Muhammad Ali – “I am the greatest!”
Born on 17th January 1942, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr (aka Muhammed Ali) was a legendary American professional boxer who was regarded as one of the most celebrated and significant sporting icons of the 20th century. His career spanned over 21 years.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, he began training as an amateur boxer at the age of 12. Just six years later, at the tender age of 18, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division of the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
This was the start of a long and highly-respected boxing career, until his retirement from the sport in 1981. Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, Ali always maintained a very positive mental attitude towards life. He was a true inspiration to other people with the condition.
Ali’s career and achievements
Turning professional after the Olympics in 1960, at the age of 22 he won the WBA, WBC and lineal heavyweight titles from Sonny Liston in 1964. He converted to Islam, changing his name to Muhammad Ali and becoming an inspirational figure during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the USA.
He was the only three-times lineal heavyweight world champion in history; winning the title in 1964, 1974 and 1978. He was undisputed heavyweight champion from 25th February to 19th September 1964. The boxing magazine, Ring, named him Fighter of the Year six times; Ali was the only boxer to ever achieve this.
Sports Illustrated ranked him as the greatest 20th-century athlete, while the BBC named him Sports Personality of the Century. He was nicknamed “The Greatest” for a good reason. His most famous boxing matches that will go down in history include his first Liston fight and the legendary “Thrilla in Manila” against Joe Frazier in 1975 and “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974.
This was a time when most boxers left their manager to do the talking but Ali was an eloquent speaker, famed for his “trash talking” and spoken poetry. Among his most famous phrases was “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
He actually recorded two spoken albums, recorded a rhythm and blues song, wrote two autobiographies and even received two nominations for a Grammy Award. Following his long and illustrious career, he retired in 1981 but remained a prominent public figure, devoting his life to charitable and religious work.
In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Some experts today believe the disease began due to chronic traumatic brain injuries he received while boxing. This form of the disease is known as dementia pugilistica — the name given to the progressive brain damage that can be caused by continual blows to the head.
Symptoms of the disease include a shuffling walk, stiff facial expression and slurred or muffled speech. These signs began to appear in Ali two years after he retired from the ring, before his Parkinson’s diagnosis was made. This diagnosis is usually made in people over the age of 65, with very few diagnoses in people under 50. At the age of 42, Ali was very young to receive this diagnosis.
Despite his illness, he never let his fighting spirit and good humour fail him and he continued to be an inspirational human being, campaigning for worthy causes right up until his death in June 2016, aged 74. He remains a legendary and inspirational figure to this day, with many people saying he was the greatest boxer who ever lived.
He lived his life by one of his famous quotes: “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges and I believed in myself.”