When was he born?
Cassius Clay was born on January 17th 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky.
In 1964 he changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
Why is he famous?
Muhammad Ali is regarded as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers in history. He won the world heavyweight title 3 times.
In 1963, aged 22, Ali (still named Cassius Clay) beat Sonny Liston to become the youngest boxer to claim a world heavyweight title by beating the defending champion (this record was later beaten by Mike Tyson). That victory, in which Ali was 7-1 against with the bookmakers, was named the 4th greatest sporting moment of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated.
Three other fights remain very famous: ‘The Fight of the Century’ (vs. Joe Frazier; Ali’s first loss); ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ (vs. George Foreman; fought in Zaire); and ‘The Thrilla in Manilla’ (his third fight against Frazier).
Ali’s personality and over-the-top statements made him popular with the media, including his catchphrase ‘I am the greatest’; that he ‘floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee’; he beat George Foreman with ‘rope-a-dope’ tactics; and Joe Frazier was ‘too dumb to be champion’. He was nicknamed ‘The Louisville Lip’ because of his habit of trash talking and self-aggrandization. .
He was also arrested, suspended for 3 years and had his heavyweight title removed for refusing join the army during the US-Vietnam War.
What was his mark on history?
Ali’s name remains near the top of the list of greatest ever boxers. His most famous fights are still replayed on TV and have been the subjects of movies.
His boastful style and playing to the media have been copied by many boxers since.
The decision to change his name after converting to Islam (stating Cassius Clay was a ‘slave name’) was controversial at the time, but has been done since by a variety of celebrated people. Similarly his decision to not join the US army remains one of the most famous examples of refusing the US draft.
In 1978 Louisville made a Muhammad Ali Street. Within a week 12 of the 70 street signs had been stolen.
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Obviously frail he lit the flame at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Also in 1996 the documentary ‘When We Were Kings’ – about the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ – won an Oscar.
Ali’s daughter became a women’s boxing champion.
Joe Frazier’s camp always felt Ali was unnecessarily cruel in remarks made about Frazier. Ali claimed he trashed-talked to sell tickets. There was ill-will between them until Frazier’s death in 2011.