Muhammad Ali was an American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist. He became an Olympic gold medallist in 1960 and the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964.
He was a heavyweight boxing champion with an impressive 56-win record. He was also known for his brave public stance against the Vietnam War.
Nicknamed “The Greatest”, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century and as one of the greatest boxers of all time.
- Full name: Muhammad Ali
- Profession: American Professional Boxer
- Birth name: Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.
- Born: 17 January 1942, Louisville, Kentucky, United States
- Died: 3 June 2016, Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
- Height: 1.91 m
- Spouse: Lonnie Ali (m. 1986–2016), MORE
- Children: Laila Ali, Asaad Amin, Maryum Ali, Rasheda Ali, Hana Ali, Jamillah Ali, Miya Ali, Khaliah Ali, Muhammad Ali Jr.
About Muhammad Ali
Ali was born on 17 January 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, United States. He is the son of Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., and Odessa O’Grady.
His father who was a sign and billboard painter, his mother was a domestic helper.
He was named after his father. He had a sister and four brothers.
His father was named in honour of the 19th-century Republican politician and staunch abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay, also from the state of Kentucky.
Clay’s father’s paternal grandparents were John Clay and Sallie Anne Clay; Clay’s sister Eva claimed that Sallie was a native of Madagascar.
He was a descendant of slaves of the antebellum South, and was predominantly of African descent, with smaller amounts of Irish and English family heritage.
Ali’s maternal grandfather, Abe Grady, emigrated from Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland. DNA testing performed in 2018 showed that, through his paternal grandmother, Ali was a descendant of the former slave Archer Alexander, who had been chosen from the building crew as the model of a freed man for the Emancipation Memorial, and was the subject of abolitionist William Greenleaf Eliot’s book, The Story of Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom. Like Ali, Alexander fought for his freedom.
Although Cassius Sr. was a Methodist, he allowed Odessa to bring up both Cassius Jr. and his younger brother, Rudolph “Rudy” Clay (later renamed Rahman Ali), as Baptists. Cassius Jr. attended Central High School in Louisville.
He was dyslexic, which led to difficulties in reading and writing, at school and for much of his life.
Ali grew up amid racial segregation. His mother recalled one occasion when he was denied a drink of water at a store—”They wouldn’t give him one because of his color.
That really affected him.” He was also affected by the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, which led to young Clay and a friend taking out their frustration by vandalizing a local rail yard.
Ali was first directed toward boxing by Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin, who encountered the 12-year-old fuming over a thief’s having taken his bicycle.
He told the officer he was going to “whup” the thief. The officer told Clay he had better learn how to box first.
Initially, Clay did not take up Martin’s offer, but after seeing amateur boxers on a local television boxing program called Tomorrow’s Champions, Clay was interested in the prospect of fighting.
He then began to work with trainer Fred Stoner, whom he credits with giving him the “real training”, eventually molding “my style, my stamina and my system.” For the last four years of Clay’s amateur career he was trained by boxing cutman Chuck Bodak.
Clay made his amateur boxing debut in 1954 against local amateur boxer Ronnie O’Keefe. He won by split decision.
He went on to win six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union national title, and the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
Clay’s amateur record was 100 wins with five losses. Ali said in his 1975 autobiography that shortly after his return from the Rome Olympics, he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River after he and a friend were refused service at a “whites-only” restaurant and fought with a white gang.
The story was later disputed, and several of Ali’s friends, including Bundini Brown and photographer Howard Bingham, denied it.
Brown told Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram, “Honkies sure bought into that one!” Thomas Hauser’s biography of Ali stated that Ali was refused service at the diner but that he lost his medal a year after he won it.
Ali received a replacement medal at a basketball intermission during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he lit the torch to start the games.
When he was 18, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics, and turned professional later that year.
He converted to Islam and became a Muslim after 1961, and eventually took the name Muhammad Ali.
He won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in a major upset at age 22 in 1964.
In 1966, Ali refused to be drafted into the military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War.
He was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion, and stripped of his boxing titles. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, but he had not fought for nearly four years and lost a period of peak performance as an athlete.
His actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation, and he was a high-profile figure of racial pride for African Americans during the civil rights movement.
As a Muslim, Ali was initially affiliated with Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (NOI). He later disavowed the NOI, adhering to Sunni Islam, and supporting racial integration like his former mentor Malcolm X.
Ali was a leading heavyweight boxer of the 20th century, and he remains the only three-time lineal champion of that division.
His joint records of beating 21 boxers for the world heavyweight title and winning 14 unified title bouts stood for 35 years.
Ali is the only boxer to be named The Ring magazine Fighter of the Year six times. He has been ranked the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, and as the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC, and the third greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN SportsCentury.
He was involved in several historic boxing matches and feuds, most notably his fights with Joe Frazier, such as the Thrilla in Manila, and his fight with George Foreman known as The Rumble in the Jungle which has been called “arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century” and was watched by a record estimated television audience of 1 billion viewers worldwide, becoming the world’s most-watched live television broadcast at the time.
Ali thrived in the spotlight at a time when many fighters let their managers do the talking, and he was often provocative and outlandish.
He was known for trash-talking, and often free-styled with rhyme schemes and spoken word poetry, anticipating elements of hip hop.
Outside the ring, Ali attained success as a musician, where he received two Grammy nominations. He also featured as an actor and writer, releasing two autobiographies.
Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and focused on religion and charity. In 1984, he made public his diagnosis of Parkinson’s syndrome, which some reports attribute to boxing-related injuries, though he and his specialist physicians disputed this.
He remained an active public figure globally, but in his later years made increasingly limited public appearances as his condition worsened, and he was cared for by his family.