Muhammad Ali Biography

Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest ever boxing legends.

Quick Facts

Nickname: The Louisville Lip, The Greatest, The People’s Champion

Date of Birth: 17th January, 1942

Place of Birth:  Louisville, Kentucky

Origin: African-American

Profession: Professional Boxer, Social Activist

Known for: Professional Boxer


Childhood and Growing Years

Muhammad Ali, was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. He joined the Nation of Islam in 1964, which was when he changed his name. He was born in a small town called Louisville in Kentucky and he was the namesake of his father, who was in turn named after a famous politician at the time. His mother was Odessa Clay who was a house wife, and his father was employed painting signs and billboards in Louisville. Ali and his older brother Rudolph Clay (later changed his name to Rahman Ali) were brought up as Baptists.

Clay was introduced to boxing through Joe E. Martin who was a police officer back in 1954. The then twelve year old Clay was angry about his bike being stolen and told Joe Martin that he would “whup” the offender if he was found. Joe Martin liked the spunk in Clay, and told him that he’d better learn boxing if that was what he wanted to do. A trainer called Fred Stoner taught Clay the basics of boxing, but it was clear to see that Clay had a natural aptitude for boxing. Though boxing was one of the roughest sports possible, Clay had a certain grace about his movements, which got him noticed.

Claim to Fame

He was regularly featured on a local television show sponsored by Martin, called “Tomorrow’s Champions” and he began training for various championships. In his amateur years as a boxer, he bagged a total of eight Golden Gloves championships, six local to Kentucky, and two national titles. He also won the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) championship in his early teen years. He participated in the Olympics in the Lightweight Championship when he was only eighteen, and he won the gold that year in 1960. He was rumored to have later thrown the gold medal he earned in the 1960 Olympics in a river in Ohio when he was denied service and discriminated against at a restaurant there.

His overall amateur record was that of only 5 losses in 105 matches.

He had a distinctive boxing style which coupled strong power-packed punches with speed and agility in the ring.

His Olympic win helped him bag a contract with the Louisville Sponsor Group after which he began a professional career in boxing post 1960. For the next 3 years until 1963, he continued a professional boxing career, and he grew more confident about his boxing skills. He received widespread media attention as much for his cheeky quotes and short rhymes belittling his opponent and talking about which round he would defeat them, as much as for his talent. Through the 3 years, he was slowly advancing towards what would be his first Heavyweight Championship Win against Sonny Liston. He did this at the age of 22, becoming the youngest person ever to win a Heavyweight Championship over a reigning champion. He defended this title for eight years after he won it.

In 1964, after his win in Liston, Clay declared himself to be a member and open supporter of the Nation of Islam. This was a religious movement which supported Pan Africanism. He was inspired by the speeches of Malcolm X, and in support for the Nation of Islam; he took up the name Cassius X for a while. On the same day, the leader of the Nation of Islam Elijah Muhammad declared that Cassius Clay would officially adopt the name “Muhammad Ali” and this was aired on the radio.

In the April of 1967, Ali was asked to report for duty in the U.S Army as a soldier in the front lines of the Vietnam War. He publicly announced his refusal to answer to the draft, saying that he personally felt the war was unjustified, and that it went against the main principles of the Qoran. This act of his caused national outrage, and his quotes were repeatedly aired on radio and national television. He was unapologetic about his views. And a court case began proceedings against him as it was a felony to refuse to answer to the call of duty by the U.S Army.  He was suspended from the boxing ring until he was determined guilty or innocent by the court of law.

In March of 1971, he participated in what would later be known as the “Fight of the Century” with Joe Frazier, for the title of the world heavyweight champion. This was a much-anticipated game, as both Ali and Frazier were equally deserving of the crown, as they had both been undefeated champions in their own leagues. Ali lost this crucial title to Joe Frazier, though he proved to be a tough competitor. This was one of the few losses in Muhammad Ali’s professional career.

After this through the next decade, Ali was a part of various nail biting boxing matches, which were widely known as “Rumble in the Jungle” (his fight against George Foreman in Zaire in 1974), the “Thrilla in Manilla” in which he face Joe Frazier for the third time in Phillipines in 1975.

For the last four years of his career, he trained under Chuck Bodak, who was a famous boxing cutman. He retired from boxing for good in the year 1981. In 1984, he began to be affected by the beginnings of Parkinson’s disease. Despite that, he still remains a much loved public figure and an active social rights activist to this day.

Awards and Nominations

He won the Gold in Light Weight Boxing in the Summer Olympics held in Rome in 1960. Ring magazine named him “Fighter of the Year” the maximum number of times than any other boxer. He was one of the first boxers to be named “Sportsman of the Year” by Sports Illustrated magazine. He received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 1997. In 2005, he was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George Bush.

Personal Quotes

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

“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.”

“Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.”

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

“I never thought of losing, but now that it’ s happened, the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.”

“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.”

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