Muhammad Ali (1942– )
originally Cassius (Marcellus) Clay, Jr
Boxer, born in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. As an amateur boxer (1954–60), winning 100 of 108 matches, he became the 1960 Olympic light-heavyweight champion. Financed by a group of Louisville businessmen, he turned professional, and by 1963 had won his first 19 fights.He won the world heavyweight title in 1964, defeating the purportedly invincible Sonny Liston when he retired at the end of the sixth round.
At that time he joined the Black Muslims and adopted the name Muhammad Ali. After defending the championship nine times within two years, in 1967 he refused to be drafted into the army on religious grounds, and was stripped of his title and barred from the ring. His action earned him both respect and anger from different quarters, but he did not box for three-and-a-half years; he took his case to the Supreme Court and had his boxing licence restored in 1970. In 1971 he was beaten by Joe Frazier, but beat him in 1974 in Zaire, and went on to meet George Foreman later that year, knocking him out in eight rounds to regain his title. He was beaten by Leon Spinks in a split decision (Feb 1978), but regained the title the same year - the first man to win the world heavyweight title three times.
Famous for his flamboyant manner, his boasting predictions of which round he would defeat his opponent, and his doggerel verse (‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’), he was also recognized as one of the all-time great boxers with his quick jab and footwork. His slogan ‘I am the greatest’ became a catch phrase. He compiled a career record of 56 wins, five losses, with 37 knockouts, before retiring in 1981.
During the 1960s and 1970s he was arguably the best-known individual in the entire world due not only to his controversial career but also to his travels and deliberate reaching out to the Third World. Ali was President Carter's special envoy to Africa in 1980 (attempting to persuade nations to boycott the Olympics). He has starred in two films, The Greatest (1976) and Freedom Road (1978), and an Oscar-winning documentary film, When We Were Kings, recounting the 1974 Ali v. Foreman fight, appeared in 1996. Ali retired in 1981, and during that decade it was revealed that he was suffering from a form of Parkinson's disease. He was an almost universal choice as the 20th-century's most important sportsman, and at the end of 1999 was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Century. In 2005 he attended the opening of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY, and also that year was honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.