974 and concludes with Leon Spinks’s 1978 upset victory over Ali. Not included is Ali’s defeat of Spinks later in 1978, which made Ali the only boxer in history to twice lose—and then regain—the heavyweight championship of the world.

An opening chapter entitled “Introduction / Ali and Me” presents a major theme and recurring motif of the work in Ali’s declaration after winning the championship: “I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be who I want.” The concise introduction also establishes the close and trusting relationship between author Lipsyte and his subject. Chapter 1 finds Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., bursting into public prominence in the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome with the colorful persona he adopted: “the prettiest, The Fastest, THE GREATEST.” Chapter 2 uses flashback to take the reader back to the day in 1954 when the twelve-year-old Cassius first saw at least a dozen youngsters boxing, jumping rope, and hitting speed-punching bags in the Columbia Gym. Ali dates his interest in boxing to that day, when he first talked with Joe Martin, a police officer and trainer of young boxers.

After the flashback of...

(The entire section is 665 words.)