Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.; January 17, 1942 is an American former boxer and three-time World Heavyweight Champion, who is widely considered one of the greatest heavyweight championship boxers of all time. As an amateur, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. After turning professional, he went on to become the first boxer to win the lineal heavyweight championship three times.
Originally known as Cassius Clay, Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converting to Islam in 1975. In 1967, Ali refused to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. He was arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges, stripped of his boxing title, and his boxing license was suspended. He was not imprisoned, but did not fight again for nearly four years while his appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was successful.
Nicknamed "The Greatest", Ali was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these are three with rival Joe Frazier and one with George Foreman, whom he beat by knockout to win the world heavyweight title for the second time. He suffered only five losses (four decisions and one TKO by retirement from the bout) with no draws in his career, while amassing 56 wins (37 knockouts and 19 decisions). Ali was well known for his unorthodox fighting style, which he described as "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee", and employing techniques such as the rope-a-dope. He was also known for his pre-match hype, where he would "trash talk" opponents on television and in person some time before the match, often with rhymes. These personality quips and idioms, along with an unorthodox fighting technique, made him a cultural icon. In later life, Ali developed Parkinson's disease. In 1999, Ali was crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated and "Sports Personality of the Century" by the BBC.
Early title defenses
On November 22, 1965, Ali fought Floyd Patterson in his second title defense. Patterson lost by technical knockout at the end of the 12th round. As would later occur with Ernie Terrell, many sportswriters accused Ali of "carrying" Patterson so that he could physically punish him without knocking him out. Ali countered that Patterson, who said his punching prowess was limited when he strained his sacroiliac, was not as easy to down as may have appeared.
Ali was scheduled to fight WBA champion Ernie Terrell (the WBA stripped Ali of his title after his agreement to fight a rematch with Liston) on March 29, 1966, but Terrell backed out. Ali won a 15-round decision against substitute opponent George Chuvalo. He then went to England and defeated Henry Cooper by stoppage on cuts May 21, and knocked out Brian London in the third round in August. 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. According to the Sports Illustrated account, the bout drew an indoor world 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.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. The younger of two boys, he was named after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., who was named for the 19th century abolitionist and politician of the same name. His father painted billboards and signs, and his mother, Odessa Grady Clay, was a household domestic. Although Cassius Sr. was a Methodist, he allowed Odessa to bring up both Cassius and his elder brother Rudolph "Rudy" Clay (later renamed Rahman Ali) as Baptists. He is a descendant of pre-Civil War era American slaves in the American South, and is predominantly of African-American descent, with some Irish and English ancestry.
Clay was first directed toward boxing by the white Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin, who encountered the 12-year-old fuming over the theft of his bicycle. However, without Martin's knowledge, Clay also began training with Fred Stoner, an African-American trainer working at the local community center. In this way, Clay could make $4 a week on Tomorrow's Champions, a local, weekly TV show that Martin hosted, while benefiting from the coaching of the more experienced Stoner. For the last four years of Clay's amateur career he was also trained by legendary boxing cutman Chuck Bodak.
Clay won 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. Clay's amateur record was 100 wins with five losses.
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 at a basketball intermission during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he lit the torch to start the games.