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Muhammad Ali: Champion Boxer,
Civil Rights Advocate
& Sports Icon

Photgraph of Muhammad Ali standing over a prostrate Sonny Liston

Original name Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.
Born Jan. 17, 1942, Louisville, Ky., U.S.

Professional boxer and social activist. Ali was the first fighter to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions; he successfully defended this title 19 times.

Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., grew up in the American South in a time of segregated public facilities. His father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., supported a wife and two sons by painting billboards and signs. His mother, Odessa Grady Clay, worked as a household domestic.

When Clay was 12 years old, he took up boxing under the tutelage of Louisville policeman Joe Martin. After advancing through the amateur ranks, he won a gold medal in the 175-pound division at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. On Feb. 25, 1964, Clay challenged Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. In one of the most stunning upsets in sports history, Clay knocked out Liston to become the new champion. Two days later, Clay shocked the boxing establishment again by Photograph of Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammed & Muhammed Alannouncing that he had accepted the teachings of the Nation of Islam.

On March 6, 1964, he took the name Muhammad Ali, which was given to him by his spiritual mentor, Elijah Muhammad. For the next three years, Ali dominated boxing as thoroughly and magnificently as any fighter ever had. Then, on April 28, 1967, citing his religious beliefs, Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army at the height of the war in Vietnam. This refusal followed a blunt statement voiced by Ali 14 months earlier: “I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” Many Americans vehemently condemned Ali's stand. It came at a time when most people in the United States still supported the war in Southeast Asia. Ali was stripped of his championship and precluded from fighting by every state athletic commission in the United States for three and a half years. In addition, he was criminally indicted and, on June 20, 1967, convicted of refusing induction into the U.S. armed forces and sentenced to five years in prison. Although he remained free on bail, four years passed before his conviction was unanimously overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on a narrow procedural ground.
In October 1970, Ali was allowed to return to boxing, but his skills had eroded. Ali prevailed in his first two comeback fights, against Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. Then, on March 8, 1971, he challenged Joe Frazier, who had become heavyweight champion during Ali's absence from the ring. It was a fight of historic proportions, billed as the “Fight of the Century.” Frazier won a unanimous 15-round decision. Following his loss to Frazier, Ali won 10 fights in a row, 8 of them against world-class opponents. Then, on March 31, 1973, a little-known fighter named Ken Norton broke Ali's jaw in the second round en route to a 12-round upset decision. Ali defeated Norton in a rematch. After that, he fought Joe Frazier a second time and won a unanimous 12-round decision. From a technical point of view, the Muhammed Ali wins the heavyweight crown from George Foreman second Ali-Frazier bout was probably Ali's best performance in the ring after his exile from boxing. On Oct. 30, 1974, Ali challenged George Foreman, who had dethroned Frazier in 1973 to become heavyweight champion of the world. The bout (which Ali referred to as the “Rumble in the Jungle”) took place in the unlikely location of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Ali was received by the people of Zaire as a conquering hero, and he did his part by knocking out Foreman in the eighth round to regain the heavyweight title.
Over the next 30 months, at the peak of his popularity as champion, Ali fought nine times in bouts that showed him to be a courageous fighter but a fighter on the decline. The most notable of these bouts occurred on Oct. 1, 1975, when Ali and Joe Frazier met in the Philippines, 6 miles (9.5 km) outside Manila, to do battle for the third time. In what is regarded by many as the greatest prizefight of all time (the “Thrilla in Manila”), Ali was declared the victor when Frazier's corner called a halt to the bout after 14 brutal rounds.
The final performances of Ali's ring career were sad to behold. In 1978 he lost his title to Leon Spinks, a novice boxer with an Olympic gold medal but only seven professional fights to his credit. Seven months later, Ali regained the championship with a 15-round victory over Spinks. Then he Photograph of Ali holding up the Olympic flameretired from boxing, but two years later he made an ill-advised comeback and suffered a horrible beating at the hands of Larry Holmes in a bout that was stopped after 11 rounds. The final ring contest of Ali's career was a loss by decision to Trevor Berbick in 1981.
Ali's place in boxing history as one of the greatest fighters ever is secure. His final record of 56 wins and 5 losses with 37 knockouts has been matched by others, but the quality of his opponents and the manner in which he dominated during his prime place him on a plateau with boxing's immortals. Ali's later years have been marked by physical decline. Damage to his brain caused by blows to the head have resulted in slurred speech, slowed movement, and other symptoms of Parkinson syndrome.
In 1996 Ali was chosen to light the Olympic flame at the start of the 24th Olympiad in Atlanta, Ga. The outpouring of goodwill that accompanied his appearance confirmed his status as one of the most beloved athletes in the world.

Edited from Encyclopedia Britannica - http://www.britannica.com/blackhistory/article-9005713

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