Muhammad Ali life and biography

Muhammad Ali picture, image, poster

Muhammad Ali biography

Date of birth : 1942-01-17
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Nationality : African-American
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-03-31
Credited as : Three-time world heavyweight boxing champ, 'The greatest', When We Were Kings

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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.

"Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee"

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 out-spoken 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 25, 1964, at Miami, Florida, when he was only 22 years old, he fought and defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world.

"Beloved of Allah"

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, may be 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.

Vindication and Victory

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.

Role as Statesman

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, the BBC produced a special version of its annual BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award ceremony, and Ali was voted their Sports Personality of the Century, receiving more votes than the other four contenders combined. His daughter Laila Ali also became a boxer in 1999, despite her father's earlier comments against female boxing in 1978: "Women are not made to be hit in the breast, and face like that... the body's not made to be punched right here [patting his chest]. Get hit in the breast... hard... and all that."

On September 13, 1999, Ali was named "Kentucky Athlete of the Century" by the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in ceremonies at the Galt House East.

In 2001, a biographical film, entitled Ali, was made, directed by Michael Mann, with Will Smith starring as Ali. The film received mixed reviews, with the positives generally attributed to the acting, as Smith and supporting actor Jon Voight earned Academy Award nominations. Prior to making the Ali movie, Will Smith had continually rejected the role of Ali until Muhammad Ali personally requested that he accept the role. According to Smith, the first thing Ali said about the subject to Smith was: "You ain't pretty enough to play me."

On November 17, 2002, Muhammad Ali went to Afghanistan as "U.N. Messenger of Peace". He was in Kabul for a three-day goodwill mission as a special guest of the United Nations.

On January 8, 2005, Muhammad Ali was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush.

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony on November 9, 2005 and the "Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold" of the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin for his work with the US civil rights movement and the United Nations (December 17, 2005).

On November 19, 2005 (Ali's 19th wedding anniversary), the $60 million non-profit Muhammad Ali Center opened in downtown Louisville. In addition to displaying his boxing memorabilia, the center focuses on core themes of peace, social responsibility, respect, and personal growth.

According to the Ali Center website, "Since he retired from boxing, Ali has devoted himself to humanitarian endeavors around the globe. He is a devout Muslim, and travels the world over, lending his name and presence to hunger and poverty relief, supporting education efforts of all kinds, promoting adoption and encouraging people to respect and better understand one another. It is estimated that he has helped to provide more than 22 million meals to feed the hungry. Ali travels, on average, more than 200 days per year."

At the FedEx Orange Bowl on January 2, 2007, Ali was an honorary captain for the Louisville Cardinals wearing their white jersey, number 19. Ali was accompanied by golf legend Arnold Palmer, who was the honorary captain for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, and Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade.

A youth club in Ali's hometown and a species of rose (Rosa ali) have also been named after him. On June 5, 2007, he received an honorary doctorate of humanities at Princeton University's 260th graduation ceremony.

Ali lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his fourth wife, Yolanda "Lonnie" Ali. They own a house in Berrien Springs, Michigan, which is for sale. On January 9, 2007, they purchased a house in eastern Jefferson County, Kentucky for $1,875,000. Lonnie converted to Islam from Catholicism in her late 20s.

On the 17th of August 2009, it was voted unanimously by the town council of Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland to make Ali the first Freeman of Ennis. Ennis was the birthplace of Ali's great grandfather before he emigrated to the U.S. in the 1860s, before eventually settling in Kentucky. On 1 September 2009, Ali visited the town of Ennis and at a civic reception he received the honour of the freedom of the town.

As a world champion boxer and social activist, Ali has been the subject of numerous books, films and other creative works. In 1963, he released an album of spoken word on Columbia Records titled I am the Greatest! He has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated on 37 different occasions, second only to Michael Jordan. His autobiography The Greatest: My Own Story, written with Richard Durham, was published in 1975. When We Were Kings, a 1996 documentary about the Rumble in the Jungle, won an Academy Award and the 2001 biopic Ali garnered an Oscar nomination for Will Smith's portrayal of the lead role.

For contributions to the theater industry, Muhammed Ali was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.

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