Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. When Ali was 12 years old, he went to the Columbia Auditorium to enjoy some free hot dogs and popcorn. When he finished eating and having a good time he realized that his bicycle was stolen. He became so infuriated that he rushed to report the crime to police officer Joe Martin. Martin was also a boxing coach at the Columbia Gym. Ali said that he wanted to beat up the person who stole his bike, and Martin replied that he should probably learn how to fight first. A few days later, Muhammad Ali began training at Martin’s gym.
From the very beginning, he took his training seriously. He trained six days a week and on school days he woke up early so that he could go running. Ali trained in Martin’s gym until it closed at 8 pm, and then trained at with Fred Stone at another gym until the late hours of the night. Ali even created his own eating regimen that included milk and raw eggs for breakfast. He became so concerned about what he put into his body, that he stayed away from junk food, alcohol, and cigarettes. Even in his early training, Muhammad Ali boxed like no one else. He was so fast that he didn’t duck punches like other boxers. Instead, he just leaned away from them.
On February 25, 1964, Muhammad Ali fought Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight title. At the opening bell, Liston rushed Ali with the hopes of getting a quick knockout. However, Ali’s superior speed and quickness eluded Liston. He made the champ miss wildly and by the 7th round, Liston was exhausted, injured hurt his shoulder, and was worried about a cut under his eye. He later refused to continue the fight and Ali became the youngest boxer to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion.
The day after the championship bout with Liston, Muhammad Ali publicly announced his conversion to Islam. Ali had joined the Nation of Islam, a religious group led by Elijah Muhammad. Many people believed the Nation of Islam conveyed racist and violent beliefs, therefore the public was angry and disappointed in Ali. However, whenever he was asked about why he made the conversion, he simply discussed the unconditional love and respect that he received from Muslim leaders followers, and how he did not receive the same treatment from other Christian leaders and followers. He stated, “Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams, they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do, they all contain truths.
Up to this point, Muhammad Ali was still known as Cassius Clay, but it was not until he joined the Nation of Islam that he took on the name, Muhammad Ali.
On April 28, 1967, the United States was at war in Vietnam but Ali refused to enlist into the armed forces. He stated, “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.” As a result, he was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three and a half years. He was also systematically denied a boxing license in every state and stripped of his passport. Fortunately, he remained out of prison while his case was being appealed.
On March 8, 1971, Muhammad Ali got his chance to win back the heavyweight title. Ali fought Joe “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier at Madison Square Garden. The fight was named “the Fight of the Century,” and it was viewed in 35 countries around the world. This was also the first fight that Ali used his “rope-a-dope” technique. Here he would lean himself against the ropes while he let his opponent pummel him repeatedly. The intention was to quickly wear out his opponent. The fight went the full 15 rounds, with both fighters still standing at the end. Unfortunately, the fight was unanimously awarded to Frazier and Ali lost his first professional fight as well as officially losing the heavyweight title. However, Ali won a different kind of fight. Ali’s appeals against his draft evasion conviction had gone all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and they unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision on June 28, 1971 and Ali was exonerated.
After the loss, Ali won a total of six fights that year including wins over Floyd Patterson and Bob Foster. However, in 1973, Ali suffered the second loss of his career at the hands of Ken Norton, who broke Ali’s jaw during the fight. After considering retirement, Ali won a controversial decision against Norton in their second bout, leading to a rematch at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 1974 with Joe Frazier.
The defeat of Frazier set the stage for a title fight against heavyweight champion George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974 a fight that was nicknamed “The Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali was 32 years old, and had clearly lost speed and reflexes since his twenties. However, Ali told the press, “I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”
After suffering increasingly slurred speech, shaking hands, and exhaustion, Muhammad Ali was hospitalized in September 1984 to determine the cause. His doctors diagnosed Ali with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative condition that results in decreased control over speech and motor skills.
Muhammad Ali is arguably one the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. In his professional career, Ali’s record was an impressive 56-5. Out of his 56 wins, 37 of them were by knockout. Furthermore, out of his 5 losses, 2 of them came during his decline. Today Ali remains the only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion and in 2005, Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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The Dapper Advisor