Muhammad Ali was the adopted name of Cassius Clay (January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016). He was a retired American boxer and former three-time World Heavyweight Champion; possibly the most famous boxer of all time. Through his career Ali had 61 professional fights and went 56-5.
Ali's birth name was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. Clay was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and began training as a boxer when he was 12 years old in a youth boxing program run by a member of the Louisville police force. Clay won the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome at age 18. He then turned pro and won the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston. After gaining the title, Clay announced his conversion to Islam and took the name Muhammad Ali. Ali joined the "Black Muslims" (later called the Nation of Islam) political activist group headed by Elijah Muhammad, but later left for traditional Islam.
Ali was obliged to give up his heavyweight title when he refused induction into the US Army in 1967. The US Army was, at the time, fighting the Vietnam War. While Ali would most likely have not served in Vietnam in a combat role he felt that service in the US Army at the time would have supported American actions in Vietnam, actions he objected to on moral grounds. As a result of refusing to be inducted Ali lost important years in his prime. After he was permitted to once again box professionally three years later in 1970, Ali defeated Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena in 1970 before losing to heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in 1971. In 1974, Ali beat the heavily favored George Foreman in the famous "Rumble in the Jungle," a bout held in Kinshasa, Zaire It was Ali's first use of the "Rope-A-Dope" strategy, where he covered up and allowed his opponent to tire himself out with useless punching. Ali's most famous line during his fighting days was, "I'll be floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee."
Always undersized for a heavyweight, Ali made good use of his speed and technical boxing skills, as well as his verbal skills (Ali could legitimately be considered the forerunner of "trash talk"). His skills started to erode quickly once he reached a certain age and he lost his title to a lightly regarded Leon Spinks, who went on to become a footnote in boxing history. Ali took the title back in a lackluster decision, but retired soon thereafter. He tried to make a comeback against then champion Larry Holmes, but out of shape and past his best fighting years, Ali's corner threw in the towel between rounds in the middle of the fight.
After his boxing career, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Whether this was caused by his boxing is currently a subject of debate.
Ali was not without controversy in his career. In his rematch with Sonny Liston after taking the heavyweight title for the first time, Ali knocked out Liston in the first round with what has come to be called a "phantom punch". In other words, no one is exactly sure what made Liston go down, but it doesn't appear to have been Ali.
On January 8, 2001, President Bill Clinton presented Muhammad Ali with the Presidential Citizens Medal. In November 2005, President George W. Bush presented Ali the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Ali also received the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold of the UN Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin for his work with the U.S. civil rights movement and the United Nations (December 17, 2005).
- President Clinton Awards the Presidential Citizens Medals. Today at The White House. National Archives and Records Administration (January 8, 2001). Retrieved on June 9, 2016.
- Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients. White House Press Secretary (November 3, 2005). Archived from the original on March 6, 2008. Retrieved on May 20, 2008.
- "Bush presents Ali with Presidential Medal of Freedom", ESPN, November 14, 2005. Retrieved on June 9, 2016.
- Briefs: Ali to receive Otto Hahn Medal today in Berlin. The Seattle Times (December 17, 2005). Retrieved on June 9, 2016.