Muhammad Ali, legend of boxing but famous far beyond the world of sport, died as a result of respiratory problems complicated by the Parkinson’s disease he’d been suffering from for many years.
Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. – this was his birth name – was born on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
Cassius Clay’s story as a boxer began when he was just a kid and a police officer advised him to learn that art to use it against the person who had stolen his bicycle.
In 1954, Cassius Clay made his debut as an amateur boxer achieving great successes in the following years until he won the light heavyweight gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960. After that victory he turned pro.
Cassius Clay’s professional career had a quick rise and in 1964 he had the chance to face the world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Clay was totally the underdog but upset his opponent winning by TKO after Liston abandoned the match.
Shortly after that victory, Cassius Clay announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
In 1965 there was the rematch with Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali won it by KO reinforcing his reputation also for his defiant attitude. Ali defended his title several times but was forced to interrupt his career when he refused the army draft to go and fight in Vietnam and his license was revoked by the US boxing commissions.
Muhammad Ali returned to the ring in 1971 and after a couple of matches for the first time fought Joe Frazier and suffered his first defeat as a pro. Later he was defeated by Ken Norton too but he had a rematch against both of them and won them.
Meanwhile, George Foreman had won the world heavyweight title against Joe Frazier and in 1974 a match was set up between him and Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa, in the then Zaire, known as “The Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali regained the title at the end of a match that remained in boxing history.
In 1975 Muhammad Ali defeated Joe Frazier again but in later years began his decline. He held the title until 1978, when he lost it to Leon Spinks but in the rematch he conquered it another time. At that point, he announced his retirement.
In 1980 Muhammad Ali decided to fight again and attempted to conquer the world heavyweight title another time but was defeated by Larry Holmes, who was already emerging as a great champion. His last match took place in 1981 with a defeat by Trevor Berbick.
In 1984, Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but his physical decay did not prevent him to carry the torch at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. He never surrendered to the disease but his health declined over the years. In recent days he was hospitalized for respiratory problems that rapidly worsened eventually causing his death.
So much has already been written about Muhammad Ali not only as a boxer but also for his commitment regarding civil rights. He’s been a boxing legend but his story made him famous and often controversial far beyond the world of sport.