Muhammad Ali, was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., on January 17, 1942, at Louisville, in Kentucky, U.S. He was an American professional boxer and a social activist. Ali was the first fighter ever to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions. He successfully defended this title 19 times.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr in the time of separation of public facilities. His father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., supported his wife, Odessa Grady Clay, who worked as a housemaid, and his two sons by painting billboards and signs.
When Clay was 12 years old, he took up boxing under the guidance of Louisville policeman, Joe Martin. After going through the hobbyist ranks, he won a gold medal in the 175-pound division at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, and he began a professional career under the guidance of the Louisville Sponsoring Group; a self-coordinated group which composed of 11 wealthy white men.
In his early days of boxing as a professional, Clay was highly regarded for his charm and personality than for his boxing skills. Clay extremely annoyed his supporters watching the sport as much as he impressed them. He held his hands unconventionally low, and backed away from punches rather than bobbing and weaving out of danger, and he sometimes appeared to lack true knockout power. The opponents he was beating were a mixture of legends who were long past their greatest and fighters who had never been more than extraordinary. The people who traditionally corrected ways of doing things were embarrassed when Clay predicted the round in which he intended to knock out an opponent, and they were distorted when he did so and bragged about each new conquest. He married Sonji Roi as his first wife
On February 25th, 1964, Clay challenged Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. Liston was widely regarded as the most threatening, powerful fighter of his era. But in one of the most stunning upsets in sports history, Liston retired to his corner after six rounds, and Clay became the new champion. On March 6, 1964, he took the name Muhammad Ali, which was given to him by his spiritual mentor, Elijah Muhammad.
Clay married Belinda Boyd, his second wife, in 1964.
In May 25th, 1965, with a rematch against Liston, he emerged with a first-round knockout victory. Triumphs over Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London, and Karl Mildenberger followed. On November 14, 1966, Ali fought Cleveland Williams. Over the course of three rounds, Ali landed more than 100 punches, scored four knockdowns, and was hit a total of three times. Ali’s triumph over Williams was succeeded by victories over Ernie Terrell and Zora Folley.
Then, on April 28, 1967, citing his religious beliefs, Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army at the height of the war in Vietnam. Many Americans strongly condemned Ali’s stand. It came at a time when most people in the United States still supported the war in Southeast Asia. Moreover, although immunity from military service on religious grounds were available to qualifying vigilant objectors who were opposed to war in any form, Ali was not eligible for such an exemption, because he acknowledged that he would be willing to participate in an Islamic holy war.
Clay married Veronica Porché Ali, his third wife 1967.
Ali was stripped of his championship and excluded from fighting by every state athletic commission in the United States for three and a half years. He was criminally charged and, on June 20th, 1967, convicted of refusing induction into the U.S. armed forces and sentenced to five years in prison.
Meanwhile, as the 1960s grew more uproarious, Ali’s impact upon American society was growing, and he became a lightening rod for disagreements. Ali’s message of Black pride and Black resistance to white domination was on the cutting edge of the civil rights movement. He refused having the induction into the U.S. Army.
In October, 1970, Ali was allowed to return to boxing, but his skills had worn out. His reflexes, while still first-rated, were no longer as fast as they had once been. Ali dominated in his first two comeback fights, against Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. Then, on March 8th, 1971, he challenged Joe Frazier, who had become heavyweight champion during Ali’s absence from the ring. It was a fight of historic proportions, billed as the “Fight of the Century.” Frazier won an agreeable 15-round decision.
Following his loss to Frazier, Ali won 10 fights in a row, 8 of them against world-class opponents. Then, on March 31, 1973, a little-known fighter named Ken Norton broke Ali’s jaw in the second round on accordance to a 12-round upset decision. Ali defeated Norton in a rematch. After that he fought Joe Frazier a second time and won an agreeable 12-round decision. From a technical point of view, the second Ali-Frazier bout was probably Ali’s best performance in the ring after his exile from boxing.
On October 30th, 1974, Ali challenged George Foreman, who had depose Frazier in 1973 to become heavyweight champion of the world. The bout took place in the unlikely location of Zaire which is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ali was received by the people of Zaire as a conquering hero, and he did his part by knocking out Foreman in the eighth round to regain the heavyweight title. It was in this fight that Ali employed a strategy once used by former boxing great Archie Moore. The strategy was that, instead of moving around the ring, Ali chose to fight for extended periods of time leaning back into the ropes in order to avoid many of Foreman’s heaviest blows.
Over the next 30 months, at the peak of his popularity as champion, Ali fought nine times in boxing matches that showed him to be a courageous fighter but a fighter who cannot be accepted. The most notable of these boxing matches occurred on October 1, 1975, when Ali and Joe Frazier met in the Philippines, to do battle for the third time. In what is regarded by many as the greatest prizefight of all time which was named the “Thrilla in Manila”, Ali was declared the winner when Frazier’s corner called a halt to the boxing match after 14 brutal rounds. He then divorced his third wife in 1977. The final performances of Ali’s ring career were sad to behold.
In 1978, he lost his title to Leon Spinks, a novice boxer with an Olympic gold medal. Seven months later Ali regained the championship with a 15-round victory over Spinks. Then he retired from boxing, but two years later he made an ill-advised comeback and suffered a horrible beating at the hands of Larry Holmes in a boxing match that was stopped after 11 rounds. The final ring contest of Ali’s career was a loss by decision to Trevor Berbick in 1981.
Ali’s place in boxing history as one of the greatest fighters ever is secured. His final record of 56 wins and 5 losses with 37 knockouts has been matched by others, but the quality of his opponents and the manner in which he dominated during his prime placed him on a level off with boxing’s immortals. Ali’s most-tangible ring assets were speed, superb footwork, and the ability to take a punch. But perhaps more important, he had courage and all the other intangibles that go into making a great fighter.
Ali’s religious views also evolved over time. In the mid-1970s, he began to study the Qurʾān seriously and turned to Orthodox Islam. His earlier adherence to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. In 1984, Ali spoke out publicly against the separatist doctrine of Louis Farrakhan.
Ali married his fourth wife, Lonnie (née Yolanda Williams), in 1986. He had nine children, most of whom avoided the spotlight of which Ali was so fond. One of his daughters, however, Laila Ali, pursued a career as a professional boxer during which she went undefeated in 24 bouts between 1999 and 2007 while capturing a number of titles in various weight classes.
In 1996, Ali was chosen to light the Olympic flame at the start of the Games of the XXVI Olympiad in Atlanta, Georgia. The dramatic period of his life from 1964 to 1974 was the subject of the film Ali (2001), in which Will Smith starred as Ali. His life story is told in the documentary film I Am Ali (2014), which includes audio recordings that he made throughout his career and interviews with his intimates. Ali was a member of the inaugural class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ali’s later years were marked by physical decline. Damage to his brain caused by blows to the head resulted in slurred speech, slowed movement, and other symptoms of Parkinson syndrome. He died on June 3rd, 2016, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Video credits: Joseph Vincent