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MUHAMMAD ALI

GREATEST ATHLETE OF THE CENTURY (1942-)

The colorful and controversial Muhammad Ali began taking boxing lessons when he was twelve years old at the urging of a Louisville policeman he talked to after his bike was stolen.   As a high school student, he won the national Golden Gloves middleweight championship in 1959 and 1960 and the AAU national light heavyweight title in 1960, then went on to a gold medal in the Olympic light heavyweight division.  Under his birth name, Cassius Clay, he had his first professional fight on October 29, 1960.  Before his sixth professional bout, against Lamar Clark on April 19,1961, Clay predicted a 2nd-round knockout and was right. 

He continued making predictions, often in rhyme, and making them come true until March 13, 1963.  On that date, he won a questionable 10-round decision over Doug Jones after predicting a 4th-round knockout.  Clay was a heavy underdog when he met Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship on February 25, 1964, at Miami Beach, FL.  However, he won the fight when Liston failed to come out for the eighth round, claiming a shoulder injury.  In a rematch on May 25, 1965, Clay knocked Liston out with a "phantom punch" that few observers saw in the first round at Lewiston, ME.  Shortly after becoming champion, Clay announced that he had become a Black Muslim and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. 

He defended the title eight times in the next twenty months.  In the meantime, he had refused induction into the Army.  Therefore, the New York State Boxing Commission revoked his license, his title was stripped, and he was sentenced to five years in prison for draft evasion.  While the conviction was being appealed, Ali was inactive for more than two years and announced his retirement early in 1970.  He returned to the ring shortly afterward, knocking out Jerry Quarry in the 3rd round on October 26, 1970, in Atlanta.  After a court ordered New York to restore his license, he fought the new champion, Joe Frazier, at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971.  Frazier won a brutal 15-round fight on a unanimous decision.   The U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction on June 29, 1971, and Ali won the North American Boxing Federation's championship by knocking out Jimmy Ellis in the 12th round less than a month later. 

Revised: July 18, 2013.