Muhammad Ali: Lord of the boxing ring
Born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky (US), Ali’s original name was Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. Brought up by not so affluent parents at a time when blacks bore the brunt of racial bias and prejudice , Clay’s life was uneventful till an incident occurred when he was 12.
It was the theft of a new bicycle that his parents had gifted him left the boy distraught, so much so that he told a policeman, Joe Martin, that he would beat up the person who had stolen it. Martin, who was also a boxing coach, advised Clay to learn how to fight before he tried to punish the thief. The latter accepted the offer and promptly joined boxing lessons.
OLYMPICS AND AFTER
Young Clay joined the ranks of the world’s best amateur boxers in the light-heavyweight division. He won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics at Rome but was still disillusioned with the state of amateur sport, which led him to take up professional boxing. In 1964, Clay, aged 22, threw the gauntlet for Sonny Liston, the reigning world heavyweight champion. He won the bout after just six rounds. The brash world of professional boxing had a new champion.
NEW FAITH & IDENTITY
A month later, Clay dramatically announced his conversion to Islam. He first changed his name from Cassius Clay to Cassius X and then to Muhammad Ali. He then became the dominant force in the boxing ring — in which he pulled off a knock out win against Liston and quelledmany other top names.
FIRM ‘NO’ TO ARMY DRAFT
In 1967, Ali refused to be drafted into the US army, citing religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. He was arrested, stripped of his boxing titles and banned from bouts for three and a half years. He approached the Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971. Ali missed years of competition. In March 1971, in a historic bout touted as the ‘Fight of the Century’, he went down to then heavyweight champion JoeFrazier. However, a run of 10 wins for Ali followed, which was broken by Ken Norton. In the rematch, he had the better of Norton. He took on Frazier a second time and emerged victorious. Two more mega duels before the end of 1975 saw Ali bring out his very best.
In the first one on October 30, 1974, heknocked out thethenworld heavyweight champion George Foreman in Zaire, in a bout dubbed the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. On October 1, 1975, he again met Frazier near Manila, Philippines, in what was considered one of the greatest boxing bouts of all times. Termed the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, Ali was declared the winner .
Amnesty International honoured Ali with its Lifetime Achievement Award; The UN Secretary-General bestowed him with a citation as a Messenger of Peace. He was also awardedtheUSPresidentialMedal of Freedom.
Ali bowed out of competitive boxing in 1981 and devoted time to charities. In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome but he still travelled across the world for humanitarian activities. He died on June 3, 2016, aged 74.