Boxer, philanthropist, social activist. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. Once one of the top American boxers, Muhammad Ali has shown that he is not afraid of any fight—inside or outside the ring. Growing … see full wiki
He ranks among the most preeminent Americans of the 20th Century.
Jan 7, 2010
He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, KY on January 17, 1942, a descendent of pre-Civil War slaves in the American South. Cassius was introduced to the sport of boxing at the tender age of 12 and found that he was quite good at it. He was so talented in fact that he would go on to become a national Golden Gloves champion twice over and would win a gold medal for the United States in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. It seemed that the sky was the limit for the gifted young fighter from Louisville. But the story about the man who would become Muhammad Ali is about so much more than merely boxing. Muhammad Ali made such an impact that at one point in the 1970's he was the most recognizable person in the entire world. And with very good reason. For the story of Muhammad Ali is about all courage and determination, personalsacrifice and generosity. Here was that rare man who from a very young age was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in and was willing to pay a very steep price to do so. To my way of thinking he is without a doubt one of the greatest Americans of the 20th Century.
If there is one word to aptly describe Muhammad Ali from his earliest forays into the public arena it would have to be controversial. As a brash young heavyweight preparing for his first title fight against the reigning champion Sonny Liston he boldly predicted a victory over the man he dubbed "the big ugly bear". I still remember listening to that fight on my little transistor radio when I was 13 years old. It was thrilling! When Liston failed to answer the bell for the 7th round Cassius Clay was crowned Heavyweight Champion of the World! He had done what he said he would do! Just days later Cassius Clay would stun the world yet again by declaring he was converting to Islam and changing his name to Muhammad Ali. Unless you lived through it you simply cannot imagine how shocking and controversial that announcement was. In 1966 Muhammad Ali became eligible for the military draft. This occured at the height of the Vietnam War. When notified of this status, he declared that he would refuse to serve in the United States Army and publicly considered himself a conscientious objector. Muhammad Ali once again distinguished himself as one of the first prominent national figures to declare his opposition to the war in Southeast Asia. And ultimately he would pay a huge price for his courageous stand. When he refused induction into the U.S. Army his license to box was suspended and he was stripped of his title. For standng up for what he believed in Ali would not be allowed to box for another three years. He was in the prime of his career!
Muhammad Ali returned to the ring in 1970 and quickly regained his heavyweight crown. His considerable skills seemed undiminished by the layoff. He went on to have a series of memorable bouts with opponents such as Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and George Foreman. The fact is that Muhammad Ali defeated every top heavyweight in his era, which has been called the golden age of heavyweight boxing. Many consider him to be the greatest heavyweight who ever lived. Throughout it all Ali relished his celebrity status. His on-air battles with TV commentator Howard Cosell are legendary. Ali was an extremely intelligent, passionate and endearing man. We will probably never see his likes again.
When he first appeared on the national scene in the mid 1960's Cassius Clay boldly proclaimed to anyone who would listen "I am the greatest!" A lot of us thought he was just a little nutty But it turns out he was right. For when I think about the greatest Americans of the 20th Century his name immediately comes to mind. This was a good and decent man of honor, courage and principle who actually paid an enormous price for the things he believed in. Since he retired from the ring Muhammad Ali has immersed himself in an impressive array of philanthropic activities. Sadly, his health has been steadily deteriorating for years. In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's Syndrome a debilitating disease that can be directly linked to his days in the ring. For as long as he lives and beyond Muhammad Ali will be fondly remembered as one of the most important public figures of the 20th Century.