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Biography of Muhammad Ali, the Greatest Boxer of All Time

Nilesh Parekh Mar 9, 2020
Here is a biography of three-time World Heavyweight Champion, Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), who wrote his name forever in the history of boxing.
I hated every minute of training, but I said, "Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion".
- Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Image Credit: U.S. Navy (PD)
Born: January 17, 1942
Died: June 3, 2016
Nationality: American
Record: 56 W - 0 D - 5 L - 37 KO


"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee". These are the famous words of boxing legend Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., more popularly known throughout the world as Muhammad Ali. With a staggering fight record of 56 wins out of 61 boxing bouts, Ali was quite justifiably considered to be the greatest boxer alive.
However, his life was not a smooth ride. From being born at a time when black people were facing considerable racial oppression in the US, to having his boxing license suspended for defying the US Armed Forces Draft system, to battling Parkinson's Syndrome later on in his life, Ali overcame all odds through sheer willpower and determination.
Here's looking into the life of this champion boxer and great human being, in some more detail.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was born to Cassius Sr. and Odessa on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, and was the elder of two sons.
Clay's legend was born in not the most straight-forward manner, when after having had his bicycle stolen, a 12 year old Clay was found fuming by a policeman who happened to be a boxing coach. He advised the young boy to take up the art of boxing, who paid heed to it and never looked back.

Youth Boxing Career

Within a matter of time, Clay started dominating youth boxing events. He won six local Golden Gloves competitions and two national ones.
He also won the Olympic Gold medal in the Lightweight Boxing category at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games held in Rome, Italy. But it is believed that he threw away his medal in the Ohio River because of the continual subjugation of black people in America.

Early Senior Boxing Career

After winning all of his first 19 fights, which included 15 knockouts, Clay was beginning to send shivers down the spines of even the most prominent boxers around. His first massive bout came up against the then reigning Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston, in February, 1964.
Though Clay was heavily labeled as an underdog by bookies and journalists alike, he went on to win the fight in the seventh round, thus becoming the youngest boxer at 22 years of age, to snatch the title from a reigning heavyweight champion. This record was later broken by Mike Tyson.
Clay's first title defense came when he and Liston met again for a re-match the following month, which Clay won in the first round in under two minutes, when he knocked Liston out with a heavy punch.
This was the year Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam. "I believe in the religion of Islam. I believe in Allah and in peace ... I'm not a Christian anymore", was the statement made by him.
For his second title defense, this issue of change of name was at the center of things, as his opponent Ernie Terrell tried to make a mockery out of Ali's change of name, by refusing to call him by his new name. And it was not a very wise thing to do either, as Ali went on to batter Ernie Terrell, and with each blow, asked him "What's my name?".
Ali went on to win a number of bouts in different regions of the world, post 1964, and in 1967, he again successfully defended his title for the third time against Zora Folley.

Draft Evasion and Sentence

In April 1967, at a time when the United States was at war with Vietnam, Ali refused to be drafted into the army to go and fight the Viet Cong. "Man, I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong", was the line used by Ali to justify his defiance.
He was charged under Draft Evasion, and was sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000, and his boxing license was suspended. He was also stripped off his heavyweight title.

Comeback and The Fight of the Century

Ali did not stay in prison as his case was appealed, and he made his comeback against Jerry Quarry in October 1970 in Atlanta, a bout he won in three rounds. Two months later, Ali won his second comeback fight against Oscar Bonavena, laying the platform for a heavyweight title match against the then reigning champion Joe Frazier.
The Ali and Frazier fight in 1971 was one of the most hyped-up bouts ever in the history of boxing, and was dubbed as 'The Fight of the Century'. Ali suffered his first professional loss in this fight.
In the next two years' time, Ali went on to win six fights, but lost one to Ken Norton, a match in which Ali suffered a broken jaw. In 1974, he and Frazier met for a re-match, which Ali won.

The Rumble in the Jungle

Another massive fight was the one between Ali and George Foreman, held at Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in October 1974, which was termed as 'Rumble in the Jungle'.
Foreman was the reigning heavyweight champion at that time, and his aggressive style of boxing had made him one of the most feared boxers of that era. Hardly anyone gave Ali any chance of winning against Foreman.
Ali countered Foreman's aggressive punching by using a counter-attacking strategy, where for the initial rounds, he absorbed the punches by leaning on the ropes in a defensive stance, hence making them ineffective.
When Foreman was visibly tired, Ali dealt a counter blow of combinations to put the big man down. This tactic came to be popularly known as the 'Rope-a-dope'. Foreman lost the fight, and Ali regained the heavyweight title.

The Thrilla in Manila

One of the most lengthy and grueling fights to have ever been telecast was the one between Ali and Frazier, who met for the third time on October 1, 1975 in Manila, Philippines. This bout was called 'The Thrilla in Manila'.
The fight lasted for fifteen intense rounds, when it was stopped after Frazier was deemed unfit to carry on. This fight is widely regarded as the best boxing match ever.

Decline and Retirement

Ali lost his title to Leon Spinks in February 1978, only to reclaim it eight months later, making him the first heavyweight champion to win the title three times.
Shortly afterwards, Ali's health started deteriorating, and he went on to lose his title to Larry Holmes, and then suffered defeat against Trevor Berbick. In December 1981, Ali announced his retirement from professional boxing.

Parkinson's Syndrome and Later Years

Due to the various head injuries Ali suffered throughout his career, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Syndrome in 1984, limiting his muscle movement and speech ability. He remained active though, and traveled to various countries as an ambassador for peace, on a number of occasions.
In the Summer Olympic Games of 1996 held in Atlanta, Ali had the honor of lighting the flame. He was also the torch bearer in the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games.

Personal Life

Ali has seven daughters and two sons from four different marriages. Ali's second daughter from his second marriage, Laila Ali, went on to become one of the most popular female boxers of all time. She has an amazing record of 24 wins in as many bouts, 21 of them being knockouts.
As already mentioned, Ali publicly changed his religion from Christianity to Islam, and changed his name too. According to him, Cassius Clay was a 'slave name'.

Boxing Style

One of the most unique aspects of Ali's fighting style was that he always kept his guard lower than usual. This is because he had designed his fighting style in such a way, that instead of using a defensive guard, he relied on speed and quick reflexes to avoid his opponents' punches.


Make no mistake, Ali was never too slow in singing his own praise. On quite a number of occasions, he publicly declared himself 'the greatest'. He would often taunt his opponents of being too slow and weak, even during the bouts.
He also had the audacity to declare beforehand which round he would knock his opponent out in. Ali's belief was that, this all was not boasting or showing off, because he backed it up every time.
On June 3, 2016, Muhammad Ali passed away. He had to be hospitalized on June 2 for his respiratory condition. His health did not improve and he was announced dead the next day. He has left behind a legacy that will never be matched.
There are athletes who fade away before reaching their potential, then there are the ones who achieve great things, and finally, there are those who revolutionize the world in one way or the other. Ali certainly belongs to the last category, and as far as boxing goes, he certainly is 'the greatest'.