International Boxing Hall of Fame

Muhammad Ali

"The Greatest"

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Muhammad Ali

Statistics
Name Muhammad Ali
Birth name Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.
Nickname The Greatest, The Champ,
The Louisville Lip
Height 1.91 m (6 ft 3 in)
Reach 2 m
Weight division Heavyweight
Nationality Flag of the United States United States
Birth date January 17, 1942 (1942-01-17) (age 66)
Birth place Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 61
Wins 56
Wins by KO 37
Losses 5
Draws 0
No contests 0
Medal record
Olympic Games
boxing
Gold 1960 Rome Light heavyweight

Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942) is a retired American boxer and former three-time World Heavyweight Champion. To date, he remains the only man to have won the linear heavyweight championship three times (the linear title is recognized by tracing an - almost - unbroken lineage of titleholders going back over 100 years, with nearly every champion defeating the previous titleholder in the ring). Ali was also the winner of an Olympic Light-heavyweight gold medal. In 1999, Ali was crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated and the BBC.

Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He was named after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., who was named for the 19th century abolitionist and politician Cassius Clay. Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converted to Sunni Islam in 1975 and then Sufism.[1]

Biography

Fighting style

Ali was best known for his fighting style which he described as "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee". Throughout his career Ali made a name for himself with great handspeed, as well as swift feet and taunting tactics. While Ali was renowned for his fast, sharp out-fighting style, he also had a great chin, and displayed great courage and an ability to take a punch through out his illustrious career. Ali also exclusively attacked the head of an opponent, usually ignoring a body attack.[citation needed]

Early life

Muhammad Ali was born on January 17, 1942. His father, Clay Sr., painted billboards and signs, and his mother, Odessa Grady Clay, was a household domestic. Although Clay Sr. was a Methodist, he allowed Odessa to bring up both Clay boys as Baptists.[2]

Amateur career; Olympic gold

Ali was first directed toward boxing by Louisville police officer, Joe E. Martin, who encountered the then twelve-year-old Cassius Clay fuming over the fact that his bicycle had been stolen.[3] However, without Martin knowing, he also began training with Fred Stoner at another gym.[who?] In this way, he could continue making $4 a week on Tomorrow's Champions, a TV show that Martin hosted, while benefiting from the coaching of the more-experienced Stoner, who continued working with Ali throughout his amateur career.[who?]

Ali's last amateur loss was to Kent Green of Chicago, who could say he was the last person to defeat the champion until Ali lost to Joe Frazier in 1971 as a pro. Under Stoner's guidance, Muhammad Ali went on to win six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union National Title, and the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.[4] Ali's record was 100 wins, with five losses, when he ended his amateur career.

Ali states (in his 1975 autobiography) that he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River after being refused service at a 'whites-only' restaurant, and fighting with a white gang. Whether this is true is still debated, although he was given a replacement medal during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he lit the torch to start the games.

Early professional career

After his Olympic triumph, Ali returned to Louisville to begin his professional career. There, on October 29, 1960, he won his first professional fight, a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker, who was the police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Standing tall, at 6-ft, 3-in (1.91 m), Ali had a highly unorthodox style for a heavyweight boxer. Rather than the normal style of carrying the hands high to defend the face, he instead relied on foot speed and quickness to avoid punches and carried his hands low.

From 1960 to 1963, the young fighter amassed a record of 19-0, with 15 knockouts. He defeated boxers such as Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, Alonzo Johnson, George Logan, Willi Besmanoff, Lamar Clark (who had won his previous 40 bouts by knockout), Doug Jones and Henry Cooper.

Ali built a reputation by correctly predicting the round in which he would "finish" several opponents, and by boasting before his triumphs. Ali admitted he adopted the latter practice from "Gorgeous" George Wagner, a popular professional wrestling champion in the Los Angeles area who drew thousands of fans. Often referred to as "the man you loved to hate," George could incite the crowd with a few heated remarks, and Ali followed suit.

Among Ali's victims were Sonny Banks (who knocked him down during the bout), Alejandro Lavorante, and the aged Archie Moore (a boxing legend who had fought over 200 previous fights, and who had been Ali's trainer prior to Angelo Dundee). Ali had considered continuing using Moore as a trainer following the bout, but Moore had insisted that the cocky "Louisville Lip" perform training camp chores such as sweeping and dishwashing. He also considered having his idol, Sugar Ray Robinson, as a manager, but instead hired Dundee.

Ali first met Dundee when the latter was in Louisville with light heavyweight champ Willie Pastrano. The teenaged Golden Glove winner traveled downtown to the fighter's hotel, called Dundee from the house phone, and was asked up to their room. He took advantage of the opportunity to query Dundee (who was working with, or had, champions Sugar Ramos and Carmen Basilio) about what his fighters ate, how long they slept, how much roadwork (jogging) they did, and how long they sparred.

Following his bout with Moore, Ali won a disputed 10-round decision over Doug Jones in a matchup that was named "Fight of the Year" for 1963. Ali's next fight was against Henry Cooper, who knocked Ali down with a left hook near the end of the fourth round. The fight was stopped in the fifth due to deep cuts over Cooper's eyes.

Despite these close calls, Ali became the top contender for Sonny Liston's title. Despite his impressive record, however, he was not widely expected to defeat the champ. The fight was scheduled for February 25, 1964 in Miami, Florida, but was nearly canceled when the promoter, Bill Faversham, heard that Ali had been seen around Miami and in other cities with the controversial Malcolm X. At the time, The Nation of Islam � of which Malcolm X was a member � was portrayed as a "hate group" by most of the media. Because of this, news of this association was perceived as a potential gate-killer to a bout where, given Liston's overwhelming status as the favorite to win (7-1 odds[5]), had Ali's colorful persona and nonstop braggadocio as its sole appeal.

Faversham confronted Ali about his association with Malcolm X (who, at the time, was actually under suspension by the Nation as a result of controversial comments made in the wake of President Kennedy's assassination, which he called a case of "the chickens coming home to roost"). While stopping short of admitting he was a member of the Nation, Ali protested the suggested cancellation of the fight. As a compromise, Faversham asked the fighter to delay his announcement about his conversion to Islam until after the fight. The incident is described in the 1975 book The Greatest: My Own Story by Ali (with Richard Durham).

During the weigh-in on the day before the bout, the ever-boastful Ali, who frequently taunted Liston during the buildup by dubbing him "the big ugly bear" (among other things), declared that he would "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee," and, summarizing his strategy for avoiding Liston's assaults, said, "Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see."

First title fight

Ali (still known as Cassius Clay until after the bout), however, had a plan for the fight. At the pre-fight weigh-in, Ali's pulse rate was around 120, more that double his norm of 54. Liston, along with others, misread this as nervousness, and as such, was typically over-confident and unprepared for any result other than a quick knockout victory in his favor. In the opening rounds, Ali's speed kept him away from Liston's powerful head and body shots, as he used his height advantage to beat Liston to the punch with his own lightning-quick jab.

By the third round, Ali was ahead on points and had opened a cut under Liston's eye. Liston regained some ground in the fourth, as Ali was blinded by a substance in his eyes. It is unconfirmed whether this was something used to close Liston's cuts, or deliberately applied to Liston's gloves for a nefarious purpose; however, Bert Sugar (author, boxing historian and insider) has recalled at least two other Liston fights in which a similar situation occurred, suggesting the possibility that the Liston corner deliberately attempted to cheat.

Whatever the case, Liston came into the fourth round aggressively looking to put away the challenger. As Ali struggled to recover his vision, he sought to escape Liston's offensive. He was able to keep out of range until his sweat and tears rinsed the substance from his eyes, responding with a flurry of combinations near the end of the fifth round. By the sixth, he was looking for a finish and dominated Liston. Then, Liston shocked the boxing world when he failed to answer the bell for the seventh round, later claiming a shoulder injury as the reason. Muhammad Ali had indeed "Shook up the world!" just as he had promised.

In the rematch, which was held in May 1965 in relatively-remote Lewiston, Maine, Ali won by knockout in the first round as a result of what came to be called the "phantom punch." Many believe that Liston, possibly as a result of threats from Nation of Islam extremists, or in an attempt to "throw" the fight to pay off debts, just wanted to call it a day and waited to be counted out (see Muhammad Ali versus Sonny Liston). Others, however, discount both scenarios and insist that it was a quick, chopping Ali punch to the side of the head that legitimately felled Liston.

Religion

Ali at an address by Elijah Muhammad
Ali at an address by Elijah Muhammad

After winning the championship from Liston in 1964, Clay revealed that he was a member of the Nation of Islam (often called the Black Muslims at the time) and the Nation gave Clay the name Cassius X, discarding his surname as a symbol of his ancestors' enslavement, as had been done by other Nation members. On Friday, March 6, 1964, Malcolm X took Clay on a guided tour of the United Nations building (for a second time). Malcolm X announced that Clay would be granted his "X." That same night, Elijah Muhammad recorded a statement over the phone to be played over the radio that Clay would be renamed Muhammad (one who is worthy of praise) Ali (fourth rightly guided caliph). Only a few journalists (most notably Howard Cosell) accepted it at that time. Venerable boxing announcer Don Dunphy addressed the champion by his adopted name, as did British reporters. The adoption of this name symbolized his new identity as a member of the Nation of Islam.

Clay had discovered the Nation during a Golden Gloves tournament in Chicago in 1959, even writing a high school report on the organization. His school teachers at Louisville Central High were alarmed that a youngster with that much potential expressed interest in the nationalist faith. They dissuaded him from becoming involved. Many sportswriters of the early 1960s reported that it was Ali's brother, Rudy Clay, who converted to Islam first (estimating the date as 1962). Others wrote that Clay had been seen at Muslim rallies two years before he fought Liston. Ali's own version is that he did buy a copy of the "Muhammad Speaks" newspaper from a Muslim in Chicago, and a 45 rpm record by Minister Louis X (later Farrakhan) called "A White Man's Heaven is a Black Man's Hell."

Aligning himself with the Nation of Islam made him a lightning rod for controversy, turning the outspoken but popular champion into one of that era's most recognizable and controversial figures. Appearing at rallies with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and declaring his allegiance to him at a time when mainstream America viewed them with suspicion � if not outright hostility � made Ali a target of outrage, as well as suspicion. Ali seemed at times to provoke such reactions, with viewpoints that wavered from support for civil rights to outright support of separatism. For example, Ali once stated, in relation to integration: "We who follow the teachings of Elijah Muhammad don't want to be forced to integrate. Integration is wrong. We don't want to live with the white man; that's all."[6] And in relation to inter-racial marriage: "No intelligent black man or black woman in his or her right black mind wants white boys and white girls coming to their homes to marry their black sons and daughters."[6] Indeed, Ali's religious beliefs at the time included the notion that the white man was "the devil" and that white people were not "righteous." Ali claimed that white people hated black people.

Ali converted from the Nation of Islam sect to mainstream Sunni Islam in 1975. In a 2004 autobiography, written with daughter Hana Yasmeen Ali, Muhammad Ali attributes his conversion to the shift toward Sunni Islam made by W.D. Muhammad after he gained control of the Nation of Islam upon the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975.

Vietnam War

In 1964, Ali failed the U.S. Armed Forces qualifying test because his writing and spelling skills were sub-par. However, in early 1966, the tests were revised and Ali was reclassified as 1A. This classification meant he was now eligible for the draft and induction into the U.S. Army. This was especially important because the United States was engaged in the Vietnam War. When notified of this status, he declared that he would refuse to serve in the United States Army and publicly considered himself a conscientious objector. Ali stated that "War is against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an. I'm not trying to dodge the draft. 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 in 1966: "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong ... They never called me nigger."[7][8]

From his rematch with Liston in May 1965, to his final defense against Zora Folley in March 1967, he successfully defended his title nine times, an active schedule for that period. Ali was scheduled to fight WBA champion Ernie Terrell in a unification bout in Toronto on March 29, but Terrell backed out and Ali won a 15-round decision against substitute opponent George Chuvalo. He then went to England and defeated Henry Cooper by stoppage on cuts and Brian London. Ali's next defense was against German southpaw Karl Mildenberger, the first German to fight for the title since Max Schmeling. In one of the tougher fights of his life, Ali stopped his opponent in round 12.

Ali returned to the United States in November 1966 to fight Cleveland "Big Cat" Williams in the Houston Astrodome, in front of an indoor record 35,460 fight fans. A year and a half before the fight, Williams had been shot in the stomach at point-blank range by a Texas policeman. As a result, Williams went into the fight missing one kidney and 10 feet of his small intestine, and with a shriveled left leg from nerve damage from the bullet. Ali beat Williams in three rounds.

On February 6, 1967, Ali returned to a Houston boxing ring to fight Terrell in what became one of the uglier fights in boxing. Terrell had angered Ali by calling him Clay, and the champion vowed to punish him for this insult. During the fight, Ali kept shouting at his opponent, "What's my name, Uncle Tom ... What's my name?" Terrell suffered 15 rounds of brutal punishment, losing 13 rounds on two judges' scorecards, but Ali did not knock him out. Analysts, including several who spoke to ESPN on the sports channel's "Ali Rap" special, speculated that the fight continued only because Ali wanted to thoroughly punish and humiliate Terrell. After the fight, Tex Maule wrote, "It was a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a barbarous display of cruelty."

Ali's last fight in his first reign as world heavyweight champion was on March 22, 1967 against the 35-year old Zora Folley who was seen as something of a journeymen fighter coming into this bout. Folley was knocked out in the 7th round.

Appearing for his scheduled induction into the U.S. Armed Forces on April 28, 1967 in Houston, he refused three times to step forward at the call of his name. An officer warned him he was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Once more, Ali refused to budge when his name was called.

As a result, on that same day, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Other boxing commissions followed suit.

At the trial two months later, the jury, after only 21 minutes of deliberation, found Ali guilty. The judge imposed the maximum sentence. After a court of appeals upheld the conviction, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court (which, in 1971, overturned his conviction). During this time, people turned against the war, and support for Ali grew. Ali financially supported himself by opening a restaurant chain called "Champburger" and visiting many college universities to give speeches across the country. Joe Frazier, who had become champion during Ali's absence from the ring, often gave financial assistance to Ali during this time.

The Fight of the Century

Main article: Fight of the Century

In 1970, Ali was allowed to fight again. With the help of a state senator, he was granted a license to box in Georgia because it was the only state in America without a boxing commission. In October 1970, he stopped Jerry Quarry on a cut after three rounds. Shortly after the Quarry fight, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that Ali had been unjustly denied a boxing license. Once again able to fight in New York, he fought Oscar Bonavena at Madison Square Garden in December 1970. After a tough 14 rounds, Ali stopped Bonavena in the 15th, paving the way for a title fight against Joe Frazier, who was himself undefeated.

Ali and Frazier met in the ring on March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden. The fight, known as '"The Fight of the Century," was one of the most eagerly anticipated bouts of all time and remains one of the most famous. It featured two skilled, undefeated fighters, both of whom had legitimate claims to the heavyweight crown. The fight lived up to the hype, and Frazier punctuated his victory by flooring Ali with a hard left hook in the 15th and final round. Frank Sinatra � unable to acquire a ringside seat � took photos of the match for Life magazine. Legendary boxing announcer Don Dunphy and actor and boxing aficionado Burt Lancaster called the action for the broadcast, which reached millions of people.

Frazier retained the title on a unanimous decision, dealing Ali his first professional loss. However, Ali won a more important victory on June 28, 1971, when the Supreme Court reversed his conviction for refusing induction by unanimous decision in Clay v. United States.

In 1973, after a string of victories over top heavyweight opposition in a campaign to force a rematch with Frazier, Ali split two bouts with Ken Norton (in the bout that Ali lost to Norton, Ali suffered a broken jaw), before beating Frazier (who had lost the title to George Foreman) on points in their 1974 rematch. This victory earned him another title shot � but this time against a seemingly-invincible Foreman.

The Rumble in the Jungle

In one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, Ali regained his title on October 30, 1974 by defeating champion George Foreman in their bout in Kinshasa, Zaire. Hyped as "The Rumble In The Jungle," the fight was promoted by Don King.

Almost no one, not even Ali's long-time supporter Howard Cosell, gave the former champion a chance of winning. Analysts pointed out that Joe Frazier and Ken Norton had given Ali four tough battles in the ring and won two of them, while Foreman had knocked out both of them in the second round. As a matter of fact, so total was the domination that, in their bout, Foreman had knocked down Frazier an incredible six times in only four minutes and 25 seconds.

During the bout, Ali employed an unexpected strategy. Leading up to the fight, he had declared he was going to "dance" and use his speed to keep away from Foreman and outbox him. However, in the first round, Ali headed straight for the champion and began scoring with a right hand lead, clearly surprising Foreman. Ali caught Foreman nine times in the first round with this technique but failed to knock him out. He then decided to take advantage of the young champion's weakness: staying power. Foreman had won 37 of his 40 bouts by knockout, mostly within three rounds. Eight of his previous bouts didn't go past the second round. Ali saw an opportunity to outlast Foreman, and capitalized on it.

In the second round, the challenger retreated to the ropes - inviting Foreman to hit him, while counterpunching and verbally taunting the younger man. Ali's plan was to enrage Foreman and absorb his best blows to exhaust him mentally and physically. While Foreman threw wide shots to Ali's body, Ali countered with stinging straight punches to Foreman's head. Foreman threw hundreds of punches in seven rounds, but with decreasing technique and potency. Ali's tactic of leaning on the ropes, covering up, and absorbing ineffective body shots was later termed "The Rope-A-Dope."

By the end of the seventh round, Foreman was exhausted. In the eighth round, Ali dropped Foreman with a combination at center ring and Foreman failed to make the count. Against the odds, Ali had regained the title. Many years later, Foreman would become champ again at age 45. Muhammad Ali (Foreman's best friend at the time) did not attend the title bout. When asked why, he said "I would deviate attention from George. It was his moment, not mine."

The "Rumble in the Jungle" was the subject of a 1996 Academy Award winning documentary film, When We Were Kings. The match was ranked seventh in the British television program The 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.

Following his victory, Ali's evolution in mainstream American culture from villain to beloved hero came full circle when he was invited to the White House in late 1974 by President Gerald Ford.[9]

Second reign and Thrilla in Manila

Main article: Thrilla in Manila

After beating Foreman, Ali would have a successful string of title defenses. In March 1975, Ali faced Chuck Wepner in a bout that inspired the original Rocky. While it was largely thought that Ali would dominate, Wepner surprised everyone by not only knocking Ali down in the ninth round, but nearly going the distance. Ali eventually stopped Wepner in the fading minutes of the 15th round, but Wepner's display of courage and resilience gave Sylvester Stallone, then an aspiring writer, actor and director, the basis of the plot for the first of the Rocky franchise, which led to five sequels that have endured for 30 years. In May 1975, Ali faced Ron Lyle, who lost by technical knockout in the 11th round after a barrage of punches by Ali. Two months later, in July 1975, Ali won a 15-round decision against Joe Bugner who was criticized by the press for resorting to defensive tactics rather than mounting an attack.

In October 1975, Ali fought Joe Frazier for the third time. The bout was promoted as the Thrilla in Manila by Don King, who had ascended to prominence following the Ali-Foreman fight. The anticipation was enormous for this final clash between two great heavyweights. Ali believed Frazier was "over the hill" by that point, and his overconfidence may have caused him to train less than he could have. Ali's frequent insults, slurs and demeaning poems increased the anticipation and excitement for the fight, but also enraged a determined Frazier. Regarding the fight, Ali famously remarked, "It will be a killa... and a chilla... and a thrilla... when I get the gorilla in Manila."

The fight lasted 14 grueling rounds in temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Ali won many of the early rounds, but Frazier staged a comeback in the middle rounds. By the late rounds, however, Ali had reasserted control and the fight was stopped when Frazier was unable to answer the bell for the 15th and final round (his eyes were swollen closed). Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, refused to allow Frazier to continue. Ali, in one of the toughest fights of his entire career, was quoted as saying, "It was the closest thing to death that I could feel." Another version had Ali saying, "It was like death. Closest thing to dyin' that I know of."

In early 1976, Ali would go on to face journeymen fighters such as Jean-Pierre Coopman and Richard Dunn (Ali's last knockout of his career), winning easily inside the distance against both. In April 1976, an out-of-shape Ali out pointed the tough, young brawler Jimmy Young, who went on to defeat George Foreman by decision and made Ali appear slow and immobile.

Ali's next match after Dunn was a June 25th exhibition against the Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. [10]Although widely perceived as a publicity stunt, the match would have a long-term detrimental affect on Ali's mobility. Inoki spent much of the fight on the ground trying to damage Ali�s legs, while Ali spent most of the fight dodging the kicks or staying on the ropes.[11] At the end of 15 rounds, the bout was called a draw. Ali's legs, however, were bleeding, leading to an infection. He suffered two blood clots in his legs as well.[10]

Nevertheless, in September, at Yankee Stadium, Ali faced Ken Norton in their third fight, with Ali winning a close 15-round decision.

In 1977, Ali faced only two opponents, defeating both by decision: the undistinguished Alfredo Evangelista, who gave Ali another 15-round challenge, and the devastating puncher Earnie Shavers, who nearly knocked him out in the second round. Shavers would be Ali's final successful defense of his heavyweight title. Following the fight, Ali's corner doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, left Ali's entourage when it became clear to him that boxing was taking a significant toll on Ali, both physically and mentally. He made his decision when his warnings to Ali to retire went unheeded.

Olympic champion Leon Spinks finally dethroned Ali by decision in February 1978. The fight was criticized by many fans, since Spinks was a relative rookie with only seven professional bouts in his career. However, Ali reclaimed his title for an unprecedented third time in their September 1978 rematch and then retired at age 37. He returned, however, to face new champion Larry Holmes in 1980. Despite Ali's claim that Holmes would be "mine in nine" he was soundly defeated by Holmes. Ali, though looking fit and trim, was already on medication for what developed into Parkinsons syndrome and was unable to recover his former skills or stamina. Angelo Dundee refused to let his man come out for the 11th round, in what became Ali's first and only loss by anything other than a decision. Ali's final fight, a loss by unanimous decision after 10 rounds, was to up-and-coming challenger Trevor Berbick in 1981.

Ali's legacy

Muhammad Ali defeated almost every top heavyweight in his era, which has been called the golden age of heavyweight boxing. Ali was named "Fighter of the Year" by Ring Magazine more times than any other fighter, and was involved in more Ring Magazine "Fight of the Year" bouts than any other fighter. He is an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and holds wins over seven other Hall of Fame inductees. He is also one of only three boxers to be named "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated. He is regarded as one of the best pound for pound boxers in history. He was a masterful self-promoter, and his psychological tactics before, during, and after fights became legendary. It was his athleticism and boxing skill, however, that enabled him to scale the heights and sustain his position for so many years.

In 1978, three years before Ali's permanent retirement, the Board of Aldermen in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky voted 6�5 to rename Walnut Street to Muhammad Ali Boulevard. This was controversial at the time, as within a week 12 of the 70 street signs were stolen. Earlier that year, a committee of the Jefferson County Public Schools considered renaming Central High School in his honor, but the motion failed to pass. At any rate, in time, Muhammad Ali Boulevard�and Ali himself�came to be well accepted in his hometown.[12]

He was the recipient of the 1997 Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

In retirement

In 1984, Ali revealed to the public he was diagnosed with Parkinsonism, or "Parkinson's syndrome"�which is not the same complaint as Parkinson's disease�following which his motor functions began a slow decline.[13] Although Ali's doctors disagreed about whether his symptoms were caused by boxing and whether or not his condition was degenerative,[14] he was ultimately diagnosed with Pugilistic Parkinson's syndrome.[citation needed] According to the documentary When We Were Kings, when Ali was asked about whether he has any regrets about boxing due to his disability, he responded that if he didn't box he would still be a painter in Louisville, Kentucky.

A recent photograph of Ali
A recent photograph of Ali

Despite the disability, he remains a beloved and active public figure. Recently he was voted into Forbes Celebrity 100 coming in at number 13 behind Donald Trump. Having served as an Ambassador for Jimmy Carter in 1980, in 1984 he supported Jesse Jackson's unsuccessful bid for the White House, after which he switched his support to President Ronald Reagan.[15] In 1985, he served as a guest referee at the inaugural WrestleMania event. In 1987 he was selected by the California Bicentennial Foundation for the U.S. Constitution to personify the vitality of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights in various high profile activities. Ali rode on a float at the 1988 Tournament of Roses Parade, launching the U.S. Constitution's 200th birthday commemoration. He also published an oral history, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser, in 1991. Ali received a Spirit of America Award calling him the most recognized American in the world. In 1996, he had the honor of lighting the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

He has appeared at the 1998 AFL (Australian Football League) Grand Final, where Anthony Pratt invited him to watch the game. He also greets runners at the start line of the Los Angeles Marathon every year.

In 1999, Ali received a special one-off award from the BBC at its annual BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award ceremony, namely the BBC Sports Personality of the Century Award in which he received more votes than the other four contenders combined. His daughter Laila Ali also became a boxer in 1999, despite her father's earlier comments against female boxing in 1978: "Women are not made to be hit in the breast, and face like that... the body's not made to be punched right here [patting his chest]. Get hit in the breast... hard... and all that."

On September 13, 1999, Ali was named "Kentucky Athlete of the Century" by the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in ceremonies at the Galt House East.

In 2001, a biographical film, entitled Ali, was made, with Will Smith starring as Ali. The film received mixed reviews, with the positives generally attributed to the acting, as Smith and supporting actor Jon Voight earned Academy Award nominations. Prior to making the Ali movie, Will Smith had continually rejected the role of Ali until Muhammad Ali personally requested that he accept the role. According to Smith, the first thing Ali said about the subject to Smith was: "You ain't pretty enough to play me."

On November 17, 2002, Muhammad Ali went to Afghanistan as "U.N. Messenger of Peace". He was in Kabul for a three-day goodwill mission as a special guest of the United Nations.[17]

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony on November 9, 2005,[18] and the "Otto Hahn peace medal in Gold" of the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin for his work with the US civil rights movement and the United Nations (December 17, 2005).

On November 19, 2005 (Ali's 19th wedding anniversary), the $60 million non-profit Muhammad Ali Center opened in downtown Louisville. In addition to displaying his boxing memorabilia, the center focuses on core themes of peace, social responsibility, respect, and personal growth.

As Mrs. Lonnie Ali looks on, President George W. Bush embraces Muhammad Ali after presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 9, 2005, during ceremonies at the White House.
As Mrs. Lonnie Ali looks on, President George W. Bush embraces Muhammad Ali after presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 9, 2005, during ceremonies at the White House.

According to the Ali Center website, "Since he retired from boxing, Ali has devoted himself to humanitarian endeavors around the globe. He is a devout Muslim, and travels the world over, lending his name and presence to hunger and poverty relief, supporting education efforts of all kinds, promoting adoption and encouraging people to respect and better understand one another. It is estimated that he has helped to provide more than 22 million meals to feed the hungry. Ali travels, on average, more than 200 days per year."

At the FedEx Orange Bowl on January 2, 2007, Ali was an honorary captain for the Louisville Cardinals wearing their white jersey, number 19. Ali was accompanied by golf legend Arnold Palmer, who was the honorary captain for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, and Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade.

A youth club in Ali's hometown and a species of rose (Rosa ali) have also been named after him. On June 5, 2007, he received an honorary doctorate of humanities at Princeton University's 260th graduation ceremony.[19]

Ali lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his 4th wife, Yolanda 'Lonnie' Ali.[20] They own a house in Berrien Springs, Michigan, which is for sale. On January 9, 2007, they purchased a house in eastern Jefferson County, Kentucky for $1,875,000.[21]

Ranking in heavyweight history

There is no consensus among boxing experts and historians as to who is the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Ring Magazine, a prominent boxing magazine, named Muhammad Ali as number 1 in a 1998 ranking of greatest heavyweights from all eras. But in a 1971 article Nat Fleischer, the founder of the Ring who saw every heavyweight champion from Jim Jeffries to Joe Frazier, refused to include Ali in his all-time top ten, saying: "he does not qualify for rating with the greatest heavyweights of all time".[22] Fleischer was writing after Ali's loss to Frazier, several years before his performance against Foreman and rematches with Frazier.

Recently Ali was named the second greatest fighter in boxing history by ESPN.com behind only welterweight and middleweight great Sugar Ray Robinson. In December 2007, ESPN listed its choice of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Ali was second on this list also behind Joe Louis, despite the fact that the earlier poll placed Ali ahead of Louis.

Personal life

Muhammad Ali has been married four times and has seven daughters and two sons. Ali met his first wife, cocktail waitress Sonji Roi, approximately one month before they married on August 14, 1964. Roi's objections to certain Muslim customs in regard to dress for women contributed to the breakup of their marriage. They divorced on January 10, 1966.

On August 17, 1967, Ali (aged 25) married 17-year old Belinda Boyd. After the wedding, she converted to Islam and changed her name to Khalilah Ali, though she was still called Belinda by old friends and family. They had four children: Maryum (b. 1968), Jamillah and Liban (b. 1970), and Muhammad Ali Jr. (b. 1972).

However, Ali began an affair with a young woman named Veronica Porsche in 1975. By the summer of 1977, Ali's second marriage was over and he had married Veronica. At the time of their marriage, they had a baby girl, Hana, and Veronica was pregnant with their second child. Their second daughter, Laila, was born in December of 1977. By 1986, Ali and Veronica were divorced.

On November 19, 1986, Ali married Yolanda Ali. They had been friends since 1964 in Louisville. Their mothers were close friends, although Lonnie has publicly denied the popular notion that Muhammad Ali was once her babysitter. They have one adopted son, Asaad.

Ali has two other daughters, Miya and Khaliah, from extramarital relationships.

Ali in the media and popular culture

As a world champion boxer and social activist, Ali has been the subject of numerous books, films and other creative works. He has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine on 37 different occasions, second only to Michael Jordan. His autobiography The Greatest: My Own Story, written with Richard Durham, was published in 1975. When We Were Kings, a 1996 documentary about the Rumble in the Jungle, won an Academy Award, and the 2001 biopic Ali garnered an Oscar nomination for Will Smith's portrayal of the lead role.

For contributions to the theater industry,Muhammad Ali was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard .[23]

Professional boxing championship accomplishments

Preceded by
Sonny Liston
WBA Heavyweight boxing champion
1964-02-25 1964-06-19 (Stripped)
Succeeded by
Ernie Terrell
filled vacancy
WBC Heavyweight boxing champion
1964-02-25 1967-04-28 (Stripped)
Succeeded by
Joe Frazier
filled vacancy
Preceded by
Ernie Terrell
WBA Heavyweight boxing champion
1967-02-06 1967-04-28 (Stripped)
Succeeded by
Jimmy Ellis
filled vacancy
Preceded by
Leotis Martin (Vacated)
NABF Heavyweight boxing champion
1970-12-17 � 1971 (Vacated)
Succeeded by
George Foreman
filled vacancy
Preceded by
George Foreman (Vacated)
NABF Heavyweight boxing champion
1971-07-26 1973-03-31
Succeeded by
Ken Norton
Preceded by
Ken Norton
NABF Heavyweight boxing champion
1973-09-10 � 1974 (Vacated)
Succeeded by
Ken Norton
filled vacancy
Preceded by
George Foreman
WBA Heavyweight boxing champion
1974-10-30 1978-02-15
Succeeded by
Leon Spinks
WBC Heavyweight boxing champion
1974-10-30 1978-02-15
Preceded by
Leon Spinks
WBA Heavyweight boxing champion
1978-09-15 1979-09-06 (Vacated)
Succeeded by
John Tate
filled vacancy

Preceded by
Antonio Rebollo
Barcelona 1992
Final Summer Olympic Torchbearer
Muhammad Ali

Atlanta 1996
Succeeded by
Cathy Freeman
Sydney 2000
Preceded by
none
United Press International
Athlete of the Year

1974
Succeeded by
Jo�o Carlos de Oliveira
Preceded by
O.J. Simpson
Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year
1974
Succeeded by
Fred Lynn
Preceded by
O.J. Simpson
Hickok Belt Winner
1974
Succeeded by
Pete Rose
Persondata
NAME Ali, Muhammad
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Clay, Cassius Marcellus, Jr. (prior to conversion to Islam)
SHORT DESCRIPTION American boxer, world heavyweight champion, Olympic gold medallist; anti-Vietnam War activist
DATE OF BIRTH January 17, 1942
PLACE OF BIRTH Louisville, Kentucky
DATE OF DEATH  
PLACE OF DEATH  

 

Muhammad Ali, The Greatest

�He Has No Business Being As Fast As He Is�

By MONTE D. COX

Cox's Corner Profiles

Muhammad Ali was more than just a fighter he was a symbol of the 1960�s, a revolutionary figure who was a voice of civil rights, the anti-Vietnam war movement, and the Nation of Islam. Despite the political symbolism that surrounded his career, love him or hate him, there can be no denying that Muhammad Ali was a truly great fighter once the bell rang. He was three times heavyweight champion of the world (1964-1970, 1974-1978, 1978-1979) and dominated the better part of two decades of the heavyweight division. He made a total of 19 successful title defenses.

The Muhammad Ali of 60�s was the fastest heavyweight ever. In the May 5, 1969 Sports Illustrated, Ali�s jab was measured with an omegascope. Ali�s jab, it was found, could smash a balsa board 16.5 inches away in 19/100 of a second. It actually covered the distance in 4/100 of a second, which is the blink of an eye. Jimmy Jacobs, who owned the world�s largest collection of fight films, said that on film tests with a synchronizer Ali�s jab was faster than that of Sugar Ray Robinson. Jacobs contended that Ali was not only the fastest heavyweight, but also the fastest fighter he ever saw on film.

Marv Jenson, who managed Gene Fullmer, concurred saying, �Ali has the fastest hands on any heavyweight I have ever seen.�

Bob Foster, the world light-heavyweight champion agreed, saying, in an interview after their fight, �He has no business being as fast as he is. I never saw that right hand.�

Author John Durant described him as having �lightning fast hands and a pair of legs that moved around the ring like a ballet dancer. He would float just out of range with his hands dangling at his side as if to taunt his opponent.�

Ali made a lot of mistakes in the ring such as dropping his hands low, holding his right hand out too far when he jabbed so he could not block a jab in return, telegraphing his right uppercut by dropping his right hand, and completely neglecting body punching. However Ali, in his prime, was able to out-speed his mistakes. Eddie Futch commented, �Ali takes his mistakes, shows them to you, and then beats you with them.� Ali got away with his mistakes because of his astoundingly quick reflexes, speed of foot, and uncanny ability to gauge distance.

Ali danced gracefully across the ring, his lateral movement and fleetness of foot made him the master of ring center. Ali�s judge of distance was also phenomenal. He divided the ring into �safety zones� and �danger zones.� In a demonstration done in a boxing ring for Sports Illustrated, (See May 5, 1969 SI), with sparring partner Lee Carr, when Ali was in a �safety zone� he appeared to be in a position to be easily hit, especially with his hands dangling down at his side. That�s what Carr thought. He decided that a left jab would be long enough to reach him. Ali smugly held his ground and with a slight move of his head Carr�s jab fell two inches short. �I can move in on him,� said Carr, �but I can�t seem to get to him.�

Historian Don Cogswell wrote, (IBRO Journal # 81), �Muhammad Ali, in his first title reign, presented such a speed disparity between contestants as to appear supernatural. The flurry that dropped a befuddled Brian London in the third frame, the right that stopped an earnest Zora Folley in the 7th, presented by the right that immediately preceded it (seen by Angelo Dundee and a few others,) suggested that Ali was operating in another time zone.�

Ali refused induction into the Army in 1967 and went into forced exile losing three and a half of his best years as a fighter. When he returned his legs were not what they once were. Ali, fighting more flat-footed than before, revealed some never before tested traits such as heart, determination, and the ability to take a heavy punch.

In their March 8, 1971 classic �Fight of the Century� Ali faced Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden for the right to be called �champion�. It was the first time two undefeated heavyweight champions ever fought for the title. In a vintage battle Joe Frazier fought the perfect fight pounding Ali�s body and flooring him in the final round to gain a clear decision victory. The left hook that dropped Ali would have finished most fighters, but Ali was up quickly and was fighting back when the round ended.

Ali came back winning 10 fights in a row before losing to Ken Norton, who broke his jaw, in winning a 12 round decision. Ali narrowly won the rematch. It seemed as though Ali was winding down as all great fighters do. Frazier lost the title and it appeared as though Ali was on the way out, but he was not done yet! He defeated Frazier by decision and earned a chance to regain his lost crown.

The defining fight of Ali�s career was his championship match against undefeated heavyweight destroyer George Foreman. Big George was 40-0 with 37 knockouts and had simply annihilated the two men (Frazier and Norton) that had given Ali his toughest fights. Ali was a 3-1 underdog going in against the new heavyweight champion and few gave him a chance to survive the thunderous fists of the man that one boxing magazine called, �the most powerful heavyweight champion ever.�

Ali surprised even his most ardent fans. In a brilliant strategic fight Ali sought to tire his man by fighting off the ropes, pulling back, evading and rolling with all of his opponent's hardest punches and then countering with quick jabs and right hand leads. Ali displayed some of his once famous speed; after Ali nailed George with several furious jabs he began talking to him, �Didn�t they tell you, sucker? Didn�t they tell you I am the fastest heavyweight that ever lived?�

Foreman punched himself out. In the eighth round Ali caught a visibly tiring Foreman chasing him off the ropes and knocked him out. George said years later, (Champions Forever video 1989), �He surprised me with this lightning speed that he wasn�t supposed to have at his age."

Muhammad Ali was back on top having reclaimed the title that was unjustly taken from him, he was the heavyweight champion of the world once again. Ali's popularity soared and he would make 10 successful title defenses in his second reign as champion, one of them a rubber match with Joe Frazier. Many analysts have called the third fight with Frazier the greatest heavyweight championship fight in history.

It was described as a drama in 3 acts by the Oct. 13, 1975 Sports Illustrated, 1) Ali, 2) Frazier, and 3) Ali. Muhammad pummeled his foe in the first five rounds. Ali buckled Joe�s knees two times in the first round. In the third Frazier was shaken twice as Ali hit him at will with his quick two-fisted attack. In the middle rounds Frazier began to work his way back into the fight with strong body punching. In the sixth round a pair of wicked left hooks had Ali in no mans land. Frazier kept coming and Ali grew weary. �Exhausted and contemplating quitting, Ali slumped on his stool at the end of the tenth round.� The eleventh round was no better for the champion. Writer Mark Kram reported, �Ali got trapped in Frazier�s corner and blow after blow bit at his melting face, and specks of spittle flew from his mouth." �Lawd have mercy!� Bundini shrieked.� Ali proved that he had the courage, determination, and will that make a great champion. Frazier�s left eye began to swell and his vision faded. By the thirteenth round Frazier could no longer see the punches coming. Ali was finding Frazier with long right hands and punishing him severely. Joe's corner was forced to stop the fight before the 15th round bell, as he could no longer defend himself.

Perhaps Frazier described Ali best, �Lawdy, Lawdy, I hit him with punches that would have brought down the walls of a city. He�s a great and mighty champion.�

Ali was not a heavy hitter but he beat some good ones including Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ron Lyle, and Earnie Shavers. For two decades of the heavyweight division there was not a significant heavyweight that he did not meet in the ring.

Muhammad Ali is rated as the # 1 heavyweight of all time by such authorities as Herbert Goldman, Nigel Collins, Steve Farhood, and Arthur Harris. Bert Sugar rates Ali at # 3. Cox's Corner considers Ali to be the # 2 heavyweight of all time.

Your hands can't hit
What your eyes can't see
Float like a butterfly
Sting like a bee
Muhammad, Muhammad Ali

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