Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on January 17, 1942 in Louisville Kentucky, U.S.A. Towering 6’3 feet, he became the three-time World Heavyweight champion. The young Clay, Jr. began boxing at 12 years when he was featured on Joe Martin’s TV Show “Tomorrow’s Champion”. He began training under Fred Stoner, who is credited for the dance-like footwork of the soon-to-be boxing superstar. When he converted to Islam in 1964, Clay, Jr. changed his name to Muhammad Ali, for which he was known for in his boxing career.
During his amateur career, Ali was received an Olympic gold medal for reigning as champion in the light heavyweight division in Rome in 1960. Thereafter, he retuned to his hometown Louisville to begin his professional boxing career. His first professional fight was against Tunney Hunsaker in 1960 where he was proclaimed winner. His career record from 1960 to 1963 was unstained by any losses. From this time forward, Ali began to train under Angelo Dundee.
Ali was one of the most exciting boxers of his time. He was notorious for being cocky in and out of court, which intimidated most of his opponents. He even went to the extent of writing poems saying his own predictions of his upcoming fights. For this, he came to be known as “The Louisville Lip.” He was also later known as “The Champ”, besting all his opponents in the ring in all world titles.
In 1964, Ali won his first title fight, claiming top boxer and more favored Sonny Liston’s title to become the champion for the WBA & WBC Heavyweight titles. In a second rematch held in 1965, Ali once again defeated Liston by KO. From 1965 until 1970, Ali never experienced defeat and most of his victories were KOs. One of his frowned fights was in 1967 when his opponent Ernie Terrell called him by his birth name “Clay”. Angered, it was said that Ali made it sure that Terrell was not knocked down but made to suffer all 15 rounds of punching. In 1970, after the suspension of his boxing license by U.S. boxing commissions for not appearing in his induction to the armed forces in 1967, Ali resumed his boxing career in Georgia, the only state in the U.S. without a boxing commission.
Ali’s most well-known ring rival is Joe Frazier. Ali and Frazier met in 1971 in the ring in the bout dubbed as the “Fight of the Century”. It is noteworthy that at the time Ali’s license was suspended, Joe Frazier topped the boxing rank. That fight held in Madison Square Garden is an all-time favorite boxing event. After 15 rounds of boxing, Frazier was declared winner by a unanimous decision, giving Ali his first career loss.
His second loss was against Ken Norton in early 1973, who won via a split decision yet lost to Ali the year following. The best years of Ali’s career were from late 1973 to 1977. He won 14 fights during these times and had two more worldwide hit bouts. It was payback time for Frazier in 1974 during the second rematch, wherein Ali reclaimed his championship title.
Ali’s triumph over Frazier paved way for another big-time match against another strong boxer, George Foreman. The fight was held in Zaire, Africa and was titled “The Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali was a smart boxer, who not only relied on his strength. In that fight, Ali capitalized on Foreman’s one weakness – low endurance since Foreman was a KO puncher. He prolonged the fight by retreating to the ropes to be “cornered” by Foreman and he leaned back each time Foreman strikes so that his punches became ineffective yet exhausted him come the 7th round. In the 8th round, Ali knocked down the tired and weary Foreman.
Another sizzling boxing event came in Ali’s career when a 3rd rematch against Joe Frazier was scheduled in 1975. This time, the bout which was held in the Philippines, was called “Thrilla in Manila”. Demeaning insults were thrown by Ali to Frazier, commenting about the latter being “ugly” or a “gorilla”. He was even quoted saying “The world champ should be pretty like me”. Despite Frazier’s fury caused by Ali’s insults, he still defeated Frazier for the 2nd time when Frazier was not able to answer the call during the 14th round. Ali lost for the third time in 1978 to Olympian Leon Spinks though he also defeated the latter in another bout. In the same year, Ali retired at the age of 37. He, however, came back in 1980 in the ring, only to lose against Larry Holmes. His career ended with another loss against Trevor Berbick in 1981.
Muhammad Ali described his boxing style as – “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. He was a rare gem of a boxer, who defeated all heavyweights during his time. In fact, the leading Ring Magazine named him as “Fighter of the Year” for the most times than any boxer and ranked him in 1988 as the greatest boxer of all times. His ability in the ring gave him the alias for which he is known most for – “The Greatest” (boxer).
In a total of 61 fights, he only lost 5 times. Of his 56 wins, 37 of these are by way of KO.