Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers of all time. He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. Ali was a fiercely serious child, who had experienced the harsh realities of racism at a very young age. He started training to be a boxer at the age of 12 because his bike was stolen outside a fair. When he reported the incident to a police officer named Joe Martin, and said that he wanted to beat up the thief, Martin replied that he would have to learn to fight first. So the young Ali started training under the same policeman every day after school.
Ali was very strict with his training. He woke up early every morning to go for a run, and after school he would go to the gym to train under Martin’s guidance. He also had a very healthy diet, and never touched alcohol, cigarettes or junk food. From the beginning, he was very confident in his abilities and would claim that he would become the greatest boxer in the world. He had a unique fighting style, and was a very fast mover – so fast that he was able to back away from punches before the opponent could attack, instead of ducking like others did. He also kept his hands by his sides, rather than using them to cover his face.
Ali had his first amateur fight in 1954, which he won. After several more victories, he went on to win the 1956 Golden Gloves tournament for novices in the light heavyweight category. In 1959 he won the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions, and the Amateur Athletic Union’s national title in the light heavyweight division. Next year, in 1960, he made it to the U.S. Olympic boxing team that competed in the Rome Olympics, where he defeated the Polish-man Zbigniew Pietrzkowski to win the Olympic gold medal. He gained immense fame back home, and soon turned professional, backed by the Louisville Sponsoring Group. In 1964, after defeating fellow American Sonny Liston, he achieved his ultimate dream – the title of heavyweight champion of the world.
Shortly after winning the title, Ali embraced a new faith and pledged his allegiance to the Nation of Islam. He announced his change of name but neither the press, nor his fans were happy with it. Despite this, he continued to be one of the most popular athletes of the 1960s. He won every match he played, and his winning streak might have continued if his career hadn’t been struck by another controversy. In 1967, Ali was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War but he refused to enlist on religious and moral grounds. He was fined $10,000 and jailed for 5 years. He made bail and appealed his decision, but public outrage was so extreme that he was stripped of his boxing title and banned from boxing. By 1970, after public sentiment regarding the war had cooled, Ali was allowed back in the ring. Early next year, in March 1971, he fought Joe Frasier in what is often titled “The Fight of the Century”. After 15 rounds of fighting, Ali was beaten by Frazier and had officially lost his title.
He managed to reclaim his title three years later, from the new champion George Foreman in an epic bout lasting 8 rounds held in Zaire. Foreman had clearly been the favorite but Ali knocked him out. In 1975, he had a brutal rematch with Joe Frazier, who disliked Ali’s cocky attitude and bold statements about being the undisputed champion. By the 15th round, Frazier’s eyes were terribly swollen and he was unable to continue, while Ali himself was badly injured as well. Ali announced his retirement shortly after, but still kept coming back for more. In 1978, much to his surprise, he lost to Leon Spinks but in the rematch he regained his title, becoming the world champion for an unprecedented third time.
Muhammad Ali finally retired in 1981 with a career win-lose record of 56-5. In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He was off the grid for more than a decade, but in 1996, the world watched him light the Olympic torch at the Atlanta Games. He was moving painfully slowly but he managed to light it. Since his retirement, Ali has been actively involved in charitable work in several countries all over the world. He helps to raise funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center as well as the Special Olympics and the Make a Wish Foundation. He has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2005 and the President’s Award from NAACP soon after Obama became president. He has been married four times, and his 1975 autobiography is titled “The Greatest: My Own Story”.