There are very few athletes in the world who almost everyone knows whether they are a fan of that particular game or not. Muhammad Ali was, without a doubt, among these athletes. He dominated the game of boxing for many decades and made his name both as a greater fighter as well as a social activist.
In this article, we will look at the life and legacy of this boxing legend, so stay with us till the end. Muhammad Ali's life is filled with passion, intensity, devotion, and courage, and we can all take a page from his book to lead a better life.
Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., or as the world knows him now as Muhammad Ali, was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. His father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., was a painter who did signs and billboards to support his wife Odessa Grady and two young boys.
Muhammad Ali grew up in a very humble environment and then went out to win the world heavyweight champion title three times and was able to defend it about 19 times.
Ali grew up in Sothern America, where there still were segregated public facilities, which significantly influenced his social views and thought process.
Started as A Boxer
He started boxing when he was 12 under the teaching of a local Louisville Policeman who saw great potential in him and urged him to go in this direction. Soon he moved up the amateur ranks and in 1960, won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
He started his professional career under Louisville Sponsoring Group, a syndicate of 11 wealthy white men. The start of his career was marked by his charming personality, funny but self-descriptive catchphrases, and childlike poetry.
His boxing skills were not at a very high level at this time. He seemed to lack knockout power, had a poor stance where he kept his hands very low, and often backed away rather than bobbing. Most of his matches were against veterans and mediocre fighters, making some hardcore sports fans speak against him.
Clay Challenges Sonny Liston
In 1964, Clay challenged Sonny Liston, who was among the most intimidating and ruthless heavyweight champions of that era. The match, which is to this day considered the greatest and the most stunning upset of all time, ended when Liston retired to his corner after only the sixth round making Clay the new world heavyweight champion.
Gradually Dominated Boxing
After defeating Sonny Liston, for three years, he dominated this sport. He won a rematch with Liston in 1965 with a first-round knockout and fought with and won against Henry Cooper, Brian London, Floyd Petterson, George Chuvallo, and Cleveland Williams.
Ali’s Position on Vietnam War
In 1967, he refused to go to war with Vietnam, making many Americans against him. He thought of this war to be pointless and unnecessary. After that, he was stripped of his title, and every athletic commission in the US banned him for about three and a half years. He was also indicted in 1967 on the grounds of refusing his induction into the US Army for the war.
In the 1960s, Ali became the symbol of black pride and resistance. He was at the cutting edge of the American Civil Rights movement. His views about the Vietnam War, segregation, and political as well as social injustice were hailed globally.
Two days after his big win against Sonny Liston, Clay announced that he had converted to Islam. He adopted the name Muhammad Ali which was given to him by his spiritual guide Elijah Muhammad.
In the mid-70s, he turned to orthodox Islam and started to read the Quran deeply. His views differed from his teachers in the respect that Ali talked about the spiritual embrace of all people, while his teacher was more inclined towards anti-American and anti-white views.
In 1984 he publicly condemned the separatist doctrine of Louis Farrakhan, saying that he didn't teach what his people believed in.
Return to Boxing Ring
In 1970, he was allowed to box again, but his skills and stamina had declined. His reflexes were slower, and his movements were less fluid. He won his first two comebacks again Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry. In 1971, he challenged Joe Frazier losing in a unanimous 15-round decision.
After that, Ali won 10 matches straight. In 1973 a small-time fighter Ken Norton broke Ali's jaw in the second round, and the match ended in a 12-round upset decision. Ali had rematches with both Frazier and Ken and was able to win both of those times.
In 1974, Ali fought George Forman and defeated him in the eighth round. His popularity reached new heights in the next 30 months, but his health and skills declined.
End of Career
In 1978 Ali lost to a novice boxer named Leon Spinks, who had minimal experience in professional fights. He regained the championship after seven months in a 15-round victory against Spinks. He then retired from the game but again made a comeback after two years which turned out to be a bad decision.
He suffered an upsetting beating at the hands of Larry Holmes after his comeback, where the match had to be stopped after 11 rounds. His last match in 1981 was also a loss by decision to Trevor Berbick.
Wife and Kids
In 1964, Ali entered his first marriage with Sonji Roi, which concluded within a year. His second marriage was with Belinda Boyd in 1967, who embraced Islam and adopted the name Khalilah Camacho-Ali.
Khalilah and Ali parented four children: Maryum, Jamillah, Liban, and Muhammad Ali Jr. However, their marriage ended after nine years in 1976.
After 1 year of the divorce, Ali married Veronica Porsche, one of the renowned poster girls for the iconic Rumble in the Jungle match between Ali and George Foreman. In 1986, Ali and Porsche underwent divorce proceedings, having welcomed two children during their time together.
Ali's fourth and final spouse was Yolanda Williams, whom he married in 1986. Having been childhood friends, Ali and Williams had a longstanding companionship that endured even after their marriage.
1996 Ali was asked to light the Olympic flame in Atlanta, Georgia. A film covering the dramatic events of his life from 1964 to 1974 titled "I am Ali" was also made.
There were also a few docuseries, namely What's My Name (2019) and Muhammad Ali (2021), that covered his life, struggles, and influence on the boxing world.
In 1990, Ali was asked to join the Inaugural Class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In 2005, Ali was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his services to the nation.
Muhammad Ali was a household name in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and everywhere people knew and cared about him as a boxer and a marvellous human being. His life is filled with ups and downs and highs and lows, and his courage and determination shaped him to be the greatest boxer ever.
You can find very few instances where athletes challenged the status quo at the height of their careers and stood firm for what they believed. Muhammad Ali did that, and for that, the world will never forget him.
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