Muhammad Ali was not nicknamed ‘The Greatest’ for no reason. Apart from being a part of several historic boxing matches, his unorthodox fighting style, embodied by his catchphrase ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’, catapulted him to international fame and made him one of the most influential athletes around the world. He is known to have brought skill, character and finesse to a rugged sport likes boxing. Apart from being the most famous athlete in the world, he is also known for his pre-match flimflam, where he would often ‘trash-talk’ his opponents in a seemingly, good-spirited manner. Ali is the three-time recipient of the prestigious ‘World Heavyweight Championship’ title, with a dozen other accolades to his credit. He has a boxing record of 61 fights and 56 wins in total. However, it was not all breezy for this champion as he was publicly libeled for his refusal to be conscripted in the U.S. military and for his opposition to the Vietnam War. He may have succeeded career-wise on a number of occasions, but also failed outside the boxing rink in his personal life. Not only was he stripped off his boxing title, with his boxing license suspended, he was also sent to prison. However, Ali came out successful and was eventually conferred prestigious titles like the ‘Sportsman of the Century’ and ‘Sports Personality of the Century’. Scroll further for more.
Childhood & Early Life
Born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., Ali was born on January 17, 1942 in Louiseville, Kentucky to Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr. and Odessa O’Grady Clay.
He and his brother were brought up by their mother as Baptists, although their father was a staunch Methodist. He is also a direct descendent of the pre-Civil War era American slaves in the American South, with a combination of English-Irish ancestry.
He was directed towards boxing, by a police officer who told him to learn the sport. He was later introduced to Joe E. Martin and then, Chuck Bodak, under whom he trained for 4 years.
He won two national Golden Gloves, six Kentucky Golden Gloves and a Light Heavyweight Gold medal during his amateur boxing bouts and during his premier in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Shortly after he returned home from the Olympics, he lost the gold medal and was given a replacement during the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
He made his professional debut on October 29, 1960, winning the match against Tunney Hunsaker. From then on, he defeated boxers like George Logan, Doug Jones, Henry Cooper and Jim Robinson, amassing a record of 19-0 and winning 15 matches by knockout.
At the age of 22, Clay was the youngest heavyweight boxing champion after he knocked out Henry Cooper in 1963 and Sonny Liston in 1964. It is said that he would often sing praises of himself and boasted about his skills before every match.
Although he was refused entry into the ‘Nation of Islam’, the organization changed their minds following his win against Sonny Liston. He was named ‘Cassius X’ initially and he then officially changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964.
Two years later, Ali’s boxing career was put on a hold and he was arrested after he refused to acknowledge military service on his part after it was drafted. He mentioned that his religious beliefs did not encourage him to fight the Vietnam War.
After a lengthy court ballet, his professional boxing career suffered, as the board suspended him from the sport for nearly three and a half years.
He returned to the boxing ring on August 12, 1970, after he received his license once again. In his first bout against Jerry Quarry on October 26, 1970, he won against the champion after three tough rounds. The same year, he fought against the famous, Oscar Bonavena, knocking him out and then fighting Joe Frazier.
The match between Joe Frazier and Ali took place on March 8, 1971, which ended in Ali’s first boxing loss in the 15th round. This came to be known as the ‘Fight of the Century’.
In 1972, Ali won a total of six fights against Quarry, Floyd Patterson and Bob Foster. The following year, Ali broke his jaw while fighting against Ken Norton. This was his second professional boxing loss.
In the January 12, 1974 rematch, Ali won against Norton and Frazier, both, leading to an overall win. The same year, he fought the reigning heavyweight champion, George Foreman. Many believed he would lose the match, but he silenced the critics by defeating Foreman and winning the title of ‘World Heavyweight Champion’; which he won three times.
One of his longest and toughest bouts was in 1975 against Joe Frazier in Manila, which lasted for 15 rounds. Ali eventually emerged victorious.
He was defeated by Leon Spinks in 1978. The same year, he starred in the film, ‘Freedom Road’. He was knocked out by Larry Holmes in 1980. He officially renounced his heavyweight title in 1981 and retired.
The Greatest: My Own Story
Spoken Word Album
Awards & Achievements
56 out of 61 boxing wins.
World Heavyweight Champion title, 4 times.
Light Heavyweight gold medal, 1960 Rome Olympics
Fighter of the Year title, Ring Magazine
International Boxing Hall of Fame
Arthur Ashe Courage Award, 1997
Personality of the Year Award, 1997
He became the United Nations Messenger of Peace, 1998
Kentucky Athlete of the Century title, 1999
Presidential Citizens Medal by George W. Bush, 2005
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold, 2005
CSHL Double Helix Medal Honoree, 2006
Honorary Doctorate of Humanities, Princeton University, 2007
His name is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Personal Life & Legacy
Muhammad Ali developed Parkinson’s disease in 1984.
He married four times and has seven daughters and two sons. Two of his daughters, Miya and Khaliah, are from extramarital relationships. Currently, Ali lives in Arizona with Lonnie.
After his retirement, he devoted his time to philanthropy supporting foundations like Special Olympics and Make a Wish. He also traveled to numerous countries and helped the needy. To date, he is still socially active and supports various humanitarian causes.