Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr in Louisville, Kentucky, USA on 17 January 1942. He went on to become one of the world’s greatest boxing heroes. His is a household name, however, there are many more interesting facts to learn about the life of Muhammad Ali …
Birth of a legend
The young Cassius Clay was 12 years old when his bike was stolen. Furious, he told police officer Joe Martin that he was going to beat up the thief when he found out who it was. Joe Martin was a boxing coach as well as a police officer and told the boy that he had better learn to fight first. Thus, a legend was born.
Cassius took to boxing straight away. As an amateur fighter, he won 100 out of the 105 fights he was entered for. He also won several Gold Glove championships and went on to win an Olympic medal in Rome in 1960. After that, he decided to turn professional.
Knockout world champion
Cassius Clay became the heavyweight boxing champion of the world just four years after the Olympics when he beat opponent Sonny Liston by knockout when Liston refused to return to the ring for the seventh round of the fight. In so doing, he handed the victory to Clay.
Becoming Muhammad Ali
1964 was also the year that Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, changing his name when he converted to Islam. Three years later, he later refused to join the army for religious reasons and he publicly criticised the Vietnam war, causing the US boxing association to withdraw their permission for him to fight professionally for the following three years
Champion come back
In 1970, Muhammad Ali returned to the boxing ring. The 1970s were his best decade for boxing success, with multiple wins, including his three most famous fights. One of those fights, the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ took place in October 1974 in Zaire between Ali and fellow boxing legend George Foreman. Ali knocked out Foreman in the eighth round.
Stinging like a bee
Muhammad Ali became almost as famous for his catchphrases and trash talk as he was for his skill in the boxing ring. He referred to himself as ‘the greatest’ and was famous for coining the phrase, ”I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”
The music man
During Ali’s enforced ban from boxing, he dabbled in performing arts. He played the lead role in a musical called Buck White in New York in 1969. Sadly, his stage career was rather short-lived, as the musical closed after just seven performances. Despite it being a box office disaster, Ali himself received favourable press reviews for his acting, singing and “innate dignity” in the role.
The world champion heavyweight boxer found time to marry four times and had nine children. His youngest daughter, Laila followed in his footsteps, herself becoming a professional boxer. His life was portrayed on the silver screen several times, with the most recent film being Ali. Actor Will Smith played the title role, and the film was released in 2001.
Life after boxing
Muhammad Ali retired from professional boxing in 1981 after losing a match to Trevor Berbick. After his retirement, he devoted much time boxing related charities and sporting initiatives. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 from President George Bush in 2005 in recognition of this altruistic work. He also suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, which was diagnosed in 1984. He died in 2016 in Arizona at 74 years old.
An auction of the boxing gloves that Muhammad Ali wore when he defeated Sonny Liston in 1964 saw them sell for a whopping US$ 836,000. Ironically, Ali received less than that for actually winning the fight: US$ 630,000.