Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, the man who was destined to become the greatest boxer in history first entered the sport through a curious stroke of luck. After having his bike stolen as a twelve year old, Clay remarked to a policeman that he wanted to beat up the thief. As fate would have it, this officer also coached boxers, and Clay’s path to greatness began.
Initially fighting as a light heavyweight, Clay debuted in 1954 and claimed his first honour two years later, winning the 1956 Golden Gloves Championship. He followed this up in 1959, when he won the Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions and the Amateur Athletic Union’s national title for the light heavyweight division.
In 1960, while still fighting as an amateur, Clay won a place on the US Olympic Boxing Team. Competing in Rome at The Games, Clay won the gold medal, defeating Zbigniew Pietrzkowski from Poland in his final bout. Shortly after The Games, Clay turned professional and embarked on an impressive run of winning all his fights, most by knockout. Now fighting as a heavyweight, he faced British heavyweight champion Henry Cooper in 1963 and Sonny Liston in 1964, both of whom he beat, leading to him being crowned the World Heavyweight Champion.
In the same year as the Liston fight, Clay converted to Islam, something that became one of the major talking points of his life. Initially calling himself Cassius X, he eventually settled on the name Muhammed Ali. His religious beliefs would lead to turmoil in his boxing career when he refused to fight in the Vietnam War on the grounds that he was a practicing Muslim minister and his beliefs prevented him from fighting.In 1967, the US Department of Justice found him guilty of refusing to be inducted into the military, although Ali later cleared his name. More pressing at the time was the fact that the boxing association stripped him of his World Heavyweight Title and banned him from competing for three and a hlaf years.
By the time Ali returned to the ring in October 1970, Smokin’ Joe Frazier had been crowned the World Heavyweight Champion, although many refused to acknowledge this due to the fact that Ali had been stripped of the title and had never actually been beaten. This set the two fighters on a collision course for what was billed The Fight Of The Century. Taking place in 1971, the bout was the first of three between the two men, and Frazier was able to cement his place as champion when he beat the former kingpin by unanimous decision, handing Ali his first loss. Ali would later gain revenge for the loss by beating Frazier in 1974, although by then Frazier had lost the title to George Foreman.
Later in the year, Ali faced Foreman for the title in a bout dubbed The Rumble In The Jungle. A fact that may seem surprising to some, Ali was seen as the underdog in this fight, although he silenced the critics by defeating Foreman and recapturing the World Title.
Now that he was once again champion, it seemed written in the stars that Ali and Frazier would meet in a rubber match. With both men boasting a win over the other, the bout eventually took place in the Phillipines and was known as The Thrilla In Manila. With the title and bragging rights on the line, Ali claimed the victory when the fight was stopped in the fourteenth round. After numerous insults from the champion to Smokin’ Joe, Ali later paid tribute to his longtime rival, stating that this fight left him the closest he had ever felt to death.
Ali would continue to fight into the 80s, although it appeared that his career was on the decline. He closed out the 70s with losses to Leon Spinks and Larry Holmes, before losing his heavyweight crown to Trevor Berbick in 1981. Ali announced his retirement from the sport the next day.
Following his retirement, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and many ring observers believed his fighting style, particularly the “rope-a-dope” technique he popularised may have contributed to his condition. Ali devoted much of his time following the end of his career to raising money for his Muhammed Ali Parkinson Centre in Phoenix, Arizona. He has also supported numerous other good causes, including the Special Olympics and the Make A Wish Foundation. A true box office boxer, Ali could captivate fans with his fighting and talk them into their seats with his interviews.
Muhammed Ali was inducted into The Stevie Thorne Hall Of Fame in January 2012.