Exploring a Boxing Legend’s Career with the Wolfram Language: Ali at 75
January 17, 2017 — Jofre Espigule-Pons, Machine Learning
Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942–June 3, 2016) is considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers in history, with a record of 56 wins and 5 losses. He remains the only three-time lineal heavyweight champion, so there’s no doubt why he is nicknamed “The Greatest.”
I used the Wolfram Language to create several visualizations to celebrate his work and gain some new insights into his life. Last June, I wrote a Wolfram Community post about Ali’s career. On what would have been The Greatest’s 75th birthday, I wanted to take a minute to explore the larger context of Ali’s career, from late-career boxing stats to poetry.
First, I created a PieChart showing Ali’s record:
Ali was dangerous outside the ring as well as inside it, at least for the white establishment in the US. He converted to Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay, which he called his “slave name,” to Muhammad Ali. Later he refused military service during the Vietnam War, citing his religious beliefs. For this, he was arrested on charges of evading the draft, and he was pulled out of the ring for four years. All this made Ali an icon of racial pride for African Americans and the counterculture generation during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
Perhaps a lesser-known fact about Ali is that he played an important role in the emergence of rap, and he was an influential figure in the world of hip-hop music. He earned two Grammy nominations and he wrote several poems, among which is the shortest poem in the English language:
So let’s create a WordCloud of his most popular poems. First, I need to import his poems from a database site like Poetry Soup and do some string processing from the HTML file in order to get the poems as plain strings:
Here are the first three poems:
With just a glimpse, I can see that he mainly wrote about his opponents, himself and boxing.
In my Community post from last June, I showed how to create the following DateListPlot that shows his victories over time. Note that his suspension period happened just as his performance was rising steeply:
Now as a continuation of that previous post, I would like to further analyze Ali’s opponents. For this, I’m going to take the data from the BoxRec.com site, where one can find a record of all of Ali’s opponents. I’m going to skip the parsing process of the relevant data imported from the HTMLs and will directly use a dataset that I created for this purpose (see the attached file at the end of this post).
First, let’s create a CommunityGraphPlot with all of Ali’s opponents. I want the vertexes of the graph to represent the boxers and the edges to indicate if two boxers encountered each other in the ring. Each community here will represent a group of boxers that are more connected to each other than the rest of boxers, and they will each be represented in a different color. For this, I need the list of opponents of each of Ali’s opponents:
In addition, I can indicate the number of bouts fought by each boxer by plotting the diameter of the vertexes proportionally and also indicate the losses that Ali had during his career with red edges using VertexSize and VertexLabels, respectively (see the complete code in the attached notebook):
We can observe that Moore had the largest number of bouts. But was he better than Ali in terms victories over losses?
One way to compare the boxers is by calculating the following ratio for each one:
Another way to compare the opponents’ records is by plotting a BubbleChart:
Under such a classification method, Ali is one of the greatest (as I expected), but Moore is just a “good” boxer, even if he holds the record number of wins. Although this is a nice way to compare boxers, one should be cautious—for example, I noticed that Spinks is classified as a “bad” boxer even though he beat Ali once.
Before concluding the opponents analysis, I will plot Ali’s weight over his career and compare it with the one of his rivals with DateListPlot:
As one should expect, Ali gained weight over the course of his career. And he had one really heavy opponent, Buster Mathis, who weighed over 250 pounds at the end of his career.
Finally, I would like to point out a fun fact that I discovered thanks to the amazing amount of knowledge built into the Wolfram Language. After winning his first world heavyweight title in 1964, there was a little boom of babies named Cassius, who are now around 52 years old. There would probably be even more people called Cassius now if he hadn’t changed his name to Muhammad Ali:
The Wolfram Language offers so many possibilities to keep exploring Ali’s life. But I will stop here and encourage you to create your own visualizations and share your ideas on Wolfram Community’s Ali thread.
Download this post as a Computable Document Format (CDF) file along with the accompanying dataset. (Note that you should save the dataset file in the same folder as the notebook in order to load the data needed for the visualizations.) New to CDF? Get your copy for free here.