Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. at 6:35 p.m. on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky to Cassius Clay Sr. and Odessa Grady Clay. Cassius Clay Sr. was a muralist, but painted signs for a living. Odessa Clay worked as a housecleaner and a cook. Two years after Muhammad Ali was born, the couple had another son, Rudolph ("Rudy").
At the age of 12, Ali discovered his talent for boxing through an odd twist of fate. His bike was stolen, and Ali told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief. "Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people," Martin reportedly told him at the time. In addition to being a police officer, Martin also trained young boxers at a local gym.Ali started working with Martin to learn how to box, and soon began his boxing career.
From the very beginning, Muhammad Ali took his training seriously. He trained six days a week. On schooldays, he woke early in the morning so that he could go running and then would go workout at the gym in the evening. When Martin's gym closed at 8 pm, Ali would then go train at another boxing gym. Over time, Muhammad Ali also created his own eating regimen that included milk and raw eggs for breakfast. Concerned about what he put in his body, Ali stayed away from junk food, alcohol, and cigarettes so that he could be the best boxer in the world.
The 1960 Olympics
Even in his early training, Muhammad Ali boxed like no one else. He was fast. So fast that he didn't duck punches like most other boxers; instead, he just leaned back away from them. He also didn't put his hands up to protect his face; he kept them down by his hips. In 1960, the Olympic Games were held in Rome. Muhammad Ali, then 18 years old, had already won national tournaments such as the Golden Gloves and so he felt ready to compete in the Olympics. On September 5, 1960, Muhammad Ali (then still known as Cassius Clay) fought against Zbigniew Pietrzyskowski from Poland in the light-heavyweight championship bout. In a unanimous decision, the judges declared Ali the winner, which meant Ali had won the Olympic gold medal. Having won the Olympic gold medal, Muhammad Ali had attained the top position in amateur boxing. It was time for him to turn professional.
As Muhammad Ali started fighting in professional boxing bouts, he realized that there things he could do to create attention for himself. For instance, before fights, Ali would say things to worry his opponents. He would also frequently declare, "I am the greatest of all time!" Often before a fight, Ali would write poetry that would either called the round his opponent would fall or boast of his own abilities. Muhammad Ali's most famous line was when he stated he was going to "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
His theatrics worked. Many people paid to see Muhammad Ali's fights just to see such a braggart lose. In 1964, even the heavyweight champion, Charles "Sonny" Liston got caught up in the hype and agreed to fight Muhammad Ali. On February 25, 1964, Muhammad Ali fought Liston for the heavyweight title in Miami, Florida. Liston tried for a quick knockout, but Ali was too fast to catch. By the 7th round, Liston was too exhausted, had hurt his shoulder, and was worried about a cut under his eye. Liston refused to continue the fight. Muhammad Ali had become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.
Conversion to Islam
We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don't take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers." Ali also famously said,
"I ain't got no quarrel with those Vietcong" and "no Vietcong ever called me nigger."
Ali refused to respond to his name being read out as Cassius Clay, stating, as instructed by his mentors from the Nation of Islam, that Clay was the name given to his slave ancestors by the white man.
"Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it and I don't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name - it means beloved of God - and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me."
During the three years after the Liston fight, Ali won every bout. He had become one of the most popular athletes of 1960s. He had become a symbol of black pride. Then in 1967, Muhammad Ali received a draft notice.
The United States was calling up young men to fight in the Vietnam War. Since Muhammad Ali was a famous boxer, he could have requested special treatment and just entertained the troops. However, Ali's deep religious beliefs forbade killing, even in war, and so Ali refused to go.
"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs? "
In June 1967, Muhammad Ali was tried and found guilty of draft evasion. Although he was fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years in jail, he remained out on bail while he appealed. However, in response to public outrage, Muhammad Ali was banned from boxing and stripped of his heavyweight title. For three and a half years, Muhammad Ali was "exiled" from professional boxing. While watching others claim the heavyweight title, Ali lectured around the country to earn some money.
By 1970, the general American public had become dissatisfied with the Vietnam War and was thus easing their anger against Muhammad Ali. This change in public opinion meant Muhammad Ali was able to rejoin boxing. After participating in an exhibition match on September 2, 1970, Muhammad Ali fought in his first real comeback bout on October 26, 1970 against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, Georgia. During the fight, Muhammad Ali appeared slower than he used to be; yet before the start of the fourth round, Quarry's manager threw in the towel. Ali was back and he wanted to reclaim his heavyweight title.
The Fight of the Century: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier (1971)
On March 8, 1971, Muhammad Ali got his chance to win back the heavyweight title. Ali was to fight Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden. This fight, billed as "the Fight of the Century," was viewed in 35 countries around the world and was the first fight Ali used his "rope-a-dope" technique. (Ali's rope-a-dope technique was when Ali leaned himself on the ropes and protected himself while he let his opponent hit him repeatedly. The intention was to quickly tire out his opponent.)
Although Muhammad Ali did well in a few of the rounds, in many others he was pounded by Frazier. The fight went the full 15 rounds, with both fighters still standing at the end. The fight was unanimously awarded to Frazier. Ali had lost his first professional fight and had officially lost the heavyweight title. Shortly after Muhammad Ali had lost this fight with Frazier, Ali won a different kind of fight. Ali's appeals against his draft evasion conviction had gone all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, who unanimously reversed the lower court's decision on June 28, 1971. Ali had been exonerated.
The Rumble in the Jungle: Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman
On October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali had another chance at the championship title. In the time since Ali lost to Frazier in 1971, Frazier himself had lost his championship title to George Foreman. Although Ali had won a rematch against Frazier in 1974, Ali was much slower and older than he used to be and was not expected to have a chance against Foreman. Many considered Foreman to be unbeatable.
"Floats like a butterfly, sting like a bee, his hands can't hit what his eyes can't see."
–Muhammad Ali - before the 1974 fight against George Foreman.
The bout was held in Kinshasa, Zaire and was thus billed as "the Rumble in the Jungle." Once again, Ali had adopted a strategy of wearing Foreman down though absorbing punches on the ropes - a strategy later termed - rope a dope. Ali was able to tire out Foreman so much that by the eighth round, Muhammad Ali knocked Foreman out. For the second time, Muhammad Ali had become the heavyweight champion of the world.
Thrilla in Manila: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier
Joe Frazier really did not like Muhammad Ali and Frazier had his own reasons;
It will be a killer, and a chiller, and a thriller, when I get the gorilla in Manila."
- Ali before Frazier fight.
Their third match against each other was held on October 1, 1975 and called "Thrilla in Manila" because it was held in Manila, Philippines. The fight was brutal. Both Ali and Frazier hit hard. Both were determined to win. By the time the bell for the 15th round was rung, Frazier's eyes were swollen nearly shut; his manager wouldn't let him continue. Ali won the fight, but he himself was badly hurt as well. Both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought so hard and so well, that many consider this fight to be the greatest boxing fight in history.
Winning the Championship Title a Third Time
After the Frazier fight in 1975, Muhammad Ali announced his retirement. This, however, did not last long as it was just too easy to pick up a million dollars here or there by fighting one more bout. Ali did not take these fights very seriously and became lax on his training. On February 15, 1978, Muhammad Ali was extremely surprised when novice boxer Leon Spinks beat him. The bout had gone all 15 rounds, but Spinks had dominated the match. The judges awarded the fight - and the championship title - to Spinks. Ali was furious and wanted a rematch. Spinks obliged. While Ali worked diligently to train for their rematch, Spinks did not. The fight did go the full 15 rounds again, but this time, Ali was the obvious winner. Not only did Ali win back the heavyweight champion title, he became the first person in history to win it three times.
Retirement and Parkinson's Syndrome
After the Spinks fight, Ali retired on June 26, 1979. He did fight Larry Holmes in 1980 and Trevor Berbick in 1981 but lost both fights. The fights were embarrassing; it was obvious that Ali should stop boxing. Muhammad Ali had been the greatest heavyweight boxer in the world three times. In his professional career, Ali had won 56 bouts and lost only five. Of the 56 wins, 37 of them were by knockout. Unfortunately, all of these fights took a toll on Muhammad Ali's body. After suffering increasingly slurred speech, shaking hands, and over-tiredness, Muhammad Ali was hospitalized in September 1984 to determine the cause. His doctors diagnosed Ali with Parkinson's syndrome.
After being out of the limelight for more than a decade, Muhammad Ali was asked to light the Olympic flame during the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Ali moved slowly and his hands shook; yet his performance brought tears to many who watched the Olympic lighting. Since then, Ali has worked tirelessly to helping charities around the world. . He remains a hero and icon of the 20th century.
Few quotes of Muhammad Ali
A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty, has wasted thirty years of his life.
Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.
I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
Clock is ticking
Don't count the days, make the days count.
The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.
If you dream of beating me, you'd better wake up and apologise.
God gave me this illness to remind me that I'm not number One; He is.
On George Foreman
It's a divine fight. This Foreman - he represents Christianity, America, the flag. I can't let him win. He represents pork chops.
On Howard Cossell
You're always talking about, Muhammad, you're not the same man you were 10 years ago. Well, I asked your wife, and she told me you're not the same man you was two years ago!
My toughest fight was with my first wife.