Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport. Colorful, talented, and sometimes controversial, Ali entertained fans and intimidated opponents. His boxing style involved graceful footwork and powerful jabs. He also became famous for bragging about himself. For example, he once described his skills by saying that he could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” In 1978 Ali became the first boxer to win the world heavyweight championship title three different times.

Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He was born in 1942. His original name was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. He began boxing at the age of 12, after his bicycle was stolen and a police officer suggested that the young Clay should learn how to box. By age 18 Clay had amassed a record of 108 wins and 8 losses in amateur competition. This included six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, the 1959 International Golden Gloves heavyweight title, and a gold medal as the light heavyweight champion at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy.
After returning from the Olympics, Clay turned professional. He fought his first professional bout on October 29, 1960, and defeated Tunney Hunsaker. As Clay continued to win over the next few years, he became more vocal about his successes, and he was given the nicknames “Louisville Lip” and “Mighty Mouth.” By 1964 Clay had recorded 19 professional wins and had earned a chance to challenge heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. At 22 years of age, he was considered a serious underdog. Nonetheless, he predicted that he would knock out Liston in the eighth round. Clay needed even less time to make good on his claim. His jab-and-dance technique tired Liston, who failed to come out of his corner at the start of the seventh round. Clay was crowned the new world heavyweight champion and proclaimed himself “The Greatest.”
In 1964 Clay converted to Islam, joined the Nation of Islam,and assumed the name Muhammad Ali. In 1965 he defended his title in a rematch against Liston. The bout lasted only 2 minutes 12 seconds. During the first round Ali caught Liston with a hard blow, so quick that it was dubbed the “phantom punch” because few fans saw it. Liston fell, but Ali did not go to the corner of the ring, as the rules required. The referee therefore did not finish counting Liston out, and finally Liston recovered and stood up. But then the fight was called in Ali’s favor. Six months later, Ali successfully defended his title against former champion Floyd Patterson. Ali defended his title five more times before
In 1967, in the middle of the Vietnam War, Ali refused to be inducted into the United States Army on the grounds that he was a black Muslim minister and therefore a conscientious objector. He had thrust himself into the middle of a period of volatility in American society. Ali was an outspoken African American at a time when the country’s commitment to civil rights was being widely questioned. He was also one of the most prominent conscientious objectors against the war, which was attracting more and more protest. Ali was convicted of draft evasion, and his popularity plummeted because of the controversy. Early in 1967 he was stripped of his heavyweight title and the title was declared vacant. When he was subsequently banned from fighting in the United States, Ali filed a number of court appeals.
Ali was allowed to return to the ring in late 1970, but in his absence Joe Frazier had taken the world heavyweight title. After three years without a championship fight against a serious competitor, Ali entered the ring in March 1971 for a highly promoted bout with Frazier. Because both Ali and Frazier carried undefeated records, the bout was billed as “The Fight of the Century.” Ali lost the 15-round battle, and Frazier retained his title. Later that year the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Ali's draft evasion conviction.
Ali faced Frazier again in January 1974 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Frazier had lost the heavyweight title to George Foreman in 1973, and therefore both boxers were mounting major comebacks. In the bout the former champions battled for 12 rounds. Ali won by unanimous decision and gained the right to challenge Foreman for the heavyweight title.
Ali and Foreman agreed to a bout to be held in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC). The match was dubbed by many as “The Rumble in the Jungle,” and it attracted worldwide attention. It was originally scheduled for early September 1974, but after Foreman suffered a serious cut above his right eye during training, the fight was delayed until October 29th. Ali used the extra time to train in Kinshasa. He savored the media limelight, made friends with locals, and challenged and taunted Foreman at press conferences and meetings.
Despite Ali’s confidence, many believed that he was past his prime and would fall to the younger Foreman.
When the fight began, observers were surprised by Ali’s strategy. In the weeks leading up to the bout, he had loudly predicted that he would beat Foreman with graceful footwork, taking advantage of his quickness to dance around Foreman. But his performance in the ring was much different. Ali hugged the ropes and opened himself up to a barrage of Foreman punches during the early rounds. As the fight progressed, however, Foreman became weary, and Ali fought back with well-placed, powerful punches. A knockout in the eighth round secured Ali’s victory and gained him his second world heavyweight title. The fight and the weeks leading up to it were memorialized on film in the documentary When We Were Kings, which was released in 1996.
Ali outlasted Frazier and defended his title in a brutal 15-round battle called “The Thrilla in Manila.”
After defending his title against three different challengers early in 1975, Ali agreed to fight Frazier in Manila, Philippines, in October of that same year. The first two Ali-Frazier bouts had been such successes for the fighters and promoters that the third battle promised to be equally exciting. Once again, Ali predicted victory. Before 28,000 boxing fans and 700 million television viewers, Ali outlasted Frazier and defended his title in a brutal 15-round battle called “The Thrilla in Manila.” The fight cemented Ali and Frazier’s places as two of the most durable, enduring boxers in the sport’s history.
Ali defended his title six more times between 1976 and 1978. In February 1978, however, he lost the title to Leon Spinks in Las Vegas, Nevada. In September 1978 the two boxers fought a rematch and Ali regained the title, beating Spinks in 15 rounds in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ali retired in 1979, but he came out of retirement in 1980 to challenge Larry Holmes, who had taken the title. He lost to Holmes and then lost to Trevor Berbick in 1981 before retiring for good.
At the height of his fame, Ali was one of the most famous athletes in the world, and even after his retirement he was recognizable wherever he went. He retired with a professional record of 56 wins (37 by knockout) and 5 losses. After his boxing career ended, Ali donated much of his time to various charities and humanitarian missions around the world. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 1996 he was awarded the honor of lighting the Olympic torch in Atlanta, Georgia, to begin
the Summer Olympic Games. His autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story, appeared in 1975.


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