To a generation that grew up on iPhones and Facebook, Manny Pacquiao may have defined the 21st century boxing legend. Â But did you know that there is another sporting icon whose career has yet to be equalled in the heavyweight division? He is Muhammad Ali, a living legend in the pantheon of boxing’s greatest, and an active philanthropist besides.
Early Boxing Career
- Muhammad Ali started boxing in Junior High, learning from a police officer and boxing trainer, Joe Martin. He won the 1960 Amateur Athletic Union light-heavyweight title and the Golden Gloves heavyweight title.
- Ali capped his amateur boxing career winning the light-heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics.
- In Feb 25 1964, after turning professional, he defeated the then heavyweight champion Sonny Liston by a knockout in the 7th Â He went on to defend his world title in 9 fights between 1965 and 1967.
Resurrecting a Career to its Peak
- After clearing his name from a 1967 draft evasion conviction, Ali resumed his professional boxing career, knocking out Jerry Quarry in October, 1970.
- In March 8, 1971, he traded blows with the then world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in a much anticipated â€œFight of the Century.â€ He lost to a split decision after being knocked down in the 15th A rematch in January 28, 1974 saw Ali defeat Frazier by a unanimous decision. By then, Frazier already lost his championship to a younger George Foreman.
- In the same year, Ali took on George Foreman in what was billed the â€œRumble in the Jungleâ€ held in Kinshasa, Zaire. Despite being the underdog, Ali pummelled Foreman to regain his world heavyweight crown.
- In October 1, 1975, Ali reached the peak of his boxing career in the 2nd and final rematch against Frazier in what was dubbed the â€œThrilla in Manilaâ€ held at the world-famous Araneta Coliseum in the Philippines. While both went through the 15 rounds, Ali convincingly ended the career of Joe Frazier.
Career Decline & Retirement
- Already showing his age which at 36 was considered old for a professional boxer, it was a career downhill for Ali after his final bout with Frazier. He lost to Leon Spinks by split decision in February 1978 but regained his WBA title with a unanimous decision in a rematch 7 months later.
- Ali announced his retirement in July 1979 with a reputation as the only boxer to win the WBA heavyweight crown 3 times (1964, â€˜74 and â€˜78) and losing only in 3 of 59 fights. However, he returned to the ring in 1980, getting knocked out by Larry Holmes and finally losing to Trevor Berbick in 1981. The day after, he announced his retirement with finality.
Post Career Recognition and Public Life
- In 1996, Ali lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta and in 2012 was the titular bearer of the Olympic flag for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. .
- In 1997, he received the Arthur Ashe Courage award.
- In 1999, the BBC awarded him with the Sports Personality of the Century. The Associated Press named him the 1 heavyweight of the 20th century.
- In 2005, President George W. Bush awarded Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That year saw him launch the $65M non-profit Muhammad Ali Center in his Louisville, KY hometown.
- In 2009, Ali hosted the Annual Celebrity Fight Nigh Awards in Phoenix, benefiting both the Celebrity Fight Night Foundation and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center.
- Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad Ali grew up in the racially segregated south that could have inflamed his passion for boxing.
- After winning the world heavyweight championship, He converted to Islam in 1964, joining a black Muslim group, Nation of Islam, and adopting â€œMuhammad Aliâ€ as his Muslim name. In 1975, he converted to the Sunni sect and in 2005 embraced the Sufi order of Islam.
- In 1967 Ali refused to serve his draft to the US military as his Islamic religion forbade him to fight in the Vietnam War. Ali was convicted of draft evasion, fined $10,000, and sentenced to 5 years in prison. Moreover, he was stripped of his heavyweight crown.
- After several lawsuits, a supreme court ruling cleared his name. He resumed his boxing career in 1970 and cemented his reputation as boxing’s greatest for the next decade.
- After retiring in 1981, Ali devoted his time and energy to philanthropy. Three years later, he was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease â€“ Parkinson’s.Â Â Since then he has preoccupied himself raising funds for the Arizona-based Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center as well as lending his support to various sporting and public service initiatives.
Today, Muhammad Ali is already in his 70s residing in Scottsdale, AZ. Since 1986, he has remained married to his 4th wife Yolanda (Lonnie) Williams with whom he had a son, Assad, while siring several children from his earlier marriages. Ali released his autobiography The Greatest: My Own Story by Richard Durham in 1975 and was adapted for the 1977 Hollywood movie The Greatest where he played himself. In 2001, the biopic Ali starring Will Smith in the lead role was released to mixed reviews. This won’t be the last in depicting the legend on screen. The world remains in owe at Ali’s legacy to the sporting world and continues to be enriched by his active post-career public service.