Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest heavy weight champions. His natural
abilities were complemented by his flashy flamboyant personality. It was his ability that
won him the heavy weight championship on three separate occasions, but only his Float
like a butter fly sting like a bee antics won him the title of the peoples champ
Born Cassius Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942 in Louisville Kentucky, he was far
from over privileged. His father Cassius Clay Sr., worked to support the family as a sign
and mural painter. His mother Odessa Clay, worked part time as a domestic. He
attended school at Duvalle middle school with his brother Rudolph Clay. After this, he
went on to high school at Central High in Louisville Kentucky. Though devoted fully to
nearly every aspect of life, he was a rather poor student. He blames this mostly to his
preoccupation with boxing. His studies in school reflected the fact that he started training
to be a boxer at a young age.
When Ali was a mere twelve years old, his bicycle was stolen from his home in
his criminally active neighbor hood in Louisville Kentucky. He reported the theft to a
near by police department, which appointed Joe Martin to handle his case. Joe Elsby Martin supervised the training of young boxers, and invited Ali to join the gym. He arranged for Ali to train with Fred Stoner who taught Ali the basics of moving with speed and grace. He motivated Ali to be like a dancer in the ring. Even at his young age, he was able to develop the skills needed to become a powerful yet skilled boxer.
Ali had a lot of success even in high school as an amateur. He claimed a victory
in 100 out of 108 matches. The hardware he collected was unheard of for someone his
age. He claimed six Kentucky and two National Golden Gloves championships. In
addition, on his way to greatness, he won two Amateur Union championships.His
accomplishments were numerous throughout his young career but the most impressive
was probably the Gold Medal he won at the Olympic Games in 1960. He competed in
the light heavy weight division, in which he would later admit, is where he mastered his
renowned skills of ring chatter. He would use degrading remarks to distract and frustrate
his opponents. This would prove to be a great strategy. After his victory in the
Olympics, he returned to Kentucky where he signed a lucrative contract (Ali 3).
Although only being ranked ninth, he began to attract media attention early with
his confident boasting about his ability to win the world heavy weight title. Not only was
he a young master of the sport, he also made the media swarm to him with his arrogant
yet catchy rhymes. In 1964, he commented to Sports Illustrated that Cassius Clay is a
boxer who can throw the jive better than anybody. It was in this same year that he
would lay his first claim on the title.
The bout was set in February of 1964 against defending champion Sonny
Liston. The match was in Miami, Florida and attracted a lot of hype largely due to Alis
boastful rhymes and insults toward Liston. This launched boxing back into the spotlight
of American sporting events. It was the weeks prior to this match that Ali unveiled his
rhyming chant, Float like a butter fly sting like a bee which he displayed in the classic
bout. During the fearsome battle with Liston, he exhibited grace and power all wrapped
into one magnificent spectacle. He used his sly feet to escape the reach of Liston, while
slipping in some of his destructive jabs in the process. When the bell for the eighth round
rang, Liston stayed on his stool in his respected corner. It was then that Ali captured the
title at the young age of 22. This was a rocket start for his amazing career as the pretty
prince of boxing.
In June of 1965, he was scheduled for a rematch against Liston. He decided to
use a different tactic in this match. Instead of the move and counter move strategy that
served him well in the first match, he unleashed a fierce first round knockout blow. The
blow was so stunning that it lifted Listons left foot clear off the mat. This displayed to
the entire world that he was a rare caliber of fighter (Bacho 71).
Clevland Williams was next on Alis chopping block. Though it was a sanctioned
match for the title, Ali treated it like an exhibition. It was this very fight that he
unleashed the outrageous Ali Shuffle. The rapid movement of his feet back and forth
while staying in place stunned the crowd and Williams. This was also when he let loose
his nonchalant defense of lowering his hands and just swaying to dodge the punches.
This was probably more taunting than his claims of greatness.
Alis next big test would come on February 6, 1967 against Ernie Terrell, who
held the boxing association championship. This would prove to be a great match for Ali,
as he was fueled by Terrells lack of respect in the prior press conference. The fight
ended with an Ali victory by decision. This was a big accomplishment due to the fact
that it unified boxings greatest titles, and made Ali the undisputed Heavy Weight
Champion of the world.
Although everything in the ring was going well, it would be the outside life that
proved most interesting. After meeting Malcolm X in Miami, he was inspired to join the
nation of the black Muslims. Eventually the nation awarded formally Cassius Clay, the
Muslim name Muhammad Ali which means beloved by Allah. The press fed on this and
was astonished at his politics. He began to focus a lot of his attention on his religion. He
protested racism at extreme cost. He got so disgusted after being refused service at a
soda fountain, that he tossed his Olympic gold medal into the river. He later reported to
the Philadelphia Inquirer, That gold medal didnt mean a thing to me if my black
brothers and sisters were treated wrong in a country I was supposed to represent
Despite his boxing talent, many fans hated Ali when it became public knowledge
that he joined the Muslim nation. Making matters worse was Alis insulting objections to
Americas involvement in the war with Vietnam. He stated to the press, I aint got no
quarrel with them Vietcong, no Vietcong ever called me nigger. His nonpatriotic
statements did not go over well with the media. Fans from all across America began to
despise all of his efforts both in and out of the ring. After all of these happenings, he still
studied and followed the religious efforts of Malcolm X.
In May of 1967, there came somewhat of a judgement day for the Champ. The
selective service had called for his draft number and he was going to be shipped to
Vietnam.When they called his name to get in line, he simply refused. He was
convicted of disobeying the Selective Service act, was sentenced to 5 years
imprisonment, and was later released on appeal. On top of this, the National Boxing
Association stripped him of his licensee and his Heavy Weight title. Sports Illustrateds
Edwin Shrake quoted the words of Ali writing, Im giving up my title, my wealth,
maybe my future. Many great men have been tested for their religious beliefs. If I pass
the test, Ill come out stronger than ever. The court precedings were long and drawn out. Ali exhausted a majority of his finances leaving him with a family including his wife and a child to take care of. The Muslim nation began to withdraw their interest in Ali and his legal affairs. These were rough times for the self-proclaimed Greatest. His wifes family helped with his living expenses, while he managed to keep his lawyers paid with what was left of his boxing career.
In 1970, Alis conviction was overturned only after taking the case all the way to
the Supreme Court. Not long after this, Ali began efforts to rejuvenate his career. The
first match came against Jerry Quarry. A victory came early in the third round for Ali,
after a devastating blow that left his opponent unconscious. A few months later came a
less significant match against Oscar Bonavena. This was like an exhibition in which Ali
K.O.ed his opponent in merely the second round. Having loosened the kinks in his
game, Ali was ready to go for his title (Bacho 84).
The battle came against Ali, and who he called Paper Champ Joe Frazier. Set
for New York City in March of 1971, this match would become the first installment of a
classic war. Tough both were in magnificent shape, the odds makers gave the edge to
Frazier. This would prove to be a good choice, since Frazier won the match by a close
decision.Frazier retained the title for the time being.
Ali was granted a rematch that did not come until Frazier had been dethroned
by new comer George Foreman. Though it was for nothing more than bragging rights,
this would still prove to be a fierce showdown. The two towering athletes exchanged
blows for the entire match. Ali would prove to be the better man by both absorbing
the ferocious blows of Frazier and bruising him back with his powerful left jab. The win
would go to Ali, along with a title shot against George Foreman.
Wanting to make a statement, Ali arranged for the match to be held in Kinshasa
Zaire. The match was billed as The Rumble in the Jungle (Ali 3). Ali was spiritually
energized while in the foreign country. As he would run through the village for training,
the local towns people would touch and follow him. He felt as if he were a leader to his
fellow African people. They were in Nigeria for three months prior to the match in order
to further indorse the fight. The ring was contained by an outdoor arena in beautiful
Kinshasa Nigeria. The stage was set for a showdown of epic proportions.
George Foreman was the favorite because of his young age and powerful
physique. Ali was an older yet more experienced version of the once champion. The two
would have contradicting styles of fighting, but that would make this fight, one that
would not be forgotten. Unlike all of his other matches, he employed a different method
of fighting. For the first 5-6 rounds of the match, he stayed on the ropes, allowing
Foreman to chop away at him. He used the give of the ropes to help absorb the blows.
This tired out the bigger sluggish Foreman, which is what Ali had intended. By the
seventh round, Ali was ready to unleash his arsenal. He began to come off the ropes with
his dangerous left jab. By the eighth, Foreman was too tired to fight back. Ali danced his way to a number of powerful combinations that landed Foreman on his back, late in the round. The victory regained the Heavy Weight championship, and made him only the
second man to hold the title twice. He had once again claimed the ladder of the boxing
In September of 1974, Ali would face off against Joe Frazier for a third and final
time. This match was titled the Thrilla in Manilla. The unrelenting Frazier gave Ali a
run for his money. Though Fraziers efforts were great, Ali retained his title after Frazier
was unable to answer the bell for the final round. Though this was an awesome fight, it
would have dismal followings (Bacho 86).
Alis next bout was against Leon Spinks in 1975. Though Spinks was a talented
boxer, he was not the caliber in which Ali used to be. He beat Ali by a decision and
claimed the heavyweight championship for himself. In 1978, Ali challenged him to a
rematch for the title. Ali regained his title and his dignity. This was the third and final
time that he retained the Heavy Weight Championship. He was the first person to
accomplish this feat. At age 37, he retired from boxing as champion with a professional
record of 59 and 3. He scored 50 of those victories by way of knockout.
The retired life was lavish, yet expensive. Ali found himself in need of money so
he came out of retirement in 1980. The fight was against Larry Holmes for the World
Boxing Council title and a guaranteed pay off of eight million dollars. The match was not like the Ali of old. Ali lost this one by technical knockout in the eleventh round. He
fought his last professional match one-month before he turned 40. The final fight of his career ended in a loss to Trevor Berbick by knock out.
It was a mere two years after this that Ali was hit with something far worse than
any punch. He was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease in 1982. The doctors speculated
that it was from the years of repetitive blows to the head. Neither the disease nor his
retirement would stop Ali from being politically active. In February of 1985 he helped
negotiate for the release of four kidnapped Americans, who were being held in Lebanon.
He later met with the leaders of the Soviet Union and Africa and founded the World
Organization for Right, Liberty, and Dignity (WORLD).
In 1996, he was given the esteemed honor of lighting the torch at the Olympic
Games in Atlanta (Ali 1). Then in 1999 he became the first boxer to appear on cover
of a Wheaties box. These awards came years after his boxing career. He now lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where he is married to his forth wife. Spread between these women are nine of his children. His oldest daughter Khaliah Ali is currently pursuing a career in boxing.
Muhammad led an illustrious career as a boxer. Through the ups and downs and
all of the adversity, he managed to keep his optimistic outlook and his diligent work
ethic.He overcame his legal matters, and survived through the persecution of his religion, he still managed to accomplish more than any boxer, and a majority of any athletes. Though it was just self-proclaimed confidence, he turned out to be just what he told the world, The Greatest
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