January 16, 2023
Muhammad Ali was a heavyweight boxing champion with an impressive 56-win record, five losses and 37 knockouts before his retirement from boxing in 1981 at the age of 39. He was also known for his brave public stance against the Vietnam War. A philanthropist and social activist who is universally regarded as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. Ali became an Olympic gold medalist in 1960 and the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964.
Ali was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. His birth name was Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. At an early age, young Clay showed that he wasn’t afraid of any bout – inside or outside of the ring. Growing up in the segregated South, he experienced racial prejudice and discrimination firsthand. At the age of 12, Clay discovered his talent for boxing through an odd twist of fate. After his bike was stolen, Clay told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief. “Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people,” Martin reportedly told him at the time. In addition to being a police officer, Martin also trained young boxers at a local gym. Clay started working with Martin to learn how to spar and soon began his boxing career. In his first amateur bout in 1954, he won the fight by split decision.
Clay went on to win the 1956 Golden Gloves tournament for novices in the light heavyweight class. Three years later, he won the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions, as well as the Amateur Athletic Union’s national title for the light heavyweight division.
In 1960, Clay won a spot on the U.S. Olympic boxing team, and traveled to Rome, Italy, to compete. At six feet, three inches tall, Clay was an imposing figure in the ring, but he also became known for his lightning speed and fancy footwork. After winning his first three bouts, Clay defeated Zbigniew Pietrzkowski of Poland to win the light heavyweight Olympic gold medal.
After his Olympic victory, Clay was heralded as an American hero. He soon turned professional with the backing of the Louisville Sponsoring Group and continued overwhelming all opponents in the ring.
Conversion to Islam
Clay joined the Black Muslim group Nation of Islam in 1964. At first, he called himself Cassius X before settling on the name Muhammad Ali. The boxer eventually converted to orthodox Islam during the 1970s.
Vietnam and Supreme Court Case
Ali started a different kind of fight with his outspoken views against the Vietnam War. Drafted into the military in April 1967, he refused to serve on the grounds that he was a practicing Muslim minister with religious beliefs that prevented him from fighting. He was arrested for committing a felony and almost immediately stripped of his world title and boxing license.
The U.S. Department of Justice pursued a legal case against Ali, denying his claim for conscientious objector status. He was found guilty of violating Selective Service laws and sentenced to five years in prison in June 1967 but remained free while appealing his conviction.
Unable to compete professionally in the meantime, Ali missed more than three prime years of his athletic career. Ali returned to the ring in 1970 with a win over Jerry Quarry, and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the conviction in June 1971.
In 1984, Ali announced that he had Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition. Despite the progression of Parkinson’s and the onset of spinal stenosis, he remained active in public life.
A few years before his death, Ali underwent surgery for spinal stenosis, a condition causing the narrowing of the spine, which limited his mobility and ability to communicate.
In his retirement, Ali devoted much of his time to philanthropy. Over the years, Ali supported the Special Olympics and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, among other organizations. In 1996, he lit the Olympic cauldron at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, an emotional moment in sports history.
Ali traveled to numerous countries, including Mexico and Morocco, to help out those in need. In 1998, he was chosen to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace because of his work in developing nations.
In 2005, Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.
Soon after Obama’s 2009 inauguration, Ali received the President’s Award from the NAACP for his public service efforts.
Muhammad Ali Center
Ali opened the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, in 2005.
“I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given,” he said. “Many fans wanted to build a museum to acknowledge my achievements. I wanted more than a building to house my memorabilia. I wanted a place that would inspire people to be the best that they could be at whatever they chose to do, and to encourage them to be respectful of one another.”
Ali died on June 3, 2016, in Phoenix, Arizona, after being hospitalized for what was reportedly a respiratory issue. He was 74 years old.
The boxing legend had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease and spinal stenosis. In early 2015, the athlete battled pneumonia and was hospitalized for a severe urinary tract infection.
Here is a list of some of his best quotes:
1. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.”
2. “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
3. “I’m young; I’m handsome; I’m fast. I can’t possibly be beat.”
4. “Don’t count the days; make the days count.”
5. “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.” Jesse Jackson said this as early as 1983, according to the Associated Press, and Ali used it in his 2004 book.
6. “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”
7. “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
8. “If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.”
9. “Braggin’ is when a person says something and can’t do it. I do what I say.”
10. “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”
11. “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”
12. “I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”
13. “I should be a postage stamp. That’s the only way I’ll ever get licked.”
14. “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
15. “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
16. “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
17. “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.”
18. “I shook up the world. Me! Whee!”
19. “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
20. “At home I am a nice guy: but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”
21. “A man who has no imagination has no wings.”
22. “He’s (Sonny Liston) too ugly to be the world champ. The world champ should be pretty like me!”
23. “I am the astronaut of boxing. Joe Louis and Dempsey were just jet pilots. I’m in a world of my own.”
24. “I’ve wrestled with alligators. I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning. And throw thunder in jail.”
25. “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”
26. “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
27. “I’m the most recognized and loved man that ever lived cuz there weren’t no satellites when Jesus and Moses were around, so people far away in the villages didn’t know about them.”
28. “It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”
29. “I’m not the greatest, I’m the double greatest.”
30. “Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”