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Monday, 1 August 2011

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942. He changed his name when he later joined the Black Muslim religious sect.

His father Cassius Clay Sr. was a muralist, but painted signs for a living. His mother Odessa Clay worked as a house cleaner and a cook. 

Cassius Clay took in interest in boxing when his bike was stolen by local hoods.

As a child Cassius Clay was refused an autograph by his boxing idol, Sugar Ray Robinson. When Cassius became a prizefighter, he vowed never to deny an autograph request, which he honored throughout his career.

Classius Clay won his first professional fight in Louisville, Kentucky on October 29, 1960.

A fear of flying meant Cassius Clay tried to withdraw from the 1960 Olympic Games just weeks before the US team traveled to Rome. He was eventually persuaded to go but spent the entire flight with a parachute strapped to his back. It was worth it as Clay won the gold medal in the light heavyweight boxing competition on September 5, 1960.

Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, at the 1960 Olympics (second from right)

After Cassius Clay won his Olympic medal, he sent it to his high school teacher who once taunted him, "you ain't never gonna be nuthin."

Classius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight title, on February 25, 1964. In winning this fight, Clay became at age 22 the youngest boxer to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion.

During a radio broadcast in 1964, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad announced that American boxer Cassius Clay would change his name to Muhammad Ali.

Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 
Muhammad Ali recorded an album for Epic Records in 1964 titled I Am The Greatest. Sam Cooke produced one of the songs from the LP, The Gang's All Here.

On February 7, 1967 Muhammad Ali outclassed yet another challenger, this time Ernie Terrell. By the eighth round, Clay began to punctuate each of his punches with the words: "What’s my name?" Terrell had insisted on calling him by his birth name of Cassius Clay, rather than the name he changed to when he joined the Black Muslim religious sect, Muhammad Ali.

Having been reclassified by the Army from his original 1-Y deferred category to 1-A, Muhammad Ali claimed conscientious-objector status on the basis of his membership in the Black Muslims. Appearing for his scheduled induction into the Armed Forces on April 28, 1967 in Houston, Ali refused to step forward at the call of his name. Consequently he was stripped of his World Heavyweight Champion titles and license by the World Boxing Association and within two months’ time was convicted by a Texas court of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, and fined $10,000. He was freed on appeal.


In order to pay his legal fees (since he was barred from boxing), Muhammad Ali hit the college lecture circuit and even starred in the Broadway Musical Buck White in 1969. He did not box again until his conviction was over-turned by the US Supreme Court on June 28, 1971.

In New York City on March 8, 1971, Ali lost a 15-round decision to the heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier. He won a unanimous decision over Frazier in the return fight, a non-title fight in New York City on January 28, 1974.

The animosity between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier was so great that they once wrestled each other to the floor in a TV studio and were fined $5,000 each for "deplorable conduct demeaning to boxing."


The Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman took place in Kinshasa, Zaire on October 30, 1974 (October 29th Zaire Time.) Ali regained the world heavyweight title with an eighth-round knockout of Foreman.

Ali was the first boxer to win the heavyweight title three times. He achieved this on September 15, 1978 when he beat Leon Spinks by a decision in a rematch after losing to him earlier in the year.


He won his heavyweight championships on three continents: North America, Asia and Africa.

Ali was once upstaged by a stewardess. When he was told to fasten his seatbelt on the plane he said "Superman don't need a belt!" The Stewardess replied "Superman don't need no plane neither!"

Muhammad Ali
In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome, which was caused by the numerous blows to the head during his boxing career.

Six years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Ali flew to Iraq and met Saddam Hussein, successfully negotiating the release of 15 U.S. hostages.

Muhammad Ali lit the torch at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

Ali was taken to a Phoenix hospital on June 2, 2016 with a respiratory condition. His condition worsened, and he was placed on life support. Late on June 3, 2016 it was announced that Ali had died at the age of 74.

The day Muhammad Ali's body was returned to his hometown of Louisville, bees swarmed at his "Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee" mural in the same city.

Here's an interesting article about Muhammad Ali's musical legacy and the songs he inspired.

Source Book Of Lists 3 by Irving Wallace

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