By: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in the segregated south of Louisville, Kentucky, on January 17, 1942. Clay grew up in a house with a sister and four brothers. Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. and his father Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. were both named after the 19th century republican politican and slave abolitionist , who was also from Kentucky.
Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. earned money for his family by painting billboard signs and his wife Odessa O’Grady Clay was a household domestic.
Clay would be first introduced to boxing by local police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin, who witnessed the 12 year old, looking very irate one day, when officer Martin spoke with the young Clay, he realized Clay was upset that a thief stole his bike, Clay told officer Martin he planned to “Whup” the thief if he caught him. Martin Told Clay, he better learn boxing first, before attempting to “Whup” the thief.
Clay would begin his amateur boxing career in 1954, he would go on to win six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an AAU national title and he would win the Light Heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy.
In his 1975 autobiography, Ali claimed he threw his Olympic Gold medal in the Ohio River after he and a friend were denied service at a “Whites Only” restaurant. Which would eventually lead to them having to physically defend themselves against a mob of angry white racists.
Clay would make his professional boxing debut in October 1960. In 1963 Clay would become impressive enough to become the number one contender to the crown of then heavyweight king Sonny Liston. On February 25, 1964, in Miami Beach, Clay would do the unthinkable and defeat the seemingly unbeatable thug with alleged mob connections, when Sonny Listen refused to answer the bell for the 7th round, making Clay the youngest heavyweight boxing champion at the time, at the young age of 22.
Soon after winning the heavyweight boxing crown, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. would change his name to Huhammad Ali, after converting to Islam and joining the nation of Islam.
In February of 1966, Ali was reclassified by the Louisville, Kentucky Draft board as 1-A from 1-Y. Despite that fact Ali still had no plan or desire to serve in the United States’ military service. Ali openly stated in the press : “I ain’t got nothing against no viet Cong; no Viet Cong never called me nigger”.
After a successful titled bout in March of 1967, Ali had his boxing world titled stripped for refusal to be drafted into the U.S. Army Service. His boxing title was suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission. On June 20, 1967, Ali would be convicted of draft evasion, he was sentenced to five years in prison and given a 10,000 fine. Ali would pay a bond and remain free, while the court’s verdict was being appealed by his legal team.
As a result of Ali’s conviction, he was denied a boxing license in every American state and stripped of his passport, so that he was unable to earn a living for himself and his family by boxing overseas. Ali would not fight professionally from march 1967 to October 1970. As opposition against the Vietnam War increased across the nation, Ali’s stance gained sympathy, his conviction would be over-turned in 1971, a few months after having his boxing license reinstated and having a couple return matches.
Ali would soon become the number one contender to heavyweight champion Joe Frazier’s world title, in a fight nicknamed the “Fight of the Century ” due to the fact that two undefeated boxers, both held legitimate claims to the heavyweight crown were set to fight, to see who the true world heavyweight boxing champion of the world was. Ali would go on to lose to Joe Frazier, by unanimous decision, the first loss of his career.
After several comeback fights, Ali would once again become the number one contender for the heavyweight boxing world title, which at the time was held by the very dangerous and heavy-handed George Foreman.
On October 30, 1974 in a bout nicknamed ” The Rumble in The Jungle ” held in Kinshasa, Zaire, Ali using his “rope-a-dope” style to do once again the unthinkable and defeat a man, many considered to be the hardest hitting man in boxing history, to become a two-time boxing heavyweight world champion.
On October 1, 1975 , Ali would go on to fight his rival Joe Frazier for the third time, each having a past victory over their rival, they would fight for 14 tough rounds, Ali would say about the fight : “was the closest thing to dying I know”. Joe Frazier’s corner would refuse to let him fight the 15th round, after both of Frazier’s eyes closed, giving Ali the win by tko.
In September 1976, Ali won a highly contested match against Ken Norton. After the bout Ali claimed he was leaving the sport to focus on his religion of Sunni Islam, having left the Nation of Islam a year earlier.
In February 1978, Ali would fight an up and coming contender named Leon Spinks, at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. The young spinks would defeat an aging and out of shape Ali, via split decision. The two would have a rematch, shortly after the first fight, in the bout, Ali would win via unanimous decision, becoming the first three time heavyweight boxing world champion.
Following his win on July 27, 1979, Ali announced his retirement from boxing. His retirement would not last long, we would soon challenge Larry Holmes for the WBC world title, in a quest to be the only four-time heavyweight boxing world champion in history. The Ali-holmes fight would take place on October 2, 1980. Ali would be battered so badly in the fight his trainer Angelo Dundee, would be forced to stop the fight.
Despite peas to stop fighting from family and friends, Ali would fight one last time on December 11, 1981, in Nassau, Bahamas against Trevor Berbick, Ali would lose the fight, via ten-round decision.
ALI AFTER BOXING:
In 1984, Ali would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome, it is believed by many he received the disease from years of head Trauma through boxing.
In 1991 Ali published Muhammad Ali : His life and times. That same year, Ali traveled to Iraq during the Gulf War, in an attempt to negotiate the release of Americans being held hostage.
In 1996, Ali would be given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. At those same games, Ali would also receive a replacement Olympic Gold Medal .
Years later, Muhammad Ali would go to Afghanistan as the “U.N. Messenger of peace on November 17, 2002.
In July 2012, was a titular bearer of the Olympic flag, during the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympic games in London, England.
After years of battling a worsening health condition, like he battled boxers in the ring, Ali sadly would lose the fight for his life, when he died of Septic shock on June 2, 2016.
Short biography on the legendary Ali
Laila Ali discusses her father’s death and legacy
Ali the Muslim
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