Films, books, radio and television programs, photos, posters and stories of all kinds surround the life of U.S. former boxer Muhammad Ali, who passed away on June 3, 2016, at the age of 74.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 17, 1942, he is almost unanimously regarded as the most outstanding boxer of all time, not only for what he achieved in the ring, but also outside it.
Ali’s first major achievement was the Olympic title in Rome, 1960, competing in the light heavyweight category, as he was beaten in the national trial matches by Percy Price, who took the heavyweight spot.
Aged 18 and still known as Cassius Clay, he fought for the gold medal against Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzykowski, Melbourne 1956 bronze medallist and three-time European Champion.
Soon after he began to earn notoriety outside the ring. After having been refused service in a dinner due to his skin color, he realized that he had been used as a propaganda tool by the U.S. system.
Angry, he threw his gold medal, which until then he had worn almost without fail, including during numerous tributes in his home city, into the Ohio River.
Shortly after he signed as a professional boxer with a Louisville consortium, and after winning his debut against Tunney Hunsaker, he took another decision that would mark his life: to train with Angelo Dundee, who would end up accompanying him throughout his career.
The opportunity of a lifetime came when he faced Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight title on February 25, 1964, at the Miami Beach Convention Hall, Florida, before an audience of just eight thousand, who were sure of a victory for the veteran champion.
However, after predicting that he would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” in the ring, Clay fulfilled his promise, knocking Liston out in the sixth round; and so a legend was born.
A few days later he took another life changing decision: he would no longer be called Cassius Clay, a name not of his choosing, which, in his own words, was a “slave name,” to become Muhammad Ali, meaning “beloved of God.”
He made a total of nine successful title defenses up until 1967, when he made public his condemnation of the Vietnam War and was stripped of his title and banned from boxing for three and a half years.
It was not until December 1970 that he officially returned to the ring, knocking out Oscar Natalio Bonavena, of Argentina, for the vacant title of the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) in Madison Square Garden, New York.
Another ten title defenses later, including his third fight against Joe Frazier, this time in the Philippines, “The Greatest”’s lost his crown to the young Leon Spinks, whom he did not take seriously on February 15, 1978, in Las Vegas.
On September 15 of that year, Ali definitely made history by becoming the first heavyweight boxer to take the world belt three times, after thrashing Spinks in the rematch.
Following this victory, Ali announced his retirement, due to his physical state having received so many blows, but he soon changed his mind and, aged 38, in an attempt to win the heavyweight championship an unprecedented fourth time, he was beaten by Larry Holmes. Ali’s last fight saw him defeated by Trevor Berbick in Nassau, 1981.
A hypothetical confrontation with the Cuban Teófilo Stevenson, the best amateur boxer in history, remained a popular fantasy. The fight never came to be as the two parties failed to reach an agreement between 1978 and 1980, although Ali visited Cuba twice after hanging up his gloves.
Following the death of Stevenson in June 2012, Ali was one of the first to express condolences, stating: “He was one of the greats of this world, and at the same time was a warm and huggable man. He would have been a formidable enemy for any other reigning heavyweight champion or any other challenger at his best.”
Outside the ring, Muhammad Ali was also an active fighter against racism, and his legacy goes far beyond the mere art of fist fighting.
Almost three years after having retired from boxing, in September 1984, Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
More than three decades have passed since his last fight, and no other heavyweight boxer has managed to take the world title three times. The legend of Muhammad Ali lives on. (Excerpts from PL)