Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. In Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942, Cassius took his first boxing lessons from an Irish-American cop who thought he was giving lessons to a boy that wanted to protect his new bike from older neighborhood kids. But by the age of 16, Cassius had won the Louisville Golden Gloves tournament as a light heavyweight and advanced to the quarterfinals of the regional championship in Chicago. After graduating to the Louisville Central High School in 1960, he won the Tournament of champions in Chicago, also he won the National golden gloves competition and the Amateur Athletic Union Title. He ended the year with a golden medal in the Rome Olympics. But after his return from Italy, with his medal around his neck. Cassius was refused service in a small diner and threw his medallion in the Ohio River. Sponsored by a union of white Louisville businessmen, who made him give them 50% of his earnings in and out of the ring for the six year term of contract, Cassius had his first professional fight on October 29, 1960, a six round win by decision. Cassius Clay took his boxing career in his own hands by signing Angelo Dundee as his trainer. Under Dundee s tutelage, he rapidly developed his very unique style of boxing. In Nov. of 1962, Cassius beat 49-year-old Archie Moore to get a shoot at the heavyweight champion belt, which was owned by Sonny Liston. The young fighter also took charge of his own promotion, declaring I am the Greatest and bragging about his boxing, his looks, and his poetry to anyone that would listen. On February, 26, 1964, the day after he beat Liston, he shocked the world by declaring that he had converted to Islam and would here on be know as Muhammad Ali , which translated in English means worthy of praise. In May of 1964, he took his first trip to Africa, returning to the U.S. a month later with a new addition to his camp of advisors, Herbert Muhammad. Herbert and his father would have a big influence on Ali in the coming years, Within two months after his return from Africa, he met a married (within 41 days) Sonji Roi. They would divorce later, a little more than a year, because of Sonji s refusal of the Muslim Customs. In the following year, a controversy over Ali s first round knockout of Liston during their rematch, left the champ with a tainted crown. Liston appeared to fall from a Phantom Punch and the referee was so busy pushing Ali away from his prone opponent that he forgot to give the ten count. Ali spent most of the remainder of 1965 in exhibition matches but did fend off one title challenge from the former champion Floyd Patterson, which he knocked him out in the 12th round. In 1966, his contract the Louisville businessmen ended early, and his reputation as a fighter was quickly catching up to his bragging, and his fullness as a respected leader in the black community growing, Muhammad Ali was reclassified 1-a by the Selective Service. He issued his response to Uncle Sam s calling in a rhyme,
Keep asking me, no matter how long On the war in Vietnam, I sing this song I ain t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong. Ali continued to defend his title as well, He defended five times in 1966, the last against Cleveland Williams at the Houston Astrodome, a match which, to Howard Costell, said, The greatest Ali ever was as a fighter. In February 1967, he returned to Houston to defend his title against Ernest Terrell. But Terrell s taunts, particularly his repeated referral to the champ as Cassius Clay , got to the nerve of Ali, who punished the challenger in what some writer call a dirty fight. Ali had said beforehand he had wanted to torture his former sparring partner and, after 15 rounds, it had appeared he had kept that promise. After refusing induction into the U.S Army, Ali was indicted and the maximum sentence was five years imprisonment and a 10,000-dollar fine. Since, as a convicted felon, he was barred from fighting in the US. His career was effectively ended. Muhammad Ali officially announced his retirement on February 3, 1970, while his appeal was still pending by the Supreme Court. On June 28th, his conviction was overturned in an 8-0 decision based on because the FBI had conducted an illegal wiretap on Ali s Home Phone. He had arranged fights with jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena and won both by knockouts. Then, in March of 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier for the WBA title that had been taken from him. The former Champion lost in a 15-round decision at Madison Square Garden that sent both fighters to the hospital. Ali then beat Jimmy Ellis to win the NABF title in July. Ali defended the NABF title five more times from November of 1971 until losing it in a 12 round decision to Ken Norton. Six months later he beat Norton for the Title. The next challenge was wrestling the far more prestigious WBA title away from the imposing new champion, George Foreman. The Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire earned the Muslim minister the world heavyweight title that would be his for four more years, through ten successful defenses. He would lose the crown to Leon Spinks, then win it back from Spinks in September of the same year, both in 15 round decisions. Ali again announced his retirement in 1979, but was tempted back into one last heavyweight title fight, at the age of 39, against Larry Holmes on October 2, 1980. The younger boxer tore him up. Ali fought once more, against the undistinguished Trevor Burbick, losing the non-title fight in ten rounds in 1981 before hanging up the gloves for good. Muhammad Ali was elected to the boxing Hall of Fame on September 14, 1987.