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Sat, 01.17.1942

Muhammad Ali, Boxer, Humanitarian, and Activist born

Muhammad Ali

*On this date's Registry, we mark the birth of Muhammad Ali in 1942. He was a Black professional boxer, the first boxer to win the heavyweight championship three separate times.

Cassius Marcellus Clay (his name at birth) was from Louisville, Kentucky. As an amateur boxer, he was noticed in 1960 by winning the Amateur Athletic Union light heavyweight and Golden Gloves heavyweight championships. He won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Olympic games in Rome. He turned professional soon afterward and became a world heavyweight champion by knocking out Sonny Liston in seven rounds in 1964.

Gifted and Dyslexic with unusually fast reflexes, excellent hand-leg coordination, and finely honed defensive skills, Ali successfully defended his title nine times from 1965 to 1967 and was universally recognized as champion after outpointing World Boxing Association (WBA) champion Ernie Terrell in 15 rounds in 1967. Ali often proclaimed his invincibility in poetic verse and made the claim "I am the greatest!" his slogan. In 1964 he joined the Nation of Islam, adopting his Muslim name.

He also critiqued the origins of his grandfather Herman's abolitionist choice of his birth name.  After Ali converted to Islam, he claimed that his last name was a "slave name" and added, "I didn't choose it, and I don't want it."  Also, in 1967, he refused, on religious grounds, to submit to induction into the armed forces. Ali had considerable public support for his decision and that of fellow athletes of that era. He was subsequently convicted of violating the Selective Service Act and, consequently, barred from the ring and stripped of his title.

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately reversed this conviction in 1971.  Ali had meanwhile resumed boxing in 1970 and had defeated two other title contenders, but in 1971, he lost a 15-round decision to the heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier. For nearly three years, Ali fought other title contenders, including Jerry Quarry, Floyd Patterson, Joe Bugner, and Ken Norton. Finally, Ali won a unanimous decision over Frazier in 1974, which led to his meeting with the new champion, George Foreman, later that year. His eighth-round knockout of Foreman regained for Ali the undisputed world heavyweight title. After defending his title six times, he lost it to Leon Spinks in 1978 in a split decision.

Ali regained the WBA title from Spinks seven months later, thus becoming the first boxer to win the heavyweight championship three times. In 1979 he announced his retirement, having lost only three decisions in 59 fights. He returned to fight World Boxing Council champion Larry Holmes in 1980 and Trevor Berbick of Canada in 1981 but lost both fights. In 1984 it was confirmed that Ali was suffering from a series of symptoms known as "punch drunk" syndrome, or chronic hazard of boxing; Parkinson-like symptoms characterize; by slurred speech, facial immobility, poor balance, and difficulty in walking.

He has maintained a commitment to helping various community service causes around the world. Ali was selected to light the Olympic flame at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Georgia.  Muhammad Ali was an eloquent, colorful, controversial, and brilliant three-time heavyweight boxing champion. He was also an international humanitarian and ambassador of goodwill. He was known for his social conscience and staunch opposition to the Vietnam War as his dazzling boxing skills.   Muhammad Ali died June 3rd, 2016, in Phoenix, AZ.

To become a Professional Athlete


Boxing Album: An Illustrated History
by Peter Brooke Bell
Smithmark Publisher, 1995
ISBN 0831748109

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