Muhammad Ali: The Best Boxer in History
Born in the south of the United States as Cassius Marcellus Clay, this athlete became famous under his religious name, Muhammad Ali. Without a doubt, he was a boxer in every sense of the word; considered to be the best one in history. We’ll tell you all about him in the following article.
Muhammad Ali, the boxer
Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. was born in Louisville in 1942. In his own words, he never thought he would become a boxer. His first contact with sports happened because a burglar took his bike when he was 12 years old. When he reported the crime to the local police, an officer told him that before beating the thief -as the young boy wanted to do- he had to learn how to box first.
At age 14 he won his first title, one of many others he would eventually win during his amateur years. In 1960, Cassius (he still didn’t go by Muhammad Ali) participated in the Rome Olympic Games and won the gold medal by the decision of the judges. He was 18 years old at the time.
The beginning of a legend
Returning to his hometown, where he would ultimately become a professional boxer, he competed in several famous and memorable fights, especially because of his knockouts. In 1962, he fought in Madison Square Garden in New York against Sonny Banks. It was the first time that Cassius Clay was knocked out, and in the very first round!
However, he didn’t give up and continued to accumulate victories in different parts of the country and outside of the United States. His international fame was also on the rise.
In 1967, he got a boxing suspension because of his refusal to join the military. Muhammad came back three years later with the help of a Georgia senator. One of the most famous fights in this second stage of his career was the one he fought against Joe Frazier. He and Frazier fought against each other on three occasions.
Muhammad Ali announced his retirement from boxing in 1979, just months after his last fight. He resigned his title in a letter to the World Boxing Association. “I have nothing to prove, I want to retire while I’m still at the top”. Those were his words. However, he regretted this decision and fought for a little longer until 1980.
The man behind the multi-champion
Beyond his professional records, with 56 victories (37 KOs) and only 5 defeats, Muhammad Ali remained in the world’s memory for his life outside the ring.
He grew up in the heart of a catholic family and then decided to convert to Islam (and change his name). But before all of that, he had to face the struggles of being a person of color and the ‘weight’ that this entailed during those years in his country.
At that time, racial segregation was more than present in the United States. Black people didn’t have the same rights as white people. Muhammad Ali fought intensely to eliminate inequality and worked alongside figures such as Martin Luther King.
An unjust pause
When he won the Olympic medal in Rome and made a victorious return, his country ‘paid him back’ with a spot in the Vietnam war. Claiming conscience objection and a strong adherence to Islam, he refused to participate in the armed conflict.
The government considered his actions as treason, took away his titles and sentenced him to prison. Even though he was granted bail, they confiscated his passport and prohibited him from leaving the country and boxing.
By that time he was already a Muslim, and he used his celebrity status to preach about the religion throughout the whole country. After his sporting career was completely over, he began to take on humanitarian and charitable work for different causes in several countries. The United Nations appointed him as a Messenger of Peace because of his work in underdeveloped regions.
The last years of Muhammad Ali
In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was probably because of the impacts he endured to his head in so many of his fights. In 1996, he had the privilege of lighting the Olympic Torch. A certain level of deterioration was already noticeable in his hands, but he managed to complete the task.
He passed away in 2016 at 74 years old due to natural causes, even though he had been admitted to the hospital because of respiratory problems. At that time, he was living in Phoenix.
Beyond the history and legend inside the ring, we can’t forget about Cassius Clay or Muhammad Ali as a man who had to give up his career because of political decisions, but came back in all of his glory to prove to the world that he was and will continue to be the best boxer of all times.
Cover image is courtesy of Sports Illustrated.It might interest you...
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- Hauser, T. (2018). Muhammad Ali: In Protect Yourself at All Times. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv3znxjk.26