Celebrate Black History
Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., January 17, 1942) is an American former professional boxer, philanthropist and social activist. Considered a cultural icon, Ali has both been idolized and vilified.
Muhammad Ali is one of the most famous boxers of all time. His conversion to Islam and draft evasion conviction surrounded him with controversy and even exile from boxing for three years. Despite the hiatus, his quick reflexes and strong punches helped Muhammad Ali become the first person in history to win the heavyweight champion title three times. At the lighting ceremony at the 1996 Olympics, Muhammad Ali showed the world his strength and determination in dealing with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s syndrome.
When Muhammad Ali was 12 years old, he and a friend went to the Columbia Auditorium to partake in the free hot dogs and popcorn available for visitors of the Louisville Home Show. When the boys were done eating, they went back to get their bicycles only to discover that Muhammad Ali’s had been stolen.
Furious, Muhammad Ali went to the basement of the Columbia Auditorium to report the crime to police officer Joe Martin, who was also a boxing coach at the Columbia Gym. When Muhammad Ali said he wanted to beat up the person who stole his bike, Martin told him that he should probably learn to fight first. A few days later, Muhammad Ali began boxing training at Martin’s gym.
From the very beginning, Muhammad Ali took his training seriously. He trained six days a week. On schooldays, he woke early in the morning so that he could go running and then would go workout at the gym in the evening. When Martin’s gym closed at 8 pm, Ali would then go train at another boxing gym. Over time, Muhammad Ali also created his own eating regimen that included milk and raw eggs for breakfast. Concerned about what he put in his body, Ali stayed away from junk food, alcohol, and cigarettes so that he could be the best boxer in the world.
Originally known as Cassius Clay, at the age of 22 he won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston. Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converting to Sunni Islam in 1975. In 1967, three years after Ali had won the heavyweight championship, he was publicly vilified for his refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. Ali was eventually arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges; he was stripped of his boxing title, and his boxing license was suspended. He was not imprisoned, but did not fight again for nearly four years while his appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was eventually successful.
Ali would go on to become the first and only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion.
Nicknamed “The Greatest”, Ali was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these were three with rival Joe Frazier, which are considered among the greatest in boxing history, and one with George Foreman, where he finally regained his stripped titles seven years later. Ali was well known for his unorthodox fighting style, epitomized by his catchphrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, and employing techniques such as the Ali Shuffle and the rope-a-dope. Ali brought beauty and grace to the most uncompromising of sports and through the wonderful excesses of skill and character, he became the most famous athlete in the world. He was also known for his pre-match hype, where he would “trash talk” opponents, often with rhymes.
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. ‘I AM’ the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was!” ~Muhammed Ali
In 1964, Ali failed the Armed Forces qualifying test because his writing and spelling skills were subpar. However, in early 1966, the tests were revised and Ali was reclassified 1A. He refused to serve in the United States Army during the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector, because “War is against the teachings of the Holy Koran. I’m not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers.” Ali also famously said:
“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong” and “no Vietcong ever called me nigger.”
Ali refused to respond to his name being read out as Cassius Clay, stating, as instructed by his mentors from the Nation of Islam, that Clay was the name given to his slave ancestors by the white man.
“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God – and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me. “
By refusing to respond to this name, Ali’s personal life was filled with controversy. Ali was essentially banned from fighting in the United States and forced to accept bouts abroad for most of 1966.
Ali’s actions in refusing military service and aligning himself with the Nation of Islam made him a lightning rod for controversy, turning the outspoken but popular former champion into one of that era’s most recognizable and controversial figures. Appearing at rallies with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and declaring his allegiance to him at a time when mainstream America viewed them with suspicion — if not outright hostility — made Ali a target of outrage, and suspicion as well. Ali seemed at times to even provoke such reactions, with viewpoints that wavered from support for civil rights to outright support of separatism.
With his case still in appeal, Ali returned to the ring after winning a boxing license in Atlanta on August 12, 1970, thanks to State Senator Leroy R. Johnson, where he was granted a license to box by the City of Atlanta Athletic Commission. Ali’s first return bout was against Jerry Quarry on October 26, resulting in a win after three rounds. Following this, the New York State Boxing Commission reinstated Ali’s license to fight there and Ali fought against Oscar Bonavena at Madison Square Garden in December 1970, knocking him out technically during the 15th round, leaving him as a top contender against heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.
Ali and Frazier’s first fight, held at the Garden on May 8, 1971, was nicknamed the “Fight of the Century“, due to the hyped antics in their pre-fight. After being knocked down during the 15th round, Ali eventually suffered his first professional boxing loss afterwards from the fight. The boxer then returned with bouts against Quarry, a second bout with Floyd Patterson and Bob Foster in 1972, winning a total of six fights that year. In 1973, Ali suffered another loss at the hands of Ken Norton, who broke Ali’s jaw during the fight, though it’s contested which round he broke it, with Angelo Dundee later claiming Ali broke it in the second round, while others, including Norton, stated Ali broke it much later in the fight. After initially seeking retirement, Ali won against Norton in their second bout, leading to his second fight with Frazier, with Ali this time winning on points in their January 12, 1974 rematch.
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984, a disease that is common to head trauma from activities such as boxing. Ali still remained active during this time, however, later participating as a guest referee in the inaugural WrestleMania event.
On February 3, 2013, in a Washington Times article, the boxer’s brother, Rahman Ali, said Muhammad can no longer speak and could be dead within days. Muhammad Ali’s daughter responded to rumors of her father being near death. May May Ali said she talked to him on the phone the morning of February 3 and he was fine.
This Day In Black History (Feb. 27):
1. BIRTH & DEATH OF WALLACE FARAD (1900-1934) – Wallace Fard Muhammad (possibly born in 1893) was a preacher and founder of the Nation of Islam (NOI). He established the Nation of Islam’s first mosque in Detroit, Michigan in 1930 and preached his distinctive religion there for three years before mysteriously disappearing in 1934. He was later proclaimed to have been Allah on earth by Elijah Muhammad.
2. CASSIUS CLAY BECOMES MUHAMMAD ALI (1964) – On this day in 1964; The heavyweight boxer then known as Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam. “I believe in the religion of Islam. I believe in Allah and in peace…I’m not a Christian anymore.”
3. 1ST FEDERAL RESERVE GOVERNOR (1966) – President Lynodn Johnson appoints Andrew Brimmer as the first African-American governor of the Federal Reserve Board.
- Muhammad Ali ‘not near death’ (iol.co.za)
- Black History Month: Muhammad Ali (keepinitrealsports.com)
- Champ Muhammad Ali ‘near death’ (dailytelegraph.com.au)
- Happy Birthday to The Greatest: See our iconic pictures of Muhammad Ali as we celebrate his 71st birthday (mirror.co.uk)