Muhammad Ali remains one of the greatest sports figures of all time who made an impact beyond boxing that still resonates today. Ali was born on this day in 1942.
Ali was born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Ky. He started boxing at 12 boxing after his bicycle was stolen and a police officer offered him boxing lessons. By 18, the 6-foot-3 Clay was a two-time Golden Gloves champion who then won a gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics.
Clay entered the professional ranks shortly after, dazzling boxing fans with his combination of speed and footwork, along with a personality that gained him the “Louisville Lip” nickname. In 1964, he notched his first world title after beating Sonny Liston. Shortly after, Clay changed his name to Cassius X and then Muhammad Ali after joining the controversial Nation of Islam religion.
In 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to enter the draft during the Vietnam War, famously saying in a quote, “”Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” His refusal led to a draft evasion conviction and he was sentenced to prison for five years. After appealing the case and being stripped of his boxing license, he ultimately served no prison time. In 1970, he won and the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated Ali’s boxing rights and he resumed his career.
Once he returned, Ali took on the likes of Jerry Quarry, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman in a four-year period. Though some doubted his chances, he became the heavyweight champion again, holding the title belt. In the late ’70s, however, the wear and tear of the sport started to take its toll and despite flashes of brilliance, he walked away from the ring in 1981.
From there, Ali turned to his faith and humanitarian efforts, becoming a globally recognized advocate for world peace. Though he was silenced by Parkinson’s Disease, Ali was instrumental in negotiations with the late Saddam Hussein of Iraq to seek the freedom of hostages in 1990.
Ali’s playful nature still remained even as Parkinson’s continued to ravage him. Even with failing health he enjoyed the goodwill of fans around the world, lighting the Olympic torch in a triumphant moment in 1996.
Though he was an iconic figure throughout his life, his health deteriorated in later years. In the summer of 2016, Ali passed at the age of 74.
Tributes to Ali came from the likes of Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, among many others.
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