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Encyclopedia of World Biography , December 12, 1998
Born: January 17, 1942 in United States, Kentucky, Louisville
Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and Golden Gloves championships; Gold Medal, 1960 Summer Olympics; World Boxing Association Heavyweight Championship, 1964, 1977, 1978; torch lighter, Atlanta Centennial Olympics, 1996; Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, ESPN, 1997; Living Legend Award, Essence, 1997; Service to America Leadership Award, National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation, 2001.
Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay, 1942) was the only professional boxer to win the heavyweight championship three times. With his outspoken political and religious views he has provided leadership and an example for African American men and women around the world.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay on January 17, 1942, at Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad Ali began boxing at the age of 12. A white policeman named Joe Martin featured Ali on his early television show, "Tomorrow's Champions," and started him working out at Louisville's Columbia Gym. An African American trainer named Fred Stoner taught Ali the science of boxing, instructing him to move with the grace and subtlety of a dancer.
Ali built an impressive amateur record which led him to both the national Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and Golden Gloves championships. At the age of 18 he competed in the 1960 Olympic games held at Rome, Italy, and won the gold medal in the light-heavyweight division. This led to a contract with a twelve member group of millionaires called the Louisville Sponsors Group, the most lucrative contract negotiated by a professional in the history of boxing. He worked his way through a string of professional victories, employing a style that combined speed with devastating punching power, described by one of his handlers as the ability to "float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee."
Ali's flamboyant style of boasting and rhyming and outspoken self-promotion garnered considerable media attention as he moved toward a chance to contend for the world heavyweight boxing championship. When he began to write poems predicting the outcome of his many bouts he became known by the another name: "The Louisville Lip."Both the attention and his skill as a fighter paid off, and on February 15, 1964, at Miami, Florida, when he was only 22 years old, he fought and defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world.
Meanwhile Ali, inspired by human rights activist Malcolm X, embraced the Black Muslim faith and announced that he had changed his name to Cassius X. This was at a time when the struggle for civil rights was at a peak and the Muslims had emerged as a controversial but major force in the African American community. Later he was given the name Muhammad Ali, meaning "beloved of Allah," by the Muslim patriarch Elijah Muhammad.
In his first title defense, held at Lewiston, Maine, on May 25, 1965, he defeated the now challenger Sonny Liston with a first round knockout that many called a phantom punch because it was so fast and powerful that few in attendance saw it. Ali successfully defended his title eight more times.
On April 28, 1967, Ali was drafted into military service during the Vietnam War. As a Muslim and a conscientious objector he refused to serve, claiming an exemption as a minister of the Black Muslim religion. The press turned against him, calling him "unpatriotic, loudmouthed, bombastic." Although he had not been charged or convicted for violating the Selective Service Act, the New York State Athletic Commission and World Boxing Association suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his heavyweight title in May of 1967. Ali's comment to Sports Illustrated at the time was, "I'm giving up my title, my wealth, maybe my future. Many great men have been tested for their religious beliefs. If I pass this test, I'll come out stronger than ever." Eventually Ali was sentenced to five years in prison, released on appeal, and his conviction overturned three years later by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The vindicated Ali returned to the ring in a victorious bout with Jerry Quary in Atlanta in 1971. Four months later he was defeated by Joe Frazier in Manila, who had replaced him as heavyweight champion when the title had been vacated. He regained the championship for the first time when he defeated George Forman (who had beaten Frazier for the title) in a bout held in Zaire in 1974. Ali fought Frazier again in the same year, and in 1975 won both matches and secured his title as the world heavyweight champion. In that year, to welcome Ali back, Sports Illustrated magazine named him their "Sportsman of the Year."
Ali began to employ a new style of boxing, one that he called his "rope-a-dope." He would let his opponents wear themselves down while he rested, often against the ropes; then he would lash out in the later rounds. During his ensuing reign Ali successfully defended his title ten more times. Ali held the championship until he was defeated by Leon Spinks on February 16, 1978, in a bout held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Seven months later, on September 15, 1978, Ali regained the heavyweight title by defeating Spinks in a bout held at New Orleans. Ali thus became the first boxer in history to win the heavyweight championship three times. At the end of his boxing career he was slowed by a neurological condition related to Parkinson's disease. His last fight, the 61st, took place in 1981.
As his career wound to a close, Ali became increasingly involved in social causes, diplomacy and politics. He has campaigned for Jimmy Carter and other Democratic political candidates and taken part in the promotion of a variety of political causes addressing poverty and children. He even played the role of diplomat, attempting to secure the release of four kidnapped Americans in Lebanon in 1985. As a result, his image changed from gadfly to highly respected statesman.
At the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, the world and his country honored Ali by choosing him to light the Olympic torch during the opening ceremonies. In 1999, Ali became the first boxer to ever appear on the cover of a Wheaties box. In the spring of 2001 Columbia pictures announced plans to film a Ali, as a feature length biopicture depicting the life of the fighter and starring Will Smith. Ali himself at that time was involved in the establishment of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, a private nonprofit center to house community programs and scheduled to open in 2003.
December 10, 2003: GOAT: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali was published by Taschen. Contributors to the book included Benedikt Taschen, Muhammad Ali, Jeff Koons, Howard L. Bingham, and Neil Leifer. Source: New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com, December 10, 2003.
May 4, 2004: Ali was honored by the Arab American Institute for his service to developing nations. Source: SI.com, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2004/more/05/05/bc.box.arabaward.ali.ap/index.html, May 5, 2004.
November 3, 2005: Ali was announced as a 2005 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient by President George W. Bush. Source: San Diego Union Tribune,http://www.signonsandiego.com, November 3, 2005.
November 19, 2005: Ali was honored with the opening of the six-story Muhammad Ali Center in his native Louisville, Kentucky. Source: SI.com, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/more/11/19/ali.center.opening.ap/index.html, November 19, 2005.
December 17, 2005: Ali received the Otto Hahn peace medal in Berlin, Germany. Source: SI.com, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/more/12/16/bc.box.ali.ap/index.html, December 16, 2005.
April 11, 2006: Ali sold 80 percent of the marketing rights to his name and likeness to the company GOAT LLC for $50 million. Source: SI.com, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/more/04/11/bc.box.ali.namingrights.ap/index.html?cnn=yes, April 11, 2006.
March 8, 2010: Ali visited the San Diego Padres training camp in Peoria, Arizona, on behalf of the Athletes for Hope foundation. Source: SI.com,http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/baseball/mlb/03/08/padres.ali.ap/index.html, March 9, 2010.
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