Who Was Muhammad Ali?
Muhammad Ali was an American professional boxer, Olympic gold medalist and activist. He is ranked as the greatest heavyweight of all time and considered to be one of the most significant and acclaimed sports figures in history. As the first fighter to seize a championship title three times and win 56 professional bouts during the span of his pro career, Muhammad Ali truly earned the right to declare “I am the greatest”. However, Muhammad Ali’s boxing record was not the only instrument that made him great (as well as contentious), as his outspoken and uninhibited voice—inside and outside of the ring—led to both praise and controversy throughout his life.
One of the many interesting facts about Muhammad Ali is that his forthright attitude within the scope of boxing translated directly into how he communicated and interacted with issues of politics, race, religion and civil rights. Muhammad Ali’s rise to fame as a boxer happened to coincide with the development of the civil rights movement, to which he shared a strong connection, and the two became forever linked. Growing up in the segregated South of the 40’s and 50’s, Muhammad Ali had learned from a young age that there was a huge inequality toward the treatment of African-American people in the United States.
Despite good intentions, Muhammad Ali’s headstrong determination and moral integrity sometimes led him into undesirable circumstances. On June 20, 1967 he was stripped of his boxing title and exiled from the sport during the peak of his career due to his protest against the Vietnam War, being pronounced guilty of evading the draft.
Muhammad Ali did not have a professional boxing bout from the ages of 25 to nearly 29, a time when he could have made an even more pronounced impact on the sport of boxing. On October 26, 1970, just over three years after being stripped of his license, Muhammad Ali returned to the sport with vigor and success for what would be years to come, and long after his accomplished boxing timeline had ended, he continued fighting as both a humanitarian and through his personal struggles with Parkinson’s Disease.
“I’ve always wanted to be more than just a boxer…”
This 2-part series provides a timeline of interesting facts about the man behind the name – the hero we know as Muhammad Ali.
When was Muhammad Ali born?
Muhammad Ali was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., the oldest son of his father Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. (1912-1990) and his mother Odessa Grady Clay (1917-1994), on January 17th, 1942 at Louisville General Hospital.
How many siblings did Muhammad Ali have?
Shortly after Muhammad Ali’s birth, Muhammad Ali’s family welcomed another child into their lives on July 18th, 1943. Rahman Ali, born Rudolph Arnett Clay, also became a heavyweight professional boxer alongside Muhammad. Rahman turned pro the very night that Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title on February 25th, 1964. Nicknamed “Rudy”, he became interested in the Muslim religion and later introduced Cassius Clay to the ministry, where they would both change their names to Ali.
Where is Muhammad Ali from?
Muhammad Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky on Grand Avenue in Louisville’s West End. His hometown now prides itself with the Muhammad Ali Center, a non-profit museum and cultural center dedicated to Muhammad Ali and his many achievements. Landmarks and art throughout the city, including many murals and sculptures, serve as lasting affirmation as to what Muhammad Ali continues to signify to the Louisville community.
Where did Muhammad Ali grow up?
Muhammad Ali’s childhood was spent in his birthplace of Louisville, Kentucky at the family’s 3302 Grand Avenue home, where they all resided from 1947 through 1961. The home has since been restored and repaired with the guidance of Rahman Ali and now sits as the historical “Muhammad Ali’s Home Site”.
Where did Muhammad Ali go to school?
Muhammad Ali attended Central High School in Louisville, from 1956 to 1960, and was a celebrated high school athlete, while enduring some academic hardship due to his immense devotion to boxing. Muhammad Ali’s education did not begin or end at primary school though, as his parents instilled their own complementary teachings onto their son.
Muhammad Ali’s father, Cassius Clay Sr., was a sign painter and local artisan, teaching his children how to create art through painting and drawing from a very early age. Muhammad Ali’s mother, Odessa Grady Clay, was a devout Baptist who took the children to church every week and established a strong moral character within them. Odessa Clay has been credited as a major influence for Muhammad Ali’s later humanitarian endeavors.
How tall was Muhammad Ali?
Muhammad Ali’s height was 6’3 with his brother Rahman Ali standing at a whopping 6’4; both siblings being imposing figures in the heavyweight division. Muhammad Ali gifted the world many memorable quotes that resonate to this day, but perhaps most suitable was “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” when it came to his boxing. At 6’3 and approximately 215 pounds in his prime, Muhammad Ali triumphed over his opponents with a powerful combination of size, strength and speed.
When did Muhammad Ali start boxing?
Muhammad Ali had a unique start to his interest in the sport of boxing. As a 12 year old Cassius Clay, he had his bicycle stolen and while reporting the theft to a police officer he had mentioned that he wanted to fight the person who stole his bike. Louisville officer Joe Martin, who happened to also be a boxing coach, advised that young Cassius Clay should look into boxing in order to learn how to fight. Joe Martin began to train Clay and only six weeks later, he won his first match.
By the time he was 18, he had 100 amateur wins under his belt and only suffered 8 losses. After high school graduation, Clay went to Rome for the 1960 Summer Olympic Games and won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division. Shortly after in October of 1960, he won his professional boxing debut.
Muhammad Ali was a diamond in the rough, and like a diamond he was multi-faceted. Apart from boxing, there were many different sides that made up the legendary Muhammad Ali. From his active part in and devoted advocacy of societal goodwill, to his desire for true peace around the globe, the icon of boxing was comprised of many individual elements, once revealing that “I’ve always wanted to be more than just a boxer…”.
Prepare for Round 2, as the second part of this series delves deep into Muhammad Ali’s later career, endeavors as a philanthropist, and many other compelling facts about his life.