(b.January 17, 1942) was born Cassius Marcellus Clay,
in Louisville, Kentucky, and is a retired American boxer. In 1999, Ali
was crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated. He is widely
regarded to be the greatest heavyweight champion of all time and is one of the
most heavily promoted athletes ever.
Named Junior after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., who was named for
the 19th century abolitionist and politician Cassius Clay. Ali later changed his
name after joining the Nation of Islam and subsequently converted to orthodox
Sunni Islam in 1975.
Early boxing career
In 1954, Ali, who was then known as Cassius Clay, parked his bicycle in front
of a Louisville department store. When he learned that his bicycle had been
stolen, he approached a police officer named Joe Elsby Martin, Sr. and told him
that he wanted to "whoop" the thief. Martin, the coach of the Louisville city
boxing program, told Ali that if he intended to "whoop" someone, he should learn
to fight. The next day, Ali appeared at Louisville's Columbia Gym and began
boxing lessons with Martin. Ali credits Martin with teaching him how to "float
like a butterfly, sting like a bee." As an Olympic coach, Martin accompanied Ali
to the Rome Olympics in 1960 where he won a Gold Medal in the light heavyweight
Standing at 6' 3 and 1 inch" (1.93 m), Ali had a highly unorthodox style for
a heavyweight boxer. He carried his hands at his sides, rather than the normal
boxing style of carrying the hands high to defend the face. Instead, he relied
on his ability to avoid a punch. In Louisville, October 29, 1960, Cassius Clay
won his first professional fight. He won a six-round decision over Tunney
Hunsaker, who was the police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia. From 1960 to
1963, the young fighter amassed a record of 19-0, with 15 knockouts. He defeated
such boxers as Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson (who weighed 160 pounds when he fought
Clay), Donnie Fleeman (who had broken ribs going into the fight but fought Clay
anyway), Alonzo Johnson, George Logan, Willi Besmanoff, Lamar Clark (who had won
his previous 40 bouts by knockout), Doug Jones, and Henry Cooper. Among Clay's
more impressive victories were versus Sonny Banks (who knocked him down during
the bout), Alejandro Lavorante, and the aged Archie Moore (a boxing legend who
had won over 200 previous fights).
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Clay then won a highly disputed 10 round
decision over Doug Jones, who, despite being 25 pounds lighter than Clay,
staggered Clay as soon as the fight started with a right hand, and beat Clay to
the punch throughout the fight. Clay's next fight was against Britain's Henry
Cooper, who knocked Clay down with a left hook near the end of the fourth round.
Yet he is credited with a win over Cooper in that fight. Despite these close
calls against Doug Jones and Henry Cooper (both of whom were over 25 pounds
lighter in weight than Clay was), he became the top contender for Sonny Liston's
title. Liston was noted for his aggressiveness (during the early part of his
boxing career, Mike Tyson was compared to Liston for this reason). In spite of
Clay's impressive record, he was not expected to beat the champ. The fight was
to be held February 25, 1964 and during the weigh-in on the previous day, the
never-bashful Ali declared that he would "float like a butterfly and sting like
a bee," and, in summarizing his strategy for avoiding Liston's assaults, said,
"Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see."
First title fight
Clay, however, had a plan. Misreading Clay's exuberance as nervousness,
Liston was over-confident, and unprepared for any result but a quick stoppage.
In the opening rounds, Clay's speed kept him away from Liston's powerful head
and body shots, as he used his height and reach advantage to effectively beat
Liston to the punch with his jab. By the third, Clay was clearly on top, and had
opened a cut under Liston's eye. Liston regained some ground in the fourth, as
Clay was blinded by a foreign substance. It is unknown whether this was
something used to close Liston's cuts, or applied to Liston's gloves for a
nefarious purpose. Partially-sighted, Clay passively sought to escape Liston's
offensive. He was able to keep out of range until his sweat cleaned the ointment
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 world when he didn't come out for the seventh round to
continue the fight; he later claimed to have injured his shoulder. The fight was
widely regarded as a "fix." Clay overcame all odds to become heavyweight
champion of the world..
Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. changes his name to Muhammad Ali
Following his ascension to champion, he also became famous for other reasons:
he revealed that he was a member of the Nation of Islam (often called the Black
Muslims at the time) and changed his name to Cassius X, discarding his surname
as a symbol of his ancestors' enslavement, as had been done by other Nation
members such as Malcolm X. He was soon given the name Muhammad Ali by the leader
of the Nation, Elijah Muhammad, who revealed the name to Ali as "his true name,"
although only a few journalists (most notably Howard Cosell) accepted it at that
time. The adoption of this name symbolized his new identity as a Black Muslim,
and he retained the name even after he later became a Sunni Muslim.
Vietnam puts a pause in Ali's career
In 1964, Ali failed the Armed Forces qualifying test because his writing and
spelling skills were subpar. However, in early 1966, the tests were revised and
Ali was reclassified 1A. He refused to serve in the American army during the
Vietnam War as a conscientious objector, because "War is against the teachings
of the Holy Qur'aan. I'm not trying to dodge the draft. We are 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
that Clay was the name given to his slave ancestors by the white man. By
refusing to respond to this name, Ali's personal life was filled with
controversy. Ali was essentially banned from fighting in the United States and
forced to accept bouts abroad for most of 1966.
From his bout with Patterson in November of 1965, to his final defence
against Zora Folley in March of 1967, he defended his title nine times. No other
heavyweight champion in history has fought so much in such a short period. Ali
won a fifteen round decision against Canadian George Chuvalo (who was stopped in
4 rounds by a young Joe Frazier and stopped in 3 rounds by a young George
Ali then went to England and defeated Henry Cooper and Brian London by
knockout. Ali's next defence 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 finally stopped his opponent in Round 12.
Ali returned to the United States in November of 1966 to fight Cleveland "Big
Cat" Williams in the Houston Astrodome. 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, Cleveland Williams went into the fight missing one kidney, ten
feet of his small intestine, and with a shrivelled 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 Ernie
Terrell, in what was to be 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, and during the fight Ali kept shouting at his opponent "What's my name,
Uncle Tom...what's my name". Terrell suffered fifteen rounds of brutal
punishment, but Ali was unable to knock him out, causing many to question even
more strongly Ali's "phantom punch knockout" over Liston. After the fight, Tex
Maule wrote, "It was a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a barbarous
display of cruelty."
Many boxing analysts have called Ali's fight against an old Zora Folley at
Madison Square Garden on March 22, 1967 to be him at his brilliant best.
Ali's actions in refusing military service and aligning himself with the
Nation of Islam, made him a lightning rod of controversy, turning the outspoken
but popular former 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 actual hostility — made Ali a target of
outrage, and suspicion as well. Ali seemed at times to even provoke such
reactions, with viewpoints that wavered from support for civil rights to
outright support of separatism.
Near the end of 1967, Ali was stripped of his title by the professional
boxing commission and would not be allowed to fight professionally for more than
three years. He was also convicted for refusing induction into the U.S. Army.
Over the course of those years in exile, Ali fought to appeal his conviction. He
stayed in the public spotlight and supported himself by giving speeches
primarily at rallies on college campuses that opposed the Vietnam War.
In 1969, Ali faced Rocky Marciano in a simulated fight, known as The Super
Fight. This fight was under the promotion of Murry Woroner, a Miami boxing
promoter, who ran a fantasy boxing radio show, filled with fantasy matches, with
the blow by blow by Murry Woroner, himself.
In 1970 Ali was allowed to fight again and in late 1971 the Supreme Court
reversed his conviction.
In 1970, Ali was finally able to get a boxing license. 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 of 1970, he
returned to stop Jerry Quarry on a cut after three rounds. Shortly after the
Quarry fight, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that Ali was unjustly
denied a boxing license. Once again able to fight in New York, he fought Oscar
Bonavena at Madison Square Garden in December of 1970. After a tough 14 rounds,
Ali stopped Bonavena in the 15th, paving the way for a title fight against Joe
The Fight of the Century
Ali and Frazier fought each other on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.
This fight, known as The Fight of the Century, is one of the most famous
and was one of the most eagerly anticipated bouts of all time, since it featured
two skilled, undefeated fighters, both of whom had reasonable 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 final round and won on
points. 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 eventually won the fight and retained the title with a unanimous
decision, dealing Ali his first professional loss.
In 1973, Ali split two bouts with Ken Norton (in the bout that Ali lost to
Norton, Ali suffered a broken jaw), before beating Frazier on points in their
1974 rematch, to earn another title shot.
The Rumble in the Jungle
Ali regained his title on October 30, 1974 by defeating champion George
Foreman in their bizarre bout in Kinshasa, Zaire. Hyped as "The Rumble In The
Jungle", the fight was promoted by Don King, who had served time in prison for
killing his partner in the numbers racket.
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 destroyed both in the second round.
In the fight, Ali took advantage of the young champion's one weakness:
staying power. Foreman had won 37 of his 40 bouts by knockout, most within three
rounds or less, with Foreman's eight previous bouts not going past the second
round. Ali saw an opportunity to outlast Foreman, and capitilised on it.
Commentators expected Ali to box Foreman at distance using his superior speed
and footwork but, instead, during the second round Ali retreated to the ropes
inviting Foreman to hit him, while sporadically counterpunching and verbally
taunting the younger man. Ali's plan was to enrage Foreman and absorb his best
blows in order to exhaust him mentally and physically. The champion threw
hundreds of punches in seven rounds but with decreasing technique and effect.
This was later termed "The Rope-A-Dope".
By the end of the eighth round Foreman was clearly flagging and Ali made his
move, turning Foreman off the ropes and executing a beautiful knockout. Foreman
failed to make the count, and Ali had regained the title.
Ali becomes a Sunni Muslim
Ali converted from the Nation of Islam to orthodox Sunni Islam in 1975. In a
2004 autobiography, written with daughter Hana Yasmeen Ali, Muhammad Ali
attributes his conversion to the shift towards Sunni Islam made by W.D. Muhammad
after he gained control of the Nation of Islam upon the death of his father,
Elijah Muhammad in 1975. According to a July 13, 1998 interview in Sports
Illustrated, this Black Muslim philosophy attributes to his belief in
"When one of the girls in the video laments that whites go in one car and
blacks in another, Ali nods knowingly. "Nature's way," he says, "nature's way.""
On March 24, 1975, Ali fought Chuck Wepner in Cleveland, a fight that was to
inspire the Academy Award winning movie "Rocky". Ironically, however, it was
Ali's opponent who provided the inspiration for history's most famous fictional
pugilist. Wepner was a journeyman fighter who had been earning his living as a
liquor salesman and security guard. Wepner had been dubbed "The Bayonne Bleeder"
and, although he was ranked, he was considered hapless. Wepner, however, trained
for two months and although he lost on a technical knock-out, he survived all 15
rounds and even managed to knock Ali down. Sylvester Stallone saw the match on
television and the concept of Rocky Balboa -- an unknown club fighter who goes
15 rounds with the heavyweight champion -- was born.
The Thrilla in Manila
In 1975, Ali was again slated to fight Joe Frazier. The anticipation for the
fight was enormous for the final clash between these two great heavyweights.
Added to Ali's frequent insults, slurs and poems it increased not only the
anticipation and excitement for the fight. After 14 gruelling rounds, Frazier's
trainer Eddie Futch refused to allow Frazier to continue. Frazier felt betrayed
and never talked to Futch again. Ali was quoted after the fight as saying "This
must be what death feels like". Ring Magazine called this bout 1975's
Fight of the Year, the fifth year an Ali fight had earned that distinction. Many
felt Ali should have retired after this fight; however, he continued to box.
Some have said Ali was never the same fighter after this. 1976 saw him knock out
two largely unknown opponents, Belgian stonecutter Jean-Pierre Coopman and
English boxer Richard Dunn. On April 30, 1976 Ali faced Jimmy Young in Landover,
Maryland. Ali boxed Jimmy Young, who exploited all the flaws and limitations in
Ali's style, both offensively and defensively. At the end of the match, the
judges, chosen by Don King, gave Ali a decision, causing many to call it the
worst decision in the entire history of boxing. Ali never fought Jimmy Young
again, despite the fact that Jimmy Young went on from there to beat George
Foreman and knocked Foreman down in the process. In September, Ali faced Ken
Norton in their third fight, held at Yankee Stadium. Although it was highly
disputed by some observers, the champion won by unanimous decision.
Ali would retain his title until a February 1978 loss to 1976 Olympic
champion Leon Spinks. In losing to the novice Spinks, Ali became the first
heavyweight champion in the entire history of boxing to lose his title to a
novice who had had only seven profesional fights. In the September rematch in
New Orleans at the Superdome, Spinks' cornerman Georgie Benton walked out of the
ring after the 6th round, later commenting that he did not think the fight was
on the level. Ali was given a 15 round decision over the disoriented Spinks.
Then on June 27, 1979, he announced his retirement and vacated the title.
Final Comeback and Retirement
That retirement was short-lived, however, and on October 2, 1980, he
challenged Larry Holmes for the WBC's version of the world Heavyweight title.
Looking to set another record, as the first boxer to win the Heavyweight title
four times, Ali lost by technical knockout in round eleven, when Dundee would
not let him come out for the round. The Holmes fight, promoted as "The Last
Hurrah", was a fight many fans and experts view with disdain, because it was a
fight that saw a "deteriorated version" of Ali. Holmes was Ali's sparring
partner when Holmes was a budding fighter; thus, some viewed the result of the
fight as a symbolic "passing of the torch." Holmes even admitted later that,
although he dominated the fight, he held his punches back a bit out of sheer
respect for his idol, and former employer. It was revealed after the fight that
Ali had been examined at the Mayo Clinic, and the results were shocking. He had
admitted to tingling in his hands, and slurring of his speech. The exam revealed
he actually had a hole in the membrane of his brain. However, Don King withheld
this report, and allowed the fight to go on.
Despite the apparent finality of his loss to Holmes and his increasingly
suspect medical condition, Ali would fight one more time. On December 11, 1981,
he fought rising contender and future world champion Trevor Berbick, in what was
billed as "The Drama in the Bahamas." Because Ali was widely viewed as a damaged
fighter, few American venues expressed much interest in hosting the bout, and
few fans expressed much interest in attending or watching it. Compared to the
mega-fights Ali fought in widely known venues earlier in his career, the match
took place in virtual obscurity, in Nassau. Although Ali performed marginally
better against Berbick than he had against Holmes fourteen months earlier, he
still lost a 10-round unanimous decision to Berbick, who at 27 was twelve years
Following this loss, Ali retired permanently in 1981, with a career record of
56 wins (37 by knockout) and 5 losses.
Muhammad Ali is widely considered to be one of the most heavily promoted
individuals in the entire history of the news media. He defeated almost every
top Heavyweight in his era, an 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 defeated more International Boxing
Hall of Fame inductees than any other fighter, next to his idol Sugar Ray
Robinson, and is himself an inductee. He is also one of only three boxers to be
named "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated. He is widely regarded as
the greatest Heavyweight champion of all time, and one of the pound for pound
best in boxing's history.
He's also recently topped the list of Greatest Heavyweights by many boxing
luminaries including the likes, of not surprisingly, Angelo Dundee, Bert Sugar,
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the early 1980s, following
which his motor functions began a slow decline. Although Ali's doctors disagreed
during the 1980s and 1990s about whether his symptoms were caused by boxing and
whether or not his condition was degenerative,
 he was ultimately diagnosed
with Pugilistic Parkinson's syndrome. By late 2005 it was reported that Ali's
condition was notably worsening .
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.
Despite the disability, he remains a popular and active public figure. 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 US Constitution and Bill of Rights
in various high profile activities. Ali rode on a float at the 1988 Tournament
of Roses, launching the U.S. Constitution's 200th birthday commemoration. He
also published an oral history, Muhammad Ali:His Life and Times with Thomas
Hauser, in 1991. Ali received a Spirit of America Award calling him the most
recognized American in the world. In 1995 the debut album of the band Ben Folds
Five included a song about Ali and his retirement called "Boxing". Ben Folds has
said that his dad was a fan of Ali. 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 Grand Final, where NFL Hall of Famer Anthony
Pratt recruited 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, which was the BBC Sports
Personality of the Century Award. 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." The $60 million non-profit Muhammad Ali
Center opened in downtown Louisville, Kentucky on November 19, 2005 (his 19th
wedding anniversary). In addition to displaying his boxing memorabilia, the
center focuses on core themes of peace, social responsibility, respect, and
personal growth. Muhammad Ali currently lives on a small farm near Berrien
Springs, Michigan with his fourth wife, Yolanda 'Lonnie' Ali.
According to the Muhammad Ali Center website, "Since he retired from boxing,
Ali has devoted himself to humanitarian endeavors around the globe. He is a
devout Sunni 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."
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 rejected
the part of Ali until Muhammad Ali came and told him to take the part.
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony on
November 9, 2005 .
Muhammad Ali has been married four times and has seven daughters and two
|Yolanda 'Lonnie' Ali
||November 19, 1986
|Veronica Porsche Ali
||June 19, 1977
|Khalilah 'Belinda' Ali
||August 17, 1967
||Maryum, Rasheeda, Jamilla, Muhammad Jr.
||August 14, 1964
||January 10, 1966
Ali has two other daughters, Miya and Khaliah, from extramarital
- Actor Giancarlo Esposito recorded a public service announcement for Deejay
Ra's 'Hip-Hop Literacy' campaign, encouraging reading of books about Muhammad
- Several individuals have portrayed Ali in film biographies, including Ali
- future Amazing Race winner Chip McAllister, in the 1977 film, The
Greatest (portraying a young Cassius Clay)
- Muhammad Ali, in the 1977 film, The Greatest
- Darius McCrary, in the 1997 HBO TV movie, Don King: Only in America
- Terrence Howard, in the 2000 ABC TV movie, King of the World
- David Ramsey, in the 2000 Fox TV movie Ali: An American Hero
- Will Smith, in the 2001 film, Ali
Additionally, Ali has appeared as himself in numerous scripted films and
television series, including the films Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962),
Body and Soul (1981 version, starring Leon Isaac Kennedy), and Doin'
Time (1985); and the television series Vega$ (1979), Diff'rent
Strokes (1979), and Touched by an Angel (1999).
Ali portrayed a former slave in Reconstruction-era Virginia who is elected to
the United States Senate in the 1979 NBC TV movie Freedom Road, which was
based upon the 1944 novel by Howard Fast.
Ali provided the voice for the titular character in the 1977 NBC animated
series, I Am the Greatest: The Adventures of Muhammad Ali.
|NABF Heavyweight 2nd Champion
December 17, 1970 - 1971
|NABF Heavyweight 4th Champion
July 26, 1971 - 1973
|NABF Heavyweight 6th Champion
September 10, 1973 - 1974
|WBA World Heavyweight 17th
February 25, 1964 - June 19, 1964
|WBA World Heavyweight 19th
February 6, 1967 - May 9, 1967
|WBA World Heavyweight 23rd
October 30, 1974 - February 15, 1978
|WBA World Heavyweight 25th
September 15, 1978 – April 27, 1979
John Tate (boxer)
|WBC World Heavyweight 2nd
February 25, 1964 - May 9, 1967
|WBC World Heavyweight 6th
October 30, 1974 - February 15, 1978