Muhammad Ali

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Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali NYWTS.jpg
Ali in 1967
Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.

(1942-01-17)January 17, 1942
DiedJune 3, 2016(2016-06-03) (aged 74)
Resting place Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky
Education Central High School (1958)
Criminal charge Draft evasion [2]
Criminal penaltyFive years in prison (not served), fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years [2]
Criminal statusConviction overturned [2]
Children9, including Laila Ali
Relatives Rahman Ali (brother)
Awards Awards and accolades
Boxing career
Weight(s) Heavyweight
Height6 ft 3 in (191 cm) [3]
Reach78 in (198 cm) [3]
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights61
Wins by KO37
Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, (second from right) at the 1960 Olympics Boxing light-heavyweight 1960 Olympics.jpg
Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, (second from right) at the 1960 Olympics

Muhammad Ali ( /ɑːˈl/ ; [4] born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; [5] January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist. He is nicknamed "The Greatest" and is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century and as one of the greatest boxers of all time.


Ali was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky and began training as an amateur boxer at age 12. At 18, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics, and turned professional later that year. He converted to Islam after 1961, and eventually took the name Muhammad Ali. He won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in a major upset at age 22 in 1964.

Louisville, Kentucky City in Kentucky

Louisville is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the 29th most-populous city in the United States. It is one of two cities in Kentucky designated as first-class, the other being Lexington, the state's second-largest city. Louisville is the historical seat and, since 2003, the nominal seat of Jefferson County, located in the state's north and on the border with Indiana.

Light heavyweight, or junior cruiserweight, is a weight class in combat sports.

1960 Summer Olympics Games of the XVII Olympiad, celebrated in Rome in 1960

The 1960 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVII Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event that was held from August 25 to September 11, 1960, in Rome, Italy. The city of Rome had previously been awarded the administration of the 1908 Summer Olympics, but following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906, Rome had no choice but to decline and pass the honour to London.

In 1966, Ali refused to be drafted into the military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. [6] [7] He was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion, and stripped of his boxing titles. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, but he had not fought for nearly four years and lost a period of peak performance as an athlete. His actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation, [8] [9] and he was a high-profile figure of racial pride for African Americans during the civil rights movement. [6] [10]

Vietnam War 1955–1975 conflict in Vietnam

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was an undeclared war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war is considered a Cold War-era proxy war from some US perspectives. It lasted some 19 years with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, resulting in all three countries becoming communist states in 1975.

Clay v. United States, 403 U.S. 698 (1971), was Muhammad Ali's appeal of his conviction in 1967 for refusing to report for induction into the United States military forces during the Vietnam War. His local draft board had rejected his application for conscientious objector classification. In a unanimous 8-0 ruling, the United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction that had been upheld by the Fifth Circuit.

Counterculture of the 1960s Anti-establishment cultural phenomenon

The counterculture of the 1960s was an anti-establishment cultural phenomenon that developed first in the United Kingdom (UK) and then the United States (US) and then spreading throughout much of the Western world between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, with London, New York City, and San Francisco being hotbeds of early countercultural activity. The aggregate movement gained momentum as the Civil Rights Movement continued to grow, and would later become revolutionary with the expansion of the US government's extensive military intervention in Vietnam. As the 1960s progressed, widespread social tensions also developed concerning other issues, and tended to flow along generational lines regarding human sexuality, women's rights, traditional modes of authority, experimentation with psychoactive drugs, and differing interpretations of the American Dream. Many key movements related to these issues were born or advanced within the counterculture of the 1960s.

Ali was one of the leading heavyweight boxers of the 20th century, and he remains the only three-time lineal champion of that division. His records were unbeaten for 35 years of beating 21 boxers for the world heavyweight title and winning 14 unified title bouts. [note 1] Ali thrived in the spotlight at a time when most fighters let their managers do the talking, and he was often provocative and outlandish. [11] [12] [13] He was known for trash-talking, and often free-styled with rhyme schemes and spoken word poetry, anticipating elements of rap and hip hop music. [14] [15] [16]

Ali is the only boxer to be named The Ring magazine Fighter of the Year six times. He has been ranked the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time due to his involvement in several historic boxing matches and feuds, [17] and as the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC, and the third greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN SportsCentury. [18] [19]

The Ring magazine was established in 1922 and has named a Fighter of the Year since 1928, which this list covers. The award, selected by the magazine editors, is based on a boxer's performance in the ring.

Outside the ring, Ali attained success as a musician, where he received two Grammy nominations. [16] He also featured as an actor and writer, releasing two autobiographies. Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and focused on religion and charity. In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome, which some reports attribute to boxing-related injuries, [20] though he and his physician disputed this. [21] He made limited public appearances as his condition worsened, and he was cared for by his family until his death on June 3, 2016.

Parkinsonism is a clinical syndrome characterized by tremor, bradykinesia, rigidity, and postural instability. It is found in Parkinson's disease (PD)—after which it is named—dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), and Parkinson's disease dementia (PDD), and many other conditions. A wide range of causes may lead to this set of symptoms, including neurodegenerative conditions, drugs, toxins, metabolic diseases, and neurological conditions other than PD.

Early life and amateur career

Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. ( /ˈkæʃəs/ ) was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. [22] He had a sister and four brothers. [23] [24] He was named for his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. (1912–1990), who himself was named in honor of the 19th-century Republican politician and staunch abolitionist, Cassius Marcellus Clay, also from the state of Kentucky. Clay's father's paternal grandparents were John Clay and Sallie Anne Clay; Clay's sister Eva claimed that Sallie was a native of Madagascar. [25] He was a descendant of slaves of the antebellum South, and was predominantly of African descent, with smaller amounts of Irish [26] and English heritage. [27] [28] DNA testing performed in 2018 showed that, through his paternal grandmother, Ali was a descendant of the heroic former slave Archer Alexander who had been chosen from the building crew as the model of a freed man for the Emancipation Memorial , and was the subject of abolitionist William Greenleaf Eliot's book, The Story of Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom. [29] [30] Like Ali, Alexander fought for his freedom. [31]

His father was a sign and billboard painter, [22] and his mother, Odessa O'Grady Clay (1917–1994), was a domestic helper. Although Cassius Sr. was a Methodist, he allowed Odessa to bring up both Cassius Jr. and his younger brother, Rudolph "Rudy" Clay (later renamed Rahman Ali), as Baptists. [32] Cassius Jr. attended Central High School in Louisville. He was dyslexic, which led to difficulties in reading and writing, at school and for much of his life. [33] Ali grew up amid racial segregation. His mother recalled one occasion when he was denied a drink of water at a store—"They wouldn't give him one because of his color. That really affected him." [6] He was also affected by the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, which led to young Clay and a friend taking out their frustration by vandalizing a local rail yard. [34] [35]

1960 Olympians: Ali won gold against Zbigniew Pietrzykowski (1956 and 1964 bronze medalist). Zbigniew Pietrzykowski and Muhammad Ali 1960.jpg
1960 Olympians: Ali won gold against Zbigniew Pietrzykowski (1956 and 1964 bronze medalist).

Ali was first directed toward boxing by Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin, [36] who encountered the 12-year-old fuming over a thief's having taken his bicycle. He told the officer he was going to "whup" the thief. The officer told Clay he had better learn how to box first. [37] Initially, Clay did not take up Martin's offer, but after seeing amateur boxers on a local television boxing program called Tomorrow's Champions, Clay was interested in the prospect of fighting. [38] He then began to work with trainer Fred Stoner, whom he credits with giving him the "real training", eventually moulding "my style, my stamina and my system." For the last four years of Clay's amateur career he was trained by boxing cutman Chuck Bodak. [39]

Clay made his amateur boxing debut in 1954 against local amateur boxer Ronnie O'Keefe. He won by split decision. [40] He went on to win six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union national title, and the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. [41] Clay's amateur record was 100 wins with five losses. Ali said in his 1975 autobiography that shortly after his return from the Rome Olympics, he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River after he and a friend were refused service at a "whites-only" restaurant and fought with a white gang. The story was later disputed, and several of Ali's friends, including Bundini Brown and photographer Howard Bingham, denied it. Brown told Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram, "Honkies sure bought into that one!" Thomas Hauser's biography of Ali stated that Ali was refused service at the diner but that he lost his medal a year after he won it. [42] Ali received a replacement medal at a basketball intermission during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he lit the torch to start the games.

Professional boxing

Early career

On-site poster for Cassius Clay's fifth professional bout 1961 Cassius Clay vs. Donnie Fleeman On-Site Poster.jpg
On-site poster for Cassius Clay's fifth professional bout

Clay made his professional debut on October 29, 1960, winning a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker. From then until the end of 1963, Clay amassed a record of 19–0 with 15 wins by knockout. He defeated several boxers including Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, Alonzo Johnson, George Logan, Willi Besmanoff, LaMar Clark, Doug Jones and Henry Cooper. Clay also beat his former trainer and veteran boxer Archie Moore in a 1962 match. [43] [44]

These early fights were not without trials. Clay was knocked down by both Sonny Banks and Cooper. In the Cooper fight, Clay was floored by a left hook at the end of round four and was saved by the bell, going on to win in the predicted 5th round due to Cooper's severely cut eye. The fight with Doug Jones on March 13, 1963 was Clay's toughest fight during this stretch. The number two and three heavyweight contenders respectively, Clay and Jones fought on Jones' home turf at New York's Madison Square Garden. Jones staggered Clay in the first round, and the unanimous decision for Clay was greeted by boos and a rain of debris thrown into the ring. Watching on closed-circuit TV, heavyweight champ Sonny Liston quipped that if he fought Clay he might get locked up for murder. The fight was later named "Fight of the Year" by The Ring magazine. [45]

In each of these fights, Clay vocally belittled his opponents and vaunted his abilities. He called Jones "an ugly little man" and Cooper a "bum." He said he was embarrassed to get in the ring with Alex Miteff and claimed that Madison Square Garden was "too small for me." [46] His provocative and outlandish behavior in the ring was inspired by professional wrestler "Gorgeous George" Wagner. [47] Ali stated in a 1969 interview with the Associated Press' Hubert Mizel that he met with Gorgeous George in Las Vegas in 1961 and that the wrestler inspired him to use wrestling jargon when he did interviews. [48]

In 1960 Clay left Moore's camp, partially due to Clay's refusal to do chores such as washing dishes and sweeping. To replace Moore, Clay hired Angelo Dundee to be his trainer. Clay had met Dundee in February 1957 during Clay's amateur career. [49] Around this time, Clay sought longtime idol Sugar Ray Robinson to be his manager, but was rebuffed. [50]

World heavyweight champion

Fights against Liston

By late 1963, Clay had become the top contender for Sonny Liston's title. The fight was set for February 25, 1964, in Miami Beach. Liston was an intimidating personality, a dominating fighter with a criminal past and ties to the mob. Based on Clay's uninspired performance against Jones and Cooper in his previous two fights, and Liston's destruction of former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in two first-round knock outs, Clay was a 7–1 underdog. Despite this, Clay taunted Liston during the pre-fight buildup, dubbing him "the big ugly bear", stating "Liston even smells like a bear" and claiming "After I beat him I'm going to donate him to the zoo." [51] Clay turned the pre-fight weigh-in into a circus, shouting at Liston that "someone is going to die at ringside tonight." Clay's pulse rate was measured at 120, more than double his normal 54. [52] Many of those in attendance thought Clay's behavior stemmed from fear, and some commentators wondered if he would show up for the bout.

The outcome of the fight was a major upset. At the opening bell, Liston rushed at Clay, seemingly angry and looking for a quick knockout. However, Clay's superior speed and mobility enabled him to elude Liston, making the champion miss and look awkward. At the end of the first round, Clay opened up his attack and hit Liston repeatedly with jabs. Liston fought better in round two, but at the beginning of the third round Clay hit Liston with a combination that buckled his knees and opened a cut under his left eye. This was the first time Liston had ever been cut. At the end of round four, Clay was returning to his corner when he began experiencing blinding pain in his eyes and asked his trainer, Angelo Dundee, to cut off his gloves. Dundee refused. It has been speculated that the problem was due to ointment used to seal Liston's cuts, perhaps deliberately applied by his corner to his gloves. [52] Though unconfirmed, boxing historian Bert Sugar claimed that two of Liston's opponents also complained about their eyes "burning." [53] [54]

Despite Liston's attempts to knock out a blinded Clay, Clay was able to survive the fifth round until sweat and tears rinsed the irritation from his eyes. In the sixth, Clay dominated, hitting Liston repeatedly. Liston did not answer the bell for the seventh round, and Clay was declared the winner by TKO. Liston stated that the reason he quit was an injured shoulder. Following the win, a triumphant Clay rushed to the edge of the ring and, pointing to the ringside press, shouted: "Eat your words!" He added, "I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I'm the prettiest thing that ever lived." [55]

At ringside post fight, Clay appeared unconvinced that the fight was stopped due to a Liston shoulder injury, saying that the only injury Liston had was "an open eye, a big cut eye!" When told by Joe Louis that the injury was a "left arm thrown out of its socket," Clay quipped, "Yeah, swinging at nothing, who wouldn't!" [56]

In winning this fight at the age of 22, Clay became the youngest boxer to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion. However, Floyd Patterson remained the youngest to win the heavyweight championship, doing so at the age 21 during an elimination bout following Rocky Marciano's retirement. Mike Tyson broke both records in 1986 when he defeated Trevor Berbick to win the heavyweight title at age 20.

Soon after the Liston fight, Clay changed his name to Cassius X, and then later to Muhammad Ali upon converting to Islam and affiliating with the Nation of Islam. Ali then faced a rematch with Liston scheduled for May 1965 in Lewiston, Maine. It had been scheduled for Boston the previous November, but was postponed for six months due to Ali's emergency surgery for a hernia three days before. [57] The fight was controversial. Midway through the first round, Liston was knocked down by a difficult-to-see blow the press dubbed a "phantom punch." Referee Jersey Joe Walcott did not begin the count immediately after the knockdown, as Ali refused to retreat to a neutral corner. Liston rose after he had been down for about 20 seconds, and the fight momentarily continued. However a few seconds later Walcott, having been informed by the timekeepers that Liston had been down for a count of 10, stopped the match and declared Ali the winner by knockout. [58] The entire fight lasted less than two minutes. [59]

It has since been speculated that Liston purposely dropped to the ground. Proposed motivations include threats on his life from the Nation of Islam, that he had bet against himself and that he "took a dive" to pay off debts. Slow-motion replays show that Liston was jarred by a chopping right from Ali, although it is unclear whether the blow was a genuine knockout punch. [60]

Fight against Patterson

Ali defended his title against former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson on November 22, 1965. Before the match, Ali mocked Patterson, who was widely known to call him by his former name Cassius Clay, as an "Uncle Tom", calling him "The Rabbit". Although Ali clearly had the better of Patterson, who appeared injured during the fight, the match lasted 12 rounds before being called on a technical knockout. Patterson later said he had strained his sacroiliac. Ali was criticized in the sports media for appearing to have toyed with Patterson during the fight. [61] Patterson biographer W.K. Stratton claims that the conflict between Ali and Patterson was not genuine but was staged to increase ticket sales and the closed-circuit viewing audience, with both men complicit in the theatrics. Stratton also cites an interview by Howard Cosell in which Ali explained that rather than toying with Patterson, he refrained from knocking him out after it became apparent Patterson was injured. Patterson himself later said that he'd never been hit by punches as soft as Ali's. Stratton states that Ali arranged the second fight, in 1972, with the financially struggling Patterson to help the former champion earn enough money to pay a debt to the IRS. [62]

Main Bout

After the Patterson fight, Ali founded his own promotion company, Main Bout. The company mainly handled Ali's boxing promotions and pay-per-view closed-circuit television broadcasts. The company's stockholders were mainly fellow Nation of Islam members, along with several others, including Bob Arum. [63]

Ali in 1966 Muhammad Ali 1966.jpg
Ali in 1966

Ali and then-WBA heavyweight champion boxer Ernie Terrell had agreed to meet for a bout in Chicago on March 29, 1966 (the WBA, one of two boxing associations, had stripped Ali of his title following his joining the Nation of Islam). But in February Ali was reclassified by the Louisville draft board as 1-A from 1-Y, and he indicated that he would refuse to serve, commenting to the press, "I ain't got nothing against no Viet Cong; no Viet Cong never called me nigger." [64] Amidst the media and public outcry over Ali's stance, the Illinois Athletic Commission refused to sanction the fight, citing technicalities. [65]

Instead, Ali traveled to Canada and Europe and won championship bouts against George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London and Karl Mildenberger.

Ali returned to the United States to fight Cleveland Williams in the Houston Astrodome on November 14, 1966. The bout drew a record-breaking indoor crowd of 35,460 people. Williams had once been considered among the hardest punchers in the heavyweight division, but in 1964 he had been shot at point-blank range by a Texas policeman, resulting in the loss of one kidney and 10 feet (3.0 m) of his small intestine. Ali dominated Williams, winning a third-round technical knockout in what some consider the finest performance of his career.

Ali fought Terrell in Houston on February 6, 1967. Terrell, who was unbeaten in five years and had defeated many of the boxers Ali had faced, was billed as Ali's toughest opponent since Liston; he was big, strong and had a three-inch reach advantage over Ali. During the lead up to the bout, Terrell repeatedly called Ali "Clay", much to Ali's annoyance. The two almost came to blows over the name issue in a pre-fight interview with Howard Cosell. Ali seemed intent on humiliating Terrell. "I want to torture him", he said. "A clean knockout is too good for him." [66] The fight was close until the seventh round, when Ali bloodied Terrell and almost knocked him out. In the eighth round, Ali taunted Terrell, hitting him with jabs and shouting between punches, "What's my name, Uncle Tom ... what's my name?" Ali won a unanimous 15-round decision. Terrell claimed that early in the fight Ali deliberately thumbed him in the eye, forcing him to fight half-blind, and then, in a clinch, rubbed the wounded eye against the ropes. Because of Ali's apparent intent to prolong the fight to inflict maximum punishment, critics described the bout as "one of the ugliest boxing fights." Tex Maule later wrote: "It was a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a barbarous display of cruelty." Ali denied the accusations of cruelty but, for Ali's critics, the fight provided more evidence of his arrogance.

After Ali's title defense against Zora Folley on March 22, he was stripped of his title due to his refusal to be drafted to army service. [22] His boxing license was also suspended by the state of New York. He was convicted of draft evasion on June 20 and sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He paid a bond and remained free while the verdict was being appealed.

Exile and comeback

In March 1966, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces. He was systematically denied a boxing license in every state and stripped of his passport. As a result, he did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970—from ages 25 to almost 29—as his case worked its way through the appeals process before his conviction was overturned in 1971. During this time of inactivity, as opposition to the Vietnam War began to grow and Ali's stance gained sympathy, he spoke at colleges across the nation, criticizing the Vietnam War and advocating African-American pride and racial justice.

The Super Fight

While banned from sanctioned bouts, Ali settled a $1 million lawsuit against radio producer Murray Woroner by accepting $10,000 to appear in a privately staged fantasy fight against retired champion Rocky Marciano. [67] In 1969 the boxers were filmed sparring for about 75 one-minute rounds; they acted out several different endings. [68] A computer program purportedly determined the winner, based on data about the fighters. Edited versions of the bout were shown in movie theaters in 1970. In the U.S. version Ali lost in a simulated 13th-round knockout, but in the European version Marciano lost due to cuts, also simulated. [69]

Ali suggested that prejudice determined his defeat in the U.S. version. He was reported to jokingly say, "That computer was made in Alabama." [67]

Return to prizefighting

On August 11, 1970, with his case still in appeal, Ali was granted a license to box by the City of Atlanta Athletic Commission, thanks to State Senator Leroy R. Johnson. [70] Ali's first return bout was against Jerry Quarry on October 26, resulting in a win after three rounds after Quarry was cut.

A month earlier, a victory in federal court forced the New York State Boxing Commission to reinstate Ali's license. [71] He fought Oscar Bonavena at Madison Square Garden in December, an uninspired performance that ended in a dramatic technical knockout of Bonavena in the 15th round. The win left Ali as a top contender against heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.

First fight against Joe Frazier

Ali and Frazier's first fight, held at the Garden on March 8, 1971, was nicknamed the "Fight of the Century", due to the tremendous excitement surrounding a bout between two undefeated fighters, each with a legitimate claim as heavyweight champions. Veteran boxing writer John Condon called it "the greatest event I've ever worked on in my life." The bout was broadcast to 35 foreign countries; promoters granted 760 press passes. [42]

Adding to the atmosphere were the considerable pre-fight theatrics and name calling. Ali portrayed Frazier as a "dumb tool of the white establishment." "Frazier is too ugly to be champ", Ali said. "Frazier is too dumb to be champ." Ali also frequently called Frazier an "Uncle Tom". Dave Wolf, who worked in Frazier's camp, recalled that, "Ali was saying 'the only people rooting for Joe Frazier are white people in suits, Alabama sheriffs, and members of the Ku Klux Klan. I'm fighting for the little man in the ghetto.' Joe was sitting there, smashing his fist into the palm of his hand, saying, 'What the fuck does he know about the ghetto?'" [42]

Ali began training at a farm near Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1971 and, finding the country setting to his liking, sought to develop a real training camp in the countryside. He found a five-acre site on a Pennsylvania country road in the village of Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. On this site, Ali carved out what was to become his training camp, where he trained for all his fights from 1972 to the end of his career in 1981.

The Monday night fight lived up to its billing. In a preview of their two other fights, a crouching, bobbing and weaving Frazier constantly pressured Ali, getting hit regularly by Ali jabs and combinations, but relentlessly attacking and scoring repeatedly, especially to Ali's body. The fight was even in the early rounds, but Ali was taking more punishment than ever in his career. On several occasions in the early rounds he played to the crowd and shook his head "no" after he was hit. In the later rounds—in what was the first appearance of the "rope-a-dope strategy"—Ali leaned against the ropes and absorbed punishment from Frazier, hoping to tire him. In the 11th round, Frazier connected with a left hook that wobbled Ali, but because it appeared that Ali might be clowning as he staggered backwards across the ring, Frazier hesitated to press his advantage, fearing an Ali counter-attack. In the final round, Frazier knocked Ali down with a vicious left hook, which referee Arthur Mercante said was as hard as a man can be hit. Ali was back on his feet in three seconds. [42] Nevertheless, Ali lost by unanimous decision, his first professional defeat.

Chamberlain challenge and Ellis fight

In 1971, basketball star Wilt Chamberlain challenged Ali to a fight, and a bout was scheduled for July 26. Although the seven-foot-two-inch tall Chamberlain had formidable physical advantages over Ali— weighing 60 pounds more and able to reach 14 inches further —Ali was able to influence Chamberlain into calling off the bout by taunting him with calls of "Timber!" and "The tree will fall" during a shared interview. These statements of confidence unsettled his taller opponent, whom Los Angeles Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had offered a record-setting contract, conditional on Chamberlain agreeing to abandon what Cooke termed "this boxing foolishness," [72] and he did exactly that. [73] To replace Ali's opponent, promoter Bob Arum quickly booked a former sparring partner of Ali's, Jimmy Ellis, who was a childhood friend from Louisville, Kentucky, to fight him.

Fights against Quarry, Patterson, Foster and Norton

After the loss to Frazier, Ali fought Jerry Quarry, had a second bout with Floyd Patterson and faced Bob Foster in 1972, winning a total of six fights that year. In 1973, Ken Norton broke Ali's jaw while giving him the second loss of his career. After initially considering retirement, Ali won a controversial decision against Norton in their second bout. This led to a rematch with Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 1974; Frazier had recently lost his title to George Foreman.

Second fight against Joe Frazier

Ali was strong in the early rounds of the fight, and staggered Frazier in the second round. Referee Tony Perez mistakenly thought he heard the bell ending the round and stepped between the two fighters as Ali was pressing his attack, giving Frazier time to recover. However, Frazier came on in the middle rounds, snapping Ali's head in round seven and driving him to the ropes at the end of round eight. The last four rounds saw round-to-round shifts in momentum between the two fighters. Throughout most of the bout, however, Ali was able to circle away from Frazier's dangerous left hook and to tie Frazier up when he was cornered, the latter a tactic that Frazier's camp complained of bitterly. Judges awarded Ali a unanimous decision.

World heavyweight champion (second reign)

The Rumble in the Jungle

The defeat of Frazier set the stage for a title fight against heavyweight champion George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974—a bout nicknamed The Rumble in the Jungle . Foreman was considered one of the hardest punchers in heavyweight history. In assessing the fight, analysts pointed out that Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, who had given Ali four tough battles and won two of them, had both been devastated by Foreman in second-round knockouts. Ali was 32 years old, and had clearly lost speed and reflexes since his twenties. Contrary to his later persona, Foreman was at the time a brooding and intimidating presence. Almost no-one associated with the sport, not even Ali's long-time supporter Howard Cosell, gave the former champion a chance of winning.

Ali in 1974

As usual, Ali was confident and colorful before the fight. He told interviewer David Frost, "If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait 'til I whup Foreman's behind!" [74] He told the press, "I've done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I'm so mean I make medicine sick." [75] Ali was wildly popular in Zaire, with crowds chanting "Ali, bomaye" ("Ali, kill him") wherever he went.

Ali opened the fight moving and scoring with right crosses to Foreman's head. Then, beginning in the second round, and to the consternation of his corner, Ali retreated to the ropes and invited Foreman to hit him while covering up, clinching and counter-punching, all while verbally taunting Foreman. The move, which would later become known as the "Rope-a-dope", so violated conventional boxing wisdom—letting one of the hardest hitters in boxing strike at will—that at ringside writer George Plimpton thought the fight had to be fixed. [42] Foreman, increasingly angered, threw punches that were deflected and did not land squarely. Midway through the fight, as Foreman began tiring, Ali countered more frequently and effectively with punches and flurries, which electrified the pro-Ali crowd. In the eighth round, Ali dropped an exhausted Foreman with a combination at center ring; Foreman failed to make the count. Against the odds, and amidst pandemonium in the ring, Ali had regained the title by knockout. Reflecting on the fight, George Foreman later said: "I thought Ali was just one more knockout victim until, about the seventh round, I hit him hard to the jaw and he held me and whispered in my ear: 'That all you got, George?' I realized that this ain't what I thought it was." [76]

President Jimmy Carter greets Ali at a White House dinner, 1977 Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Carter.jpg
President Jimmy Carter greets Ali at a White House dinner, 1977

Fights against Wepner, Lyle and Bugner

Ali's next opponents included Chuck Wepner, Ron Lyle, and Joe Bugner. Wepner, a journeyman known as "The Bayonne Bleeder", stunned Ali with a knockdown in the ninth round; Ali would later say he tripped on Wepner's foot. It was a bout that would inspire Sylvester Stallone to create the acclaimed film, Rocky . [77]

Third fight against Joe Frazier

Ali then agreed to a third match with Joe Frazier in Manila. The bout, known as the "Thrilla in Manila", was held on October 1, 1975, [22] in temperatures approaching 100 °F (38 °C). In the first rounds, Ali was aggressive, moving and exchanging blows with Frazier. However, Ali soon appeared to tire and adopted the "rope-a-dope" strategy, frequently resorting to clinches. During this part of the bout Ali did some effective counter-punching, but for the most part absorbed punishment from a relentlessly attacking Frazier. In the 12th round, Frazier began to tire, and Ali scored several sharp blows that closed Frazier's left eye and opened a cut over his right eye. With Frazier's vision now diminished, Ali dominated the 13th and 14th rounds, at times conducting what boxing historian Mike Silver called "target practice" on Frazier's head. The fight was stopped when Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, refused to allow Frazier to answer the bell for the 15th and final round, despite Frazier's protests. Frazier's eyes were both swollen shut. Ali, in his corner, winner by TKO, slumped on his stool, clearly spent.

An ailing Ali said afterwards that the fight "was the closest thing to dying that I know", and, when later asked if he had viewed the fight on videotape, reportedly said, "Why would I want to go back and see Hell?" After the fight he cited Frazier as "the greatest fighter of all times next to me."

Later career

Ali being interviewed by WBAL-TV's Curt Anderson, 1978, Baltimore, Maryland Anderson ali.jpg
Ali being interviewed by WBAL-TV's Curt Anderson, 1978, Baltimore, Maryland

Following the Manila bout, Ali fought Jean-Pierre Coopman, Jimmy Young, and Richard Dunn, winning the last by knockout.

On June 1, 1976, Ali removed his shirt and jacket and confronted professional wrestler Gorilla Monsoon in the ring after his match at a World Wide Wrestling Federation show in Philadelphia Arena. After dodging a few punches, Monsoon put Ali in an airplane spin and dumped him to the mat. Ali stumbled to the corner, where his associate Butch Lewis convinced him to walk away. [78]

On June 26, 1976, Ali participated in an exhibition bout in Tokyo against Japanese professional wrestler and martial artist Antonio Inoki. [79] Ali was only able to land two jabs while Inoki's kicks caused two blood clots and an infection that almost resulted in Ali's leg being amputated. [79] [80] The match was not scripted and ultimately declared a draw. [79] After Ali's death, The New York Times declared it his least memorable fight. [80] Most boxing commentators at the time viewed the fight negatively and hoped it would be forgotten as some considered it a "15-round farce." [81] Today it is considered by some to be one of Ali's most influential fights and CBS Sports said the attention the mixed-style bout received "foretold the arrival of standardized MMA years later." [81] [82]

Ali fought Ken Norton for the third time in September 1976. The bout, which was held at Yankee Stadium, resulted in Ali winning a heavily contested decision that was loudly booed by the audience. Afterwards, he announced he was retiring from boxing to practice his faith, having converted to Sunni Islam after falling out with the Nation of Islam the previous year. [83]

After returning to beat Alfredo Evangelista in May 1977, Ali struggled in his next fight against Earnie Shavers that September, getting pummeled a few times by punches to the head. Ali won the fight by another unanimous decision, but the bout caused his longtime doctor Ferdie Pacheco to quit after he was rebuffed for telling Ali he should retire. Pacheco was quoted as saying, "the New York State Athletic Commission gave me a report that showed Ali's kidneys were falling apart. I wrote to Angelo Dundee, Ali's trainer, his wife and Ali himself. I got nothing back in response. That's when I decided enough is enough." [42]

In February 1978, Ali faced Leon Spinks at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. At the time, Spinks had only seven professional fights to his credit, and had recently fought a draw with journeyman Scott LeDoux. Ali sparred less than two dozen rounds in preparation for the fight, and was seriously out of shape by the opening bell. He lost the title by split decision. A rematch occurred in September at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. 70,000 people attended the bout and paid a total of $6 million admission, making it the largest live gate in boxing history at that time. [84] Ali won a unanimous decision in an uninspiring fight, with referee Lucien Joubert scoring rounds 10-4, judge Ernie Cojoe 10-4, and judge Herman Preis 11-4. This made Ali the first heavyweight champion to win the belt three times. [85] [86]

Following this win, on July 27, 1979, Ali announced his retirement from boxing. His retirement was short-lived, however; Ali announced his comeback to face Larry Holmes for the WBC belt in an attempt to win the heavyweight championship an unprecedented fourth time. The fight was largely motivated by Ali's need for money. Boxing writer Richie Giachetti said, "Larry didn't want to fight Ali. He knew Ali had nothing left; he knew it would be a horror."

It was around this time that Ali started struggling with vocal stutters and trembling hands. [87] The Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) ordered that he undergo a complete physical in Las Vegas before being allowed to fight again. Ali chose instead to check into the Mayo Clinic, who declared him fit to fight. Their opinion was accepted by the NAC on July 31, 1980, paving the way for Ali's return to the ring. [88]

The fight took place on October 2, 1980, in Las Vegas Valley, with Holmes easily dominating Ali, who was weakened from thyroid medication he had taken to lose weight. Giachetti called the fight "awful ... the worst sports event I ever had to cover." Actor Sylvester Stallone was at ringside and said that it was like watching an autopsy on a man who is still alive. [42] In the eleventh round, Angelo Dundee told the referee to stop the fight, making it the only time that Ali ever lost by stoppage. The Holmes fight is said to have contributed to Ali's Parkinson's syndrome. [89] Despite pleas to definitively retire, Ali fought one last time on December 11, 1981, in Nassau, Bahamas, against Trevor Berbick, losing a ten-round decision. [90] [91] [92]

By the end of his boxing career Ali had absorbed 200,000 hits. [93]

Personal life

Marriages and children

Children of Muhammad Ali
  • With Belinda Boyd
    • Maryum (born 1968)
    • Jamillah (born 1970)
    • Rasheda (born 1970)
    • Muhammad, Jr. (born 1972)
  • With Patricia Harvell
    • Miya (born 1972)
  • With Wanda Bolton
    • Khaliah (born 1974)
  • With Veronica Porché
    • Hana (born 1976)
    • Laila (born 1977)
  • With Yolanda Williams
    • Asaad (adopted 1986)

Ali was married four times and had seven daughters and two sons. Ali was introduced to cocktail waitress Sonji Roi by Herbert Muhammad and asked her to marry him after their first date. They were wed approximately one month later on August 14, 1964. [94] They quarrelled over Sonji's refusal to adhere to strict Islamic dress and behavior codes, and her questioning of Elijah Muhammad's teachings. According to Ali, "She wouldn't do what she was supposed to do. She wore lipstick; she went into bars; she dressed in clothes that were revealing and didn't look right." [95] The marriage was childless and they divorced on January 10, 1966. Just before the divorce was finalized, Ali sent Sonji a note: "You traded heaven for hell, baby." [96]

On August 17, 1967, Ali married Belinda Boyd. After the wedding, she, like Ali, converted to Islam. She changed her name to Khalilah Ali, though she was still called Belinda by old friends and family. They had four children: Maryum "May May" (born 1968), twins Jamillah and Rasheda (born 1970; Rasheda married Robert Walsh and has a son Biaggio Ali, born in 1998), and Muhammad Ali Jr. (born 1972). [97] Maryum has a career as an author and rapper. [98]

Ali was a resident of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in the early 1970s. [99] At age 32 in 1974, Ali began an illicit extramarital relationship with 16-year-old Wanda Bolton (who subsequently changed her name to Aaisha Ali) with whom he fathered another daughter, Khaliah (born 1974). While still married to Belinda, Ali married Aaisha in an Islamic ceremony that was not legally recognized. According to Khaliah, she and her mother lived at Ali's Deer Lake training camp alongside Belinda and her children. [100] In January 1985 Aaisha sued Ali for unpaid palimony. The case was settled when Ali agreed to set up a $200,000 trust fund for Khaliah. [101] In 2001 Khaliah was quoted as saying she believed her father viewed her as "a mistake." [100] He had another daughter, Miya (born 1972), from an extramarital relationship with Patricia Harvell. [97] [102]

By the summer of 1977, his second marriage was over and he had married Porché. [103] At the time of their marriage, they had a baby girl, Hana, and Veronica was pregnant with their second child. Their second daughter, Laila Ali, was born in December 1977. By 1986, Ali and Porché were divorced. [103]

Lonnie and Muhammad Ali Muhammad Ali and wife Lonnie.jpg
Lonnie and Muhammad Ali

On November 19, 1986, Ali married Yolanda ("Lonnie") Williams. They had been friends since 1964 in Louisville. Together they adopted a son, Asaad Amin, when Amin was five months old. [104]

Kiiursti Mensah-Ali claims to be Ali's biological daughter with Barbara Mensah, with whom he had a 20-year relationship, [97] [105] [106] [107] [108] citing photographs and a paternity test conducted in 1988. She said he accepted responsibility and took care of her, but all contacts with him were cut off after he married his fourth wife Lonnie. Kiiursti claims to have a relationship with his other children. After his death she again made passionate appeals to be allowed to mourn at his funeral. [109] [110] [111]

In 2010, Osmon Williams came forward claiming to be Ali's biological son. [112] His mother Temica Williams (also known as Rebecca Holloway) had launched a $3 million lawsuit against Ali in 1981 for sexual assault, claiming that she had started a sexual relationship with him when she was 12, and that her son Osmon (born 1977) was fathered by Ali. [113] She further alleged that Ali had originally supported her and her son financially, but stopped doing so after four years. The case went on until 1986 and was eventually thrown out as her allegations were deemed to be barred by the statute of limitations. [114] According to Veronica, Ali admitted to the affair with Williams, but did not believe Osmon was his son. [115]

Ali then lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, with Lonnie. [116] In January 2007 it was reported that they had put their home in Berrien Springs, Michigan, which they had bought in 1975, [117] up for sale and had purchased a home in eastern Jefferson County, Kentucky for $1,875,000. [118] Lonnie converted to Islam from Catholicism in her late twenties. [119]

Ali's daughter Laila was a professional boxer from 1999 until 2007, [120] despite her father's previous opposition to women's boxing. In 1978 he said "Women are not made to be hit in the breast, and face like that ... the body's not made to be punched right here [patting his chest]. Get hit in the breast ... hard ... and all that." [121] Ali nevertheless attended a number of his daughter's fights. [122]

Ali's daughter Hana is married to UFC middleweight fighter Kevin Casey. [123]

Religion and beliefs

Affiliation with the Nation of Islam

Ali said that he first heard of the Nation of Islam when he was fighting in the Golden Gloves tournament in Chicago in 1959, and attended his first Nation of Islam meeting in 1961. He continued to attend meetings, although keeping his involvement hidden from the public. In 1962, Clay met Malcolm X, who soon became his spiritual and political mentor. [124] By the time of the first Liston fight, Nation of Islam members, including Malcolm X, were visible in his entourage. This led to a story in The Miami Herald just before the fight disclosing that Clay had joined the Nation of Islam, which nearly caused the bout to be canceled. The article quoted Cassius Clay Sr. as saying that his son had joined the Black Muslims when he was 18. [125]

Ali (seen in background) at an address by Elijah Muhammad in 1964 Elijah Muhammad and Cassius Clay NYWTS.jpg
Ali (seen in background) at an address by Elijah Muhammad in 1964

In fact, Clay was initially refused entry to the Nation of Islam (often called the Black Muslims at the time) due to his boxing career. However, after he won the championship from Liston in 1964, the Nation of Islam was more receptive and agreed to publicize his membership. [124] Shortly afterwards on March 6, Elijah Muhammad gave a radio address that Clay would be renamed Muhammad (one who is worthy of praise) Ali (most high). [126] Around that time Ali moved to the south side of Chicago and lived in a series of houses, always near the Nation of Islam's Mosque Maryam or Elijah Muhammad's residence. He stayed in Chicago for about 12 years. [127]

Only a few journalists (most notably Howard Cosell) accepted the new name at that time. Ali later announced: "Cassius Clay is my slave name." [128] Not afraid to antagonize the white establishment, Ali stated, "I am America. I am the part you won't recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me." [129] Ali's friendship with Malcolm X ended as Malcolm split with the Nation of Islam a couple of weeks after Ali joined, and Ali remained with the Nation of Islam. [130] Ali later said that turning his back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes he regretted most in his life. [131]

Malcolm X photographs Ali in February 1964, after Ali had defeated Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight champion. Ali MalcolmX 1964.jpg
Malcolm X photographs Ali in February 1964, after Ali had defeated Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight champion.

Aligning himself with the Nation of Islam, its leader Elijah Muhammad, and a narrative that labeled the white race as the perpetrator of genocide against African Americans made Ali a target of public condemnation. The Nation of Islam was widely viewed by whites and some African Americans as a black separatist "hate religion" with a propensity toward violence; Ali had few qualms about using his influential voice to speak Nation of Islam doctrine. [132] In a press conference articulating his opposition to the Vietnam War, Ali stated, "My enemy is the white people, not Viet Cong or Chinese or Japanese." [133] In relation to integration, he said: "We who follow the teachings of Elijah Muhammad don't want to be forced to integrate. Integration is wrong. We don't want to live with the white man; that's all." [134] [135]

Writer Jerry Izenberg once noted that, "the Nation became Ali's family and Elijah Muhammad became his father. But there is an irony to the fact that while the Nation branded white people as devils, Ali had more white colleagues than most African American people did at that time in America, and continued to have them throughout his career." [42]

Conversion to Sunni/Sufi Islam

In a 2004 autobiography, Ali attributed his conversion to mainstream Sunni Islam to Warith Deen Muhammad, who gained control of the Nation of Islam upon the death of Elijah Muhammad, and persuaded the Nation's followers to become adherents of Sunni Islam. [136]

Ali had gone on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1972, which inspired him in a similar manner to Malcolm X, meeting people of different colors from all over the world giving him a different outlook and greater spiritual awareness. [137] In 1977, he said that, after he retired, he would dedicate the rest of his life to getting "ready to meet God" by helping people, charitable causes, uniting people and helping to make peace. [138] He went on another Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1988. [139]

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, he stated that "Islam is a religion of peace" and "does not promote terrorism or killing people", and that he was "angry that the world sees a certain group of Islam followers who caused this destruction, but they are not real Muslims. They are racist fanatics who call themselves Muslims." In December 2015, he stated that "True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion", that "We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda", and that "political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam, and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people's views on what Islam really is." [140]

In later life, Ali developed an interest in Sufism, which he referenced in his autobiography, The Soul of a Butterfly . [131] Around 2005, Ali converted to Sufi Islam. [141] [142] [143] [144] According to Ali's daughter, Hana Yasmeen Ali, who co-authored The Soul of a Butterfly with him, Ali was attracted to Sufism after reading the books of Inayat Khan, which contain Sufi teachings. [145] [146]

Ali later moved away from Inayat Khan's teachings of Universal Sufism after traditional Sunni-Sufis criticized the movement as being contrary to the actual teachings of Sunni Islam. Muhammad Ali received guidance from Sunni-Sufi Islamic scholars such as Grand Mufti of Syria Almarhum Asy-Syaikh Ahmed Kuftaro, Hisham Kabbani, Imam Zaid Shakir, Hamza Yusuf, and Timothy J. Gianotti, who was at Ali's bedside during his last days and ensured that his funeral was in accordance with Islamic rites and rituals. [147] [148]

Beatles reunion plan

In 1976 inventor Alan Amron and businessman Joel Sacher partnered with Ali to promote The International Committee to Reunite the Beatles. [149] They asked fans worldwide to contribute a dollar each. Ali said the idea was not to use the proceeds for profit, but to establish an international agency to help poor children. "This is money to help people all over the world," he said. He added, "I love the music. I used to train to their music." He said a reunion of the Beatles "would make a lot of people happy." [150] The former Beatles were indifferent to the plan, which elicited only a tepid response from the public. [151] No reunion happened.

Vietnam War and resistance to the draft

My enemy is the white people, not Viet Cong or Chinese or Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. You won't even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs—and you want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won't even stand up for me here at home?

—Muhammad Ali to a crowd of college students during his exile [133]

Ali registered for conscription in the United States military on his 18th birthday and was listed as 1-A in 1962. [152] In 1964, he was reclassified as Class 1-Y (fit for service only in times of national emergency) after he failed the U.S. Armed Forces qualifying test because his writing and spelling skills were sub-standard, [153] due to his dyslexia. [33] (He was quoted as saying, "I said I was the greatest, not the smartest!") [152] [154] By early 1966, the army lowered its standards to permit soldiers above the 15th percentile and Ali was again classified as 1-A. [22] [152] [154] This classification meant he was now eligible for the draft and induction into the U.S. Army at a time when the U.S. was involved in the Vietnam War, a war which put him further at odds with the white establishment. [7]

When notified of this status, Ali declared that he would refuse to serve in the army and publicly considered himself a conscientious objector. [22] Ali stated: "War is against the teachings of the Qur'an. I'm not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don't take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers." He stated: "Man, I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong." [155] Ali elaborated: "Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?" [156] Ali antagonized the white establishment in 1966 by refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. [6] [7]

On April 28, 1967, Ali appeared in Houston for his scheduled induction into the U.S. Armed Forces, but he refused three times to step forward when his name was called. An officer warned him that he was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Once more, Ali refused to budge when his name was called, and he was arrested. Later that same day, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Other boxing commissions followed suit. Ali remained unable to obtain a license to box in any state for over three years. [157] [ page needed ]

At the trial on June 20, 1967, the jury found Ali guilty after only 21 minutes of deliberation of the criminal offence of violating the Selective Service laws by refusing to be drafted. [22] After a Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, the case was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. [158]

Ali remained free in the years between the Appellate Court decision and the Supreme Court ruling. As public opinion began turning people against the war and the Civil Rights Movement continued to gather momentum, Ali became a popular speaker at colleges and universities across the country; this itinerary was rare if not unprecedented for a prizefighter. At Howard University, for example, he gave his popular "Black Is Best" speech to 4,000 cheering students and community intellectuals, after he was invited to speak by sociology professor Nathan Hare on behalf of the Black Power Committee, a student protest group. [159]

On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States in Clay v. United States overturned Ali's conviction by a unanimous 8–0 decision (Justice Thurgood Marshall recused himself, as he had been the U.S. Solicitor General at the time of Ali's conviction). [160] The decision was not based on, nor did it address, the merits of Ali's claims per se; rather, the Court held that since the appeal board gave no reason for the denial of a conscientious objector exemption to Ali, and that it was therefore impossible to determine which of the three basic tests for conscientious objector status offered in the Justice Department's brief that the appeal board relied on, Ali's conviction must be reversed. [161] U.S. President Donald Trump, apparently unaware of the overturned conviction, said on June 8, 2018 that he might grant a posthumous pardon to Ali. [162]

Impact of Ali's draft refusal

Ali's example inspired countless black Americans and others. The New York Times columnist William Rhoden wrote, "Ali's actions changed my standard of what constituted an athlete's greatness. Possessing a killer jump shot or the ability to stop on a dime was no longer enough. What were you doing for the liberation of your people? What were you doing to help your country live up to the covenant of its founding principles?" [9]

Recalling Ali's anti-war position, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said: "I remember the teachers at my high school didn't like Ali because he was so anti-establishment and he kind of thumbed his nose at authority and got away with it. The fact that he was proud to be a black man and that he had so much talent  ... made some people think that he was dangerous. But for those very reasons I enjoyed him." [163]

Civil rights figures came to believe that Ali had an energizing effect on the freedom movement as a whole. Al Sharpton spoke of his bravery at a time when there was still widespread support for the Vietnam War. "For the heavyweight champion of the world, who had achieved the highest level of athletic celebrity, to put all of that on the line—the money, the ability to get endorsements—to sacrifice all of that for a cause, gave a whole sense of legitimacy to the movement and the causes with young people that nothing else could have done. Even those who were assassinated, certainly lost their lives, but they didn't voluntarily do that. He knew he was going to jail and did it anyway. That's another level of leadership and sacrifice." [164]

Ali was honored with the annual Martin Luther King Award in 1970 by civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy, who called him "a living example of soul power, the March on Washington in two fists." Coretta Scott King added that Ali was "a champion of justice and peace and unity." [165]

In speaking of the cost on Ali's career of his refusal to be drafted, his trainer Angelo Dundee said, "One thing must be taken into account when talking about Ali: He was robbed of his best years, his prime years." [166]

Bob Arum did not support Ali's choice at the time. More recently, Arum stated that "when I look back at his life, and I was blessed to call him a friend and spent a lot of time with him, it's hard for me to talk about his exploits in boxing because as great as they were they paled in comparison to the impact that he had on the world," and "He did what he thought was right. And it turned out he was right, and I was wrong." [167]

Ali's resistance to the draft was covered in the 2013 documentary The Trials of Muhammad Ali . [168]

NSA and FBI monitoring of Ali's communications

In a secret operation code-named "Minaret", the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted the communications of leading Americans, including Ali, Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., prominent U.S. journalists, and others who criticized the U.S. war in Vietnam. [169] [170] A review by the NSA of the Minaret program concluded that it was "disreputable if not outright illegal." [170]

In 1971, his Fight of the Century with Frazier provided cover for an activist group, the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, to pull off a burglary at an FBI office in Pennsylvania, which exposed the COINTELPRO operations that included illegal spying on activists involved with the civil rights and anti-war movements. One of the COINTELPRO targets was Ali, which included the FBI gaining access to his records as far back as elementary school; one such record mentioned him loving art as a child. [171]

Later years

In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome, a disease that sometimes results from head trauma from violent physical activities such as boxing. [20] [172] [173] Ali still remained active during this time, later participating as a guest referee at WrestleMania I. [174] [175]

Philanthropy, humanitarianism and politics

Ali in an art gallery during his visit to Argentina in 1971 Ali argentina 1971.jpg
Ali in an art gallery during his visit to Argentina in 1971

Ali was known for being a humanitarian [176] and philanthropist. [177] [178] He focused on practicing his Islamic duty of charity and good deeds, donating millions to charity organizations and disadvantaged people of all religious backgrounds. It is estimated that Ali helped to feed more than 22 million people afflicted by hunger across the world. [179]

Ali began visiting Africa starting in 1964, when he visited Ghana. [180] In 1974, he visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Southern Lebanon, where Ali declared "support for the Palestinian struggle to liberate their homeland." [181] [182] In 1978, following his loss to Spinks and before winning the rematch, Ali visited Bangladesh and received honorary citizenship there. [183] The same year, he participated in The Longest Walk, a protest march in the United States in support of Native American rights, along with singer Stevie Wonder and actor Marlon Brando. [184]

In 1980, Ali was recruited by President Jimmy Carter for a diplomatic mission to Africa, in an effort to persuade a number of African governments to join the US-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics (in response to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan). According to Ali biographer Thomas Hauser, "at best, it was ill-conceived; at worst, a diplomatic disaster." The Tanzanian government was insulted that Carter had sent an athlete to discuss a serious political issue. One official asked whether the United States would "send Chris Evert to negotiate with London." Consequently, Ali was only received by the youth and culture minister, rather than President Julius Nyerere. Ali was unable to explain why the African countries should join the US boycott when it had failed to support the African boycott of the 1976 Olympics (in protest at Apartheid in South Africa), and was unaware that the Soviet Union was sponsoring popular revolutionary movements in Africa. Ali conceded "They didn't tell me about that in America", and complained that Carter had sent him "around the world to take the whupping over American policies." [185] The Nigerian government also rebuffed him and confirmed that they would be participating in the Moscow games. Ali did, however, convince the government of Kenya to boycott the Olympics. [186]

On January 19, 1981, in Los Angeles, Ali talked a suicidal man down from jumping off a ninth-floor ledge, an event that made national news. [187] [188]

President Ronald Reagan clowning with Ali in the Oval Office in 1983 MuhammadAliundRonaldReagan.jpg
President Ronald Reagan clowning with Ali in the Oval Office in 1983

In 1984, Ali announced his support for the re-election of United States President Ronald Reagan. When asked to elaborate on his endorsement of Reagan, Ali told reporters, "He's keeping God in schools and that's enough." [189] In 1985, he visited Israel to request the release of Muslim prisoners at Atlit detainee camp, which Israel declined. [190]

Around 1987, the California Bicentennial Foundation for the U.S. Constitution selected Ali to personify the vitality of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Ali rode on a float at the following year's Tournament of Roses Parade, launching the U.S. Constitution's 200th birthday commemoration. [191] In 1988, during the First Intifada, Ali participated in a Chicago rally in support of Palestine. [182] The same year, he visited Sudan to raise awareness about the plight of famine victims. [192] In 1989, he participated in an Indian charity event with the Muslim Educational Society in Kozhikode, Kerala, along with Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar. [139]

In 1990, Ali traveled to Iraq prior to the Gulf War, and met with Saddam Hussein in an attempt to negotiate the release of American hostages. Ali secured the release of the hostages, in exchange for promising Hussein that he would bring America "an honest account" of Iraq. Despite rescuing hostages, he received criticism from President George H. W. Bush, diplomat Joseph C. Wilson, and The New York Times . [193] [194] [195] Ali published an oral history, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser, in 1991.

In 1994, Ali campaigned to the United States government to come to the aid of refugees afflicted by the Rwandan genocide, and to donate to organizations helping Rwandan refugees. [179] In 1996, he had the honor of lighting the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. It was watched by an estimated 3.5 billion viewers worldwide. [196]

Ali's bout with Parkinson's led to a gradual decline in his health, though he was still active into the early years of the millennium, promoting his own biopic, Ali , in 2001. That year he also contributed an on-camera segment to the America: A Tribute to Heroes benefit concert. [197]

Ali and Michael J. Fox testify before a Senate committee on providing government funding to combat Parkinson's 0522 ma big (cropped1).jpg
Ali and Michael J. Fox testify before a Senate committee on providing government funding to combat Parkinson's

In 1998, Ali began working with actor Michael J Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, to raise awareness and fund research for a cure. They made a joint appearance before Congress to push the case in 2002. In 2000, Ali worked with the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Disease to raise awareness and encourage donations for research. [198]

Ali in 2005 Ali.jpg
Ali in 2005

On November 17, 2002, Ali went to Afghanistan as the "U.N. Messenger of Peace." [199] He was in Kabul for a three-day goodwill mission as a special guest of the UN. [200]

On September 1, 2009, Ali visited Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, the home of his great-grandfather, Abe Grady, who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1860s, eventually settling in Kentucky. [201]

On July 27, 2012, Ali was a titular bearer of the Olympic flag during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He was helped to his feet by his wife Lonnie to stand before the flag due to his Parkinson's rendering him unable to carry it into the stadium. [202] The same year, he was awarded the Philadelphia Liberty Medal in recognition of his lifelong efforts in activism, philanthropy and humanitarianism. [191] [176] In 2014, Ali tweeted in support of Trayvon Martin and the Black Lives Matter movement. [203]


By 1978, Ali's total fight purse earnings were estimated to be nearly $60 million [204] (inflation-adjusted $311.6 million), including an estimated $47.45 million grossed between 1970 and 1978. [205] By 1980, his total fight purse earnings were estimated to be up to $70 million [206] (inflation-adjusted $332 million).

In 1978, Ali revealed that he was "broke" and several news outlets reported his net worth to be an estimated $3.5 million [205] (inflation-adjusted $13 million). The press attributed his decline in wealth to several factors, including taxes accounting for at least half of his income, management taking a third of his income, [205] his lifestyle, and spending on family, charity and religious causes. [206]

In 2006, Ali sold his name and image for $50 million, [207] after which Forbes estimated his net worth to be $55 million in 2006. [208] Following his death in 2016, his fortune was estimated to be between $50 million and $80 million. [209]

Illness and death

In February 2013, Ali's brother Rahman Ali said Muhammad could no longer speak and could be dead within days. [210] Ali's daughter May May Ali responded to the rumors, stating that she had talked to him on the phone the morning of February 3 and he was fine. [211]

On December 20, 2014, Ali was hospitalized for a mild case of pneumonia. [212] Ali was once again hospitalized on January 15, 2015, for a urinary tract infection after being found unresponsive at a guest house in Scottsdale, Arizona. [213] He was released the next day. [214]

Ali was hospitalized in Scottsdale on June 2, 2016, with a respiratory illness. Though his condition was initially described as "fair", it worsened, and he died the following day at age 74 from septic shock. [215] [216] [217] [218] Following Ali's death, he was the number one trending topic on Twitter for over 12 hours and on Facebook for several days. BET played their documentary Muhammad Ali: Made In Miami. ESPN played four hours of non-stop commercial-free coverage of Ali. News networks, such as ABC News, BBC, CNN, and Fox News, also covered him extensively.


Ali was mourned globally, and a family spokesman said the family "certainly believes that Muhammad was a citizen of the world ... and they know that the world grieves with him." [219] Politicians such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, David Cameron and more paid tribute to Ali. Ali also received numerous tributes from the world of sports including Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, the Miami Marlins, LeBron James, Steph Curry and more. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer stated, "Muhammad Ali belongs to the world. But he only has one hometown." [219]


External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg "Muhammad Ali Memorial Service", C-SPAN [220]

Ali's funeral had been preplanned by himself and others for several years prior to his actual death. [221] The services began in Louisville on June 9, 2016, with an Islamic Janazah prayer service at Freedom Hall on the grounds of the Kentucky Exposition Center. On June 10, 2016, the funeral procession went through the streets of Louisville and ended at Cave Hill Cemetery, where Ali was interred during a private ceremony. His grave is marked with a simple granite marker that bears only his name. A public memorial service for Ali at downtown Louisville's KFC Yum! Center was held in the afternoon of June 10. [222] [223] [224] The pallbearers included Will Smith, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, with honorary pallbearers including George Chuvalo, Larry Holmes and George Foreman. [225] Ali's memorial was watched by an estimated 1 billion viewers worldwide. [226]

Boxing style

Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves are preserved in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History. Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves.jpg
Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves are preserved in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History.

Ali had a highly unorthodox boxing style for a heavyweight, epitomized by his catchphrase "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." Never an overpowering puncher, Ali relied early in his career on his superior hand speed, superb reflexes and constant movement, dancing and circling opponents for most of the fight, holding his hands low and lashing out with a quick, cutting left jab that he threw from unpredictable angles. His footwork was so strong that it was extremely difficult for opponents to cut down the ring and corner Ali against the ropes. He was also able to quickly dodge punches with his head movement and footwork.[ citation needed ]

One of Ali's greatest tricks was to make opponents overcommit by pulling straight backward from punches. Disciplined, world-class boxers chased Ali and threw themselves off balance attempting to hit him because he seemed to be an open target, only missing and leaving themselves exposed to Ali's counter punches, usually a chopping right. [227] Slow motion replays show that this was precisely the way Sonny Liston was hit and apparently knocked out by Ali in their second fight. [228] Ali often flaunted his movement by dancing the "Ali Shuffle", a sort of center-ring jig. [229] Ali's early style was so unusual that he was initially discounted because he reminded boxing writers of a lightweight, and it was assumed he would be vulnerable to big hitters like Sonny Liston.[ citation needed ]

Jimmy Jacobs, who co-managed Mike Tyson, used a synchronizer to measure young Ali's punching speed versus Sugar Ray Robinson, a welter/middleweight who was considered pound-for-pound the best fighter in history. Ali was 25% faster than Robinson, even though Ali was 45–50 pounds heavier. [230] Ali's punches produced approximately 1,000 pounds of force. [231] "No matter what his opponents heard about him, they didn't realize how fast he was until they got in the ring with him", Jacobs said. [232] The effect of Ali's punches was cumulative.Charlie Powell, who fought Ali early in Ali's career and was knocked out in the third round, said: "When he first hit me I said to myself, 'I can take two of these to get one in myself.' But in a little while I found myself getting dizzier and dizzier every time he hit me. He throws punches so easily that you don't realize how much they hurt you until it's too late." [46]

Commenting on fighting the young Ali, George Chuvalo said: "He was just so damn fast. When he was young, he moved his legs and hands at the same time. He threw his punches when he was in motion. He'd be out of punching range, and as he moved into range he'd already begun to throw the punch. So if you waited until he got into range to punch back, he beat you every time." [42]

Floyd Patterson said, "It's very hard to hit a moving target, and (Ali) moved all the time, with such grace, three minutes of every round for fifteen rounds. He never stopped. It was extraordinary." [42]

Darrell Foster, who trained Will Smith for the movie Ali, said: "Ali's signature punches were the left jab and the overhand right. But there were at least six different ways Ali used to jab. One was a jab that Ali called the 'snake lick', like cobra striking that comes from the floor almost, really low down. Then there was Ali's rapid-fire jab—three to five jabs in succession rapidly fired at his opponents' eyes to create a blur in [the latter's] face so he wouldn't be able to see [Ali's] right hand coming behind it." [233]

In the opinion of many observers, Ali became a different fighter after the 3½-year layoff. Ferdie Pacheco, Ali's corner physician, noted that he had lost his ability to move and dance as before. [42] This forced Ali to become more stationary and exchange punches more frequently, exposing him to more punishment while indirectly revealing his tremendous ability to take a punch. This physical change led in part to the "rope-a-dope" strategy, where Ali would lie back on the ropes, cover up to protect himself and conserve energy, and tempt opponents to punch themselves out. Ali often taunted opponents in the process and lashed back with sudden, unexpected combinations. The strategy was dramatically successful in the George Foreman fight, but less so in the first Joe Frazier bout when it was introduced.[ citation needed ]

Of his later career, Arthur Mercante said: "Ali knew all the tricks. He was the best fighter I ever saw in terms of clinching. Not only did he use it to rest, but he was big and strong and knew how to lean on opponents and push and shove and pull to tire them out. Ali was so smart. Most guys are just in there fighting, but Ali had a sense of everything that was happening, almost as though he was sitting at ringside analyzing the fight while he fought it." [42]


Ali regularly taunted and baited his opponents—including Liston, Frazier, and Foreman—before the fight and often during the bout itself. He said Frazier was "too dumb to be champion", that he would whip Liston "like his Daddy did", that Terrell was an "Uncle Tom" for refusing to call Ali by his name and continuing to call him Cassius Clay, and that Patterson was a "rabbit." In speaking of how Ali stoked Liston's anger and overconfidence before their first fight, one writer commented that "the most brilliant fight strategy in boxing history was devised by a teenager who had graduated 376 in a class of 391." [230]

Ali typically portrayed himself as the "people's champion" and his opponent as a tool of the (white) establishment (despite the fact that his entourage often had more white faces than his opponents'[ citation needed ]). During the early part of his career, he built a reputation for predicting rounds in which he would finish opponents, often vowing to crawl across the ring or to leave the country if he lost the bout. [22] Ali adopted the latter practice from "Gorgeous" George Wagner, a professional wrestling champion who drew thousands of fans to his matches as "the man you love to hate." [22] When Ali was 19, Wagner, who was in town to wrestle Freddie Blassie and had crossed paths with Clay, [48] told the boxer before a bout with Duke Sabedong in Las Vegas, [48] "A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing and always be outrageous." [47]

ESPN columnist Ralph Wiley called Ali "The King of Trash Talk". [234] In 2013, The Guardian said Ali exemplified boxing's "golden age of trash-talking." [235] Bleacher Report called Clay's description of Sonny Liston smelling like a bear and his vow to donate him to a zoo after he beat him the greatest trash-talk line in sports history. [236]

Ali and his contemporaries

Ali and Frazier


In an interview published in 2002, Joe Frazier recalled that he had first met Ali around 1968. At this time Ali was continuing his legal fight to get his boxing license back, and Frazier was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Frazier stated that he had campaigned vigorously for Ali to get his license; this included going to Washington and meeting the president to lobby on Ali's behalf. Frazier also lent Ali some money at this time. [237]

According to Dave Wolf, former sports editor of Life and a member of Frazier's entourage, Frazier was keen for Ali's return to boxing, because he believed that beating Ali would win him unambiguous acknowledgement as the "best." [238] According to Wolf, Frazier was also kind to Ali during this time—agreeing to participate in staged confrontations, which enabled Ali to get publicity and earn money giving lectures. Wolf states that Frazier had deep respect for Ali's religious beliefs, and even participated in Muslim services at Ali's suggestion. Until Ali got "nasty" before their first fight, Frazier endorsed Ali's refusal to be drafted; Wolf recalls: "I remember [Frazier] telling me, 'If Baptists weren't allowed to fight, I wouldn't fight either'." [238]

Ali and Frazier knew they would become wealthy if Ali returned to the ring. [239] [240] Prior to their first fight, both had expressed a liking for each other. [241] In 1970, Ali had stated: "Me and Joe Frazier will be buddies. I just want it to go down in history that I didn't sell out or Uncle Tom when I got famous, and I don't think Joe Frazier's going to do that either. He ain't dumb." [241]


Ali and Frazier fought three fights in the span of five years; the first and third of these are widely regarded to be among the greatest of all boxing bouts, and the Ali-Frazier rivalry has been hailed as one of the greatest any sport has seen. [242] [243] Writing in Sports Illustrated , William Nack commented:

Of all the names joined forever in the annals of boxing—from Dempsey-Tunney to Louis-Schmeling, from Zale-Graziano to Leonard-Hearns—none are more fiercely bound by a hyphen than Ali-Frazier. Not Palmer-Nicklaus in golf nor Borg-McEnroe in tennis, as ardently competitive as these rivalries were, conjure up anything remotely close to the epic theater of Ali-Frazier. [243]

According to Ali, Frazier's style of boxing made him a tougher opponent for him than Liston or Foreman because he was vulnerable to Frazier's in-close left hook. Had he fought with Frazier before his three-and-half year break from boxing, when he was younger, "I'd have danced for fifteen rounds, and Joe wouldn't have ever caught me." [244] [lower-alpha 1]

After Thrilla in Manila, Frazier called Ali "a great champion", [245] and, referring to Ali, graciously stated that "[m]y man fought a good fight"; [246] while Ali declared Frazier to be "the greatest fighter of all time next to me." [247]

Trash-talk and altercations

In the buildup to their bouts, Ali called Frazier "dumb" and an "Uncle Tom" before their first, "ignorant" before the second, and a "gorilla" before the third. [248] [249] Writers Dennis and Don Atyeo have noted that given Ali's warm words for Frazier in the past, his jibes about Frazier sounded hollow. [241]

On January 23, 1974, five days before their second fight, Ali and Frazier had a public altercation captured on television. ABC Sports' Howard Cosell had arranged for the two to come to the studio to comment on their first fight. Things went smoothly until Frazier commented about Ali having to visit a hospital after the fight. Ali immediately responded by claiming he had gone to a hospital for ten minutes whereas Frazier had been hospitalized for three weeks after the fight, [lower-alpha 2] and concluded by calling Frazier "ignorant." [251] [252] Frazier then snapped; removing his studio earplug, Frazier reached across to Ali, protesting the use of the word "ignorant." [250] [251] Soon the two were wrestling on the floor, until they were separated by onlookers. [251] [253] [lower-alpha 3]

According to veteran boxing commentator Ronnie Nathanielsz, during the buildup to Thrilla in Manilla, Ali once awakened Frazier in the middle of the night by constantly screaming. When Frazier appeared on the balcony of his hotel room, Ali pointed a toy gun at him and shouted: "I am going to shoot you." [246]

Immediately after Thrilla in Manilla, Ali summoned Frazier's son Marvis to his dressing room and apologized for the things he had said about Frazier. [255] [lower-alpha 4] When Marvis conveyed Ali's contrition to his father, Frazier commented that Ali should have communicated this to him directly. [255] After returning to the United States, Ali called boxing promoter and manager Butch Lewis, and asked for Frazier's private number, saying he wanted to apologize to Frazier. However when Lewis conveyed this request to Frazier, he was told not to share the phone number with Ali. [243]


In 1988, Ali and Frazier joined George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Ken Norton in Las Vegas for the making of the film Champions Forever. At a local gym, Frazier came across Ali before a crowd of spectators, and said: "Look at Ali. Look what's happened to him. All your talkin', man. I'm faster than you are now. You're damaged goods." [243] Ali, already afflicted with Parkinson's, insisted that he remained faster than Frazier and pointing to a heavy bag suggested the two compete to see which of them could hit the bag the fastest. Frazier immediately took off his coat, moved to the bag and threw a dozen rapid punches at it accompanied by loud grunts. Without removing his coat, Ali strolled towards the bag, held the ready stance, mimicked one of Frazier's grunts without throwing a punch, and then addressed Frazier with the words "Wanna see it again, Joe?" Everyone laughed, except Frazier. [243]

Later that day, Frazier started walking towards Ali after having had too much to drink. Ali biographer Thomas Hauser, who was present, recalled that for the next 10 minutes Larry Holmes positioned himself between Ali and Frazier, preventing Frazier from reaching Ali. George Foreman then took over and acted as Ali's shield for the next 10 minutes. Throughout this incident, Ali remained oblivious to what was going on. [243]

In his 1996 autobiography Smokin' Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World, in which he always refers to Ali as Cassius Clay, [256] Frazier wrote:

Truth is, I'd like to rumble with that sucker [Ali] again—beat him up piece by piece and mail him back to Jesus. ... Now people ask me if I feel bad for him, now that things aren't going so well for him. Nope. I don't. Fact is, I don't give a damn. They want me to love him, but I'll open up the graveyard and bury his ass when the Lord chooses to take him. [243] [257]

Commenting on Ali lighting the Olympic flame in 1996, Frazier stated that it would have been good if Ali had fallen into the cauldron after lighting the flame, and that he would have pushed Ali in himself if he had the chance to do so. [243] [258] [259] In a press conference held on July 30, 1996, Frazier accused Ali of being a "draft dodger" and a racist, [lower-alpha 5] and claimed he would have been a better choice to light the Olympic flame. [243] Also in 1996, Frazier claimed Ali was suffering from "Joe Frazier-itis" and "left-hook-itis." [243]

In a 1997 interview, Frazier expressed no regret for the words he had used for Ali at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. According to Frazier:

We weren't animals. We were human beings. He called me a gorilla. An Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom? I grew up so poor and so black in South Carolina, even the water we drank was colored. The only guy I 'tommed' for was him, giving in to him. God gave him so many gifts. Fast. Pretty. Smart. Strong. He didn't have to do what he did. [259]

In a 2001 interview with The New York Times, Ali again apologized to Frazier for calling him names which, Ali claimed, was done to promote their fights. Frazier initially accepted the apology saying it was time to put this issue behind them. [260] However, subsequently Frazier commented that Ali should apologize directly to him instead of apologizing through a newspaper. Reacting to this, Ali stated: "If you see Frazier, you tell him he's still a gorilla." [261]

In his interview in Stephen Brunt's 2002 book Facing Ali, Frazier, referring to how he had contributed to Ali's infirmity, claimed he was sure Ali thinks of him whenever he gets out of bed, and that whatever Ali was undergoing was the will of God. [262] [lower-alpha 6]

In a 2008 interview, Frazier stated he had forgiven Ali, but was unable to comment on whether Ali's present condition was due to divine punishment, as he had earlier stated, since "God works in a mysterious way." [263]

In 2011, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Ali, and the year of his death, Frazier reiterated that he had forgiven Ali. [259] [lower-alpha 7] Frazier's funeral service was attended by Ali who reportedly stood and clapped vigorously when the Rev. Jesse Jackson asked the mourners to stand and bring their hands together one last time for Frazier. [264]

Entertainment career


Ali had a cameo role in the 1962 film version of Requiem for a Heavyweight , and during his exile from boxing, he starred in the short-lived 1969 Broadway musical, Buck White. He also appeared in the documentary film Black Rodeo (1972) riding both a horse and a bull.

His autobiography The Greatest: My Own Story , written with Richard Durham, was published in 1975. [265] In 1977 the book was adapted into a film called The Greatest , in which Ali played himself and Ernest Borgnine played Angelo Dundee.

The film Freedom Road , made in 1978, features Ali in a rare acting role as Gideon Jackson, a former slave and Union (American Civil War) soldier in 1870s Virginia, who gets elected to the U.S. Senate and battles other former slaves and white sharecroppers to keep the land they have tended all their lives.

Spoken word poetry and rap music

Ali often used rhyme schemes and spoken word poetry, both for when he was trash-talking in boxing and as political poetry for his activism outside of boxing. He played a role in the shaping of the black poetic tradition, paving the way for The Last Poets in 1968, Gil Scott-Heron in 1970, and the emergence of rap music in the 1970s. [14] According to The Guardian , "Some have argued that" Ali was "the first rapper." [266]

In 1963, Ali released an album of spoken word music on Columbia Records titled, I Am the Greatest , and in 1964, he recorded a cover version of the rhythm and blues song "Stand by Me". [267] [268] I Am the Greatest sold 500,000 copies, and has been identified as an early example of rap music and a precursor to hip hop. [269] [270] It reached number 61 on the album chart and was nominated for a Grammy Award. He later received a second Grammy nomination, for "Best Recording for Children", with his 1976 spoken word novelty record, The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay . [16]

Ali was an influential figure in the world of hip hop music. As a "rhyming trickster", he was noted for his "funky delivery", "boasts", "comical trash-talk", and "endless quotables." [15] According to Rolling Stone , his "freestyle skills" and his "rhymes, flow, and braggadocio" would "one day become typical of old school MCs" like Run–D.M.C. and LL Cool J, and his "outsized ego foreshadowed the vainglorious excesses of Kanye West, while his Afrocentric consciousness and cutting honesty pointed forward to modern bards like Rakim, Nas, Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar." [16] Ali has been cited as an inspiration by rappers such as LL Cool J, [15] Public Enemy's Chuck D, [271] Jay-Z, Eminem, Sean Combs, Slick Rick, Nas and MC Lyte. [272] Ali has been referenced in a number of hip hop songs, including The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight", the Fugees' "Ready or Not", EPMD's "You're a Customer" and Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy wit It". [272]


As Mrs. Lonnie Ali looks on, President George W. Bush embraces Muhammad Ali after presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 9, 2005, during ceremonies at the White House. Muhammad Ali and President Bush.jpg
As Mrs. Lonnie Ali looks on, President George W. Bush embraces Muhammad Ali after presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 9, 2005, during ceremonies at the White House.

Muhammad Ali defeated every top heavyweight in his era, which has been called the golden age of heavyweight boxing. Ali was named "Fighter of the Year" by The Ring magazine more times than any other fighter, and was involved in more Ring "Fight of the Year" bouts than any other fighter. He was an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and held wins over seven other Hall of Fame inductees. He was one of only three boxers to be named "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated.

In 1978, three years before Ali's permanent retirement, the Louisville Board of Aldermen in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, voted 6–5 to rename Walnut Street to Muhammad Ali Boulevard. This was controversial at the time, as within a week 12 of the 70 street signs were stolen. Earlier that year, a committee of the Jefferson County Public Schools (Kentucky) considered renaming Ali's alma mater, Central High School, in his honor, but the motion failed to pass. In time, Muhammad Ali Boulevard—and Ali himself—came to be well accepted in his hometown. [273]

In 1993, the Associated Press reported that Ali was tied with Babe Ruth as the most recognized athlete, out of over 800 dead or living athletes, in America. The study found that over 97% of Americans over 12 years of age identified both Ali and Ruth. [274] He was the recipient of the 1997 Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

In 1999, Time magazine named Ali one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. [275] He was crowned Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated . [276] Named Sports Personality of the Century in a BBC poll, he received more votes than the other contenders (which included Pelé, Jesse Owens and Jack Nicklaus) combined. [277] On September 13, 1999, Ali was named "Kentucky Athlete of the Century" by the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in ceremonies at the Galt House East. [278]

On January 8, 2001, Muhammad Ali was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton. [279] In November 2005, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, [280] [281] followed by the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold of the UN Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin for his work with the civil rights movement and the United Nations, which he received on December 17, 2005. [282]

The Muhammad Ali Center, alongside Interstate 64 on Louisville, Kentucky's riverfront AliCenter.jpg
The Muhammad Ali Center, alongside Interstate 64 on Louisville, Kentucky's riverfront

On November 19, 2005 (Ali's 19th wedding anniversary), the $60 million non-profit Muhammad Ali Center opened in downtown Louisville. In addition to displaying his boxing memorabilia, the center focuses on core themes of peace, social responsibility, respect, and personal growth. On June 5, 2007, he received an honorary doctorate of humanities at Princeton University's 260th graduation ceremony. [283]

Ali Mall, located in Araneta Center, Quezon City, Philippines, is named after him. Construction of the mall, the first of its kind in the Philippines, began shortly after Ali's victory in a match with Joe Frazier in nearby Araneta Coliseum in 1975. The mall opened in 1976 with Ali attending its opening. [284]

The 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki fight played an important role in the history of mixed martial arts. [285] In Japan, the match inspired Inoki's students Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki to found Pancrase in 1993, which in turn inspired the foundation of Pride Fighting Championships in 1997. Pride was acquired by its rival, Ultimate Fighting Championship, in 2007. [286] [287]

The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act was introduced in 1999 and passed in 2000, to protect the rights and welfare of boxers in the United States. In May 2016, a bill was introduced to United States Congress by Markwayne Mullin, a politician and former MMA fighter, to extend the Ali Act to mixed martial arts. [288] In June 2016, US senator Rand Paul proposed an amendment to the US draft laws named after Ali, a proposal to eliminate the Selective Service System. [289]

In 2015, Sports Illustrated renamed its Sportsman Legacy Award to the Sports Illustrated's Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. The annual award was originally created in 2008 and honors former "sports figures who embody the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy as vehicles for changing the world." Ali first appeared on the magazine's cover in 1963 and went on to be featured on numerous covers during his storied career. [290]

Ranking in boxing history

Ali is regarded by boxing commentators and historians as one of the greatest fighters of all time. Ring Magazine , a prominent boxing magazine, named him number 1 in a 1998 ranking of greatest heavyweights from all eras. [18] In 1999, The Associated Press voted Ali the No. 1 heavyweight of the 20th century. [19] In 1999, Ali was named the second greatest pound for pound fighter in boxing history by ESPN, behind only welterweight and middleweight great Sugar Ray Robinson. [291] In December 2007, ESPN listed Ali second in its choice of the greatest heavyweights of all time, behind Joe Louis. [292]

Awards and accolades

As a world champion boxer, social activist, and pop culture icon, Ali was the subject of numerous creative works including books, films, music, video games, TV shows, and other. Muhammad Ali was often dubbed the world's "most famous" person in the media. [296] [297] [298] Several of his fights were watched by an estimated 12 billion viewers between 1974 and 1980, and his lighting of the torch at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was watched by an estimated 3.5 billion viewers. [196]

Muhammad Ali pop art painting by John Stango StangoAli.jpg
Muhammad Ali pop art painting by John Stango

Ali appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated on 37 different occasions, second only to Michael Jordan. [299] [ needs update? ] He also appeared on the cover of Time Magazine 5 times, the most of any athlete.[ citation needed ] In 2015, Harris Poll found that Ali was one of the three most recognizable athletes in the United States, along with Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth. [300]

On the set of Freedom Road Ali met Canadian singer-songwriter Michel (also known as Robert Williams, a co-founder of The Kindness Offensive [301] ), and subsequently helped create Michel's album entitled The First Flight of the Gizzelda Dragon and an unaired television special featuring them both. [302]

Ali was the subject of the British television program This Is Your Life in 1978 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews. [303] Ali was featured in Superman vs. Muhammad Ali , a 1978 DC Comics comic book pitting the champ against the superhero. In 1979, Ali guest-starred as himself in an episode of the NBC sitcom Diff'rent Strokes . The show's title itself was inspired by the quote "Different strokes for different folks" popularized in 1966 by Ali, who also inspired the title of the 1967 Syl Johnson song "Different Strokes", one of the most sampled songs in pop music history. [304]

He also wrote several best-selling books about his career, including The Greatest: My Own Story and The Soul of a Butterfly . The Muhammad Ali effect, named after Ali, is a term that came into use in psychology in the 1980s, as he stated in The Greatest: My Own Story: "I only said I was the greatest, not the smartest." [265] According to this effect, when people are asked to rate their intelligence and moral behavior in comparison to others, people will rate themselves as more moral, but not more intelligent than others. [305] [306]

When We Were Kings , a 1996 documentary about the Rumble in the Jungle, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, [307] and the 2001 biopic Ali garnered an Oscar nomination for Will Smith in the category of Best Actor for his portrayal of Ali. [308] The latter film was directed by Michael Mann, and mixed reviews, with many critics praising Smith's portrayal of Ali. Prior to making the film, Smith rejected the role until Ali requested that he accept it. Smith said the first thing Ali told him was: "Man, you're almost pretty enough to play me." [309]

In 2002, Ali was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the entertainment industry. [310] His star is the only one to be mounted on a vertical surface, out of deference to his request that the name Muhammad—a name he shares with the Islamic prophet—not be walked upon. [311] [312]

The Trials of Muhammad Ali , a documentary directed by Bill Siegel that focuses on Ali's refusal of the draft during the Vietnam War, opened in Manhattan on August 23, 2013. [168] [313] A made-for-TV movie called Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight , also in 2013, dramatized the same aspect of Ali's life.

Professional boxing record

Professional record summary
61 fights56 wins5 losses
By knockout371
By decision194
No.ResultRecordOpponentTypeRound, timeDateAgeLocationNotes
61Loss56–5 Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg Trevor Berbick UD10 Dec 11, 1981 39 years, 328 days Flag of the Bahamas.svg Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre, Nassau, Bahamas
60Loss56–4 Flag of the United States.svg Larry Holmes RTD10 (15), 3:00 Oct 2, 1980 38 years, 259 days Flag of the United States.svg Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.For WBC, vacant The Ring and lineal heavyweight titles
59Win56–3 Flag of the United States.svg Leon Spinks UD15 Sep 15, 1978 36 years, 241 days Flag of the United States.svg Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.Won WBA, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
58Loss55–3 Flag of the United States.svg Leon Spinks SD15 Feb 15, 1978 36 years, 29 days Flag of the United States.svg Las Vegas Hilton, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.Lost WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
57Win55–2 Flag of the United States.svg Earnie Shavers UD15 Sep 29, 1977 35 years, 255 days Flag of the United States.svg Madison Square Garden, New York City, U.S.Retained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
56Win54–2 Flag of Uruguay.svg Alfredo Evangelista UD15 May 16, 1977 35 years, 119 days Flag of the United States.svg Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, U.S.Retained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
55Win53–2 Flag of the United States.svg Ken Norton UD15 Sep 28, 1976 34 years, 255 days Flag of the United States.svg Yankee Stadium, New York City, U.S.Retained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
54Win52–2 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Richard Dunn TKO5 (15), 2:05 May 24, 1976 34 years, 128 days Flag of Germany.svg Olympiahalle, Munich, West GermanyRetained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
53Win51–2 Flag of the United States.svg Jimmy Young UD15 Apr 30, 1976 34 years, 104 days Flag of the United States.svg Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, U.S.Retained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
52Win50–2 Flag of Belgium (civil).svg Jean-Pierre Coopman KO5 (15), 2:46 Feb 20, 1976 34 years, 34 days Flag of Puerto Rico (1952-1995).svg Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan, Puerto RicoRetained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
51Win49–2 Flag of the United States.svg Joe Frazier TKO14 (15), 3:00 Oct 1, 1975 33 years, 257 days Flag of the Philippines (navy blue).svg Philippine Coliseum, Quezon City, PhilippinesRetained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles;
RTD according to some contemporary sources
50Win48–2 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Joe Bugner UD15 Jun 30, 1975 33 years, 164 days Flag of Malaysia.svg Stadium Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaRetained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
49Win47–2 Flag of the United States.svg Ron Lyle TKO11 (15), 1:08 May 16, 1975 33 years, 119 days Flag of the United States.svg Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.Retained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
48Win46–2 Flag of the United States.svg Chuck Wepner TKO15 (15), 2:41 Mar 24, 1975 33 years, 66 days Flag of the United States.svg Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio, U.S.Retained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
47Win45–2 Flag of the United States.svg George Foreman KO8 (15), 2:58 Oct 30, 1974 32 years, 286 days Flag of Zaire.svg Stade du 20 Mai, Kinshasa, ZaireWon WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
46Win44–2 Flag of the United States.svg Joe Frazier UD12 Jan 28, 1974 32 years, 11 days Flag of the United States.svg Madison Square Garden, New York City, U.S.Retained NABF heavyweight title
45Win43–2 Flag of the Netherlands.svg Rudie Lubbers UD12 Oct 20, 1973 31 years, 276 days Flag of Indonesia.svg Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Jakarta, Indonesia
44Win42–2 Flag of the United States.svg Ken Norton SD12 Sep 10, 1973 31 years, 236 days Flag of the United States.svg The Forum, Inglewood, California, U.S.Won NABF heavyweight title
43Loss41–2 Flag of the United States.svg Ken Norton SD12 Mar 31, 1973 31 years, 73 days Flag of the United States.svg Sports Arena, San Diego, California, U.S.Lost NABF heavyweight title
42Win41–1 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Joe Bugner UD12 Feb 14, 1973 31 years, 28 days Flag of the United States.svg Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.
41Win40–1 Flag of the United States.svg Bob Foster KO8 (12), 0:40 Nov 21, 1972 30 years, 309 days Flag of the United States.svg Sahara Tahoe, Stateline, Nevada, U.S.Retained NABF heavyweight title
40Win39–1 Flag of the United States.svg Floyd Patterson RTD7 (12), 3:00 Sep 20, 1972 30 years, 247 days Flag of the United States.svg Madison Square Garden, New York City, U.S.Retained NABF heavyweight title
39Win38–1 Flag of the United States.svg Alvin Lewis TKO11 (12), 1:15 Jul 19, 1972 30 years, 184 days Flag of Ireland.svg Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland
38Win37–1 Flag of the United States.svg Jerry Quarry TKO7 (12), 0:19 Jun 27, 1972 30 years, 162 days Flag of the United States.svg Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.Retained NABF heavyweight title
37Win36–1 Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg George Chuvalo UD12 May 1, 1972 30 years, 105 days Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver, British Columbia, CanadaRetained NABF heavyweight title
36Win35–1 Flag of the United States.svg Mac Foster UD15 Apr 1, 1972 30 years, 75 days Flag of Japan.svg Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
35Win34–1 Flag of Germany.svg Jürgen Blin KO7 (12), 2:12 Dec 26, 1971 29 years, 343 days Flag of Switzerland.svg Hallenstadion, Zürich, Switzerland
34Win33–1 Flag of the United States.svg Buster Mathis UD12 Nov 17, 1971 29 years, 304 days Flag of the United States.svg Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.Retained NABF heavyweight title
33Win32–1 Flag of the United States.svg Jimmy Ellis TKO12 (12), 2:10 Jul 26, 1971 29 years, 190 days Flag of the United States.svg Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.Won vacant NABF heavyweight title
32Loss31–1 Flag of the United States.svg Joe Frazier UD15 Mar 8, 1971 29 years, 50 days Flag of the United States.svg Madison Square Garden, New York City, U.S.For WBA, WBC, lineal, and vacant The Ring heavyweight titles
31Win31–0 Flag of Argentina.svg Oscar Bonavena TKO15 (15), 2:03 Dec 7, 1970 28 years, 324 days Flag of the United States.svg Madison Square Garden, New York City, U.S.
30Win30–0 Flag of the United States.svg Jerry Quarry RTD3 (15), 3:00 Oct 26, 1970 28 years, 282 days Flag of the United States.svg Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
29Win29–0 Flag of the United States.svg Zora Folley KO7 (15), 1:48 Mar 22, 1967 25 years, 64 days Flag of the United States.svg Madison Square Garden, New York City, U.S.Retained WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
28Win28–0 Flag of the United States.svg Ernie Terrell UD15 Feb 6, 1967 25 years, 20 days Flag of the United States.svg Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.Retained WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles;
Won WBA heavyweight title
27Win27–0 Flag of the United States.svg Cleveland Williams TKO3 (15), 1:08 Nov 14, 1966 24 years, 301 days Flag of the United States.svg Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.Retained WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
26Win26–0 Flag of Germany.svg Karl Mildenberger TKO12 (15), 1:30 Sep 10, 1966 24 years, 236 days Flag of Germany.svg Waldstadion, Frankfurt, West GermanyRetained WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
25Win25–0 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Brian London KO3 (15), 1:40 Aug 6, 1966 24 years, 201 days Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Earls Court Exhibition Centre, London, EnglandRetained WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
24Win24–0 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Henry Cooper TKO6 (15), 1:38 May 21, 1966 24 years, 124 days Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Arsenal Stadium, London, EnglandRetained WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
23Win23–0 Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg George Chuvalo UD15 Mar 29, 1966 24 years, 71 days Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, CanadaRetained WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
22Win22–0 Flag of the United States.svg Floyd Patterson TKO12 (15), 2:18 Nov 22, 1965 23 years, 309 days Flag of the United States.svg Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.Retained WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
21Win21–0 Flag of the United States.svg Sonny Liston KO1 (15), 2:12 May 25, 1965 23 years, 128 days Flag of the United States.svg Civic Center, Lewiston, Maine, U.S.Retained WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
20Win20–0 Flag of the United States.svg Sonny Liston RTD6 (15), 3:00 Feb 25, 1964 22 years, 39 days Flag of the United States.svg Convention Center, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.Won WBA, WBC, The Ring , and lineal heavyweight titles
19Win19–0 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Henry Cooper TKO5 (10), 2:15 Jun 18, 1963 21 years, 152 days Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Wembley Stadium, London, England
18Win18–0 Flag of the United States.svg Doug Jones UD10 Mar 13, 1963 21 years, 55 days Flag of the United States.svg Madison Square Garden, New York City, U.S.
17Win17–0 Flag of the United States.svg Charlie Powell KO3 (10), 2:04 Jan 24, 1963 21 years, 7 days Flag of the United States.svg Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
16Win16–0 Flag of the United States.svg Archie Moore TKO4 (10), 1:35 Nov 15, 1962 20 years, 302 days Flag of the United States.svg Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California
15Win15–0 Flag of Argentina.svg Alejandro LavoranteKO5 (10), 1:48 Jul 20, 1962 20 years, 184 days Flag of the United States.svg Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California
14Win14–0 Flag of the United States.svg Billy DanielsTKO7 (10), 2:21 May 19, 1962 20 years, 122 days Flag of the United States.svg St. Nicholas Arena, New York City, U.S.
13Win13–0 Flag of the United States.svg George LoganTKO4 (10), 1:34 Apr 23, 1962 20 years, 96 days Flag of the United States.svg Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California
12Win12–0 Flag of the United States.svg Don WarnerTKO4 (10), 0:34 Feb 28, 1962 20 years, 70 days Flag of the United States.svg Convention Center, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
11Win11–0 Flag of the United States.svg Sonny Banks TKO4 (10), 0:26 Feb 10, 1962 20 years, 24 days Flag of the United States.svg Madison Square Garden, New York City
10Win10–0 Flag of Germany.svg Willi Besmanoff TKO7 (10), 1:55 Nov 29, 1961 19 years, 316 days Flag of the United States.svg Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
9Win9–0 Flag of Argentina.svg Alex MiteffTKO6 (10), 1:45 Oct 7, 1961 19 years, 263 days Flag of the United States.svg Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
8Win8–0 Flag of the United States.svg Alonzo JohnsonUD10 Jul 22, 1961 19 years, 186 days Flag of the United States.svg Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
7Win7–0 Flag of the United States.svg Duke SabedongUD10 Jun 26, 1961 19 years, 160 days Flag of the United States.svg Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.
6Win6–0 Flag of the United States.svg LaMar Clark KO2 (8), 1:27 Apr 19, 1961 19 years, 92 days Flag of the United States.svg Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
5Win5–0 Flag of the United States.svg Donnie FleemanRTD6 (8) Feb 21, 1961 19 years, 35 days Flag of the United States.svg Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
4Win4–0 Flag of the United States.svg Jim Robinson KO1 (8), 1:34 Feb 7, 1961 19 years, 21 days Flag of the United States.svg Convention Center, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
3Win3–0 Flag of the United States.svg Tony EspertiTKO3 (8), 1:30 Jan 17, 1961 19 years, 0 days Flag of the United States.svg Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
2Win2–0 Flag of the United States.svg Herb Siler TKO4 (8), 1:00 Dec 27, 1960 18 years, 345 days Flag of the United States.svg Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
1Win1–0 Flag of the United States.svg Tunney Hunsaker UD6 Oct 29, 1960 18 years, 286 days Flag of the United States.svg Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.

Television viewership


Muhammad Ali's fights were some of the world's most-watched television broadcasts, setting television viewership records. His most-watched fights drew an estimated 12 billion viewers worldwide between 1974 and 1980, and were the world's most-watched live television broadcasts at the time. [314]

25 August 1960 to 11 September 1960 Boxing at the Rome 1960 Olympics Western world456,163,964
Europe400,000,000 [315]
United States56,164,000 [316] [317]
February 25, 1964 Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston Western world165,950,000
Europe165,000,000 [318]
United States (PPV)950,000 [165] [319]
May 25, 1965 Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston IIWorldwide80,000,000 [320]
United Kingdom7,000,000 [321]
May 21, 1966 Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper IIWorldwide200,000,000 [322]
United Kingdom21,000,000 [323]
United States20,000,000 [324]
March 8, 1971 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier (Fight of the Century) Worldwide300,000,000 [325]
Italy54,000,000 [326]
United Kingdom27,500,000 [327]
South Korea 2,000,000 [328]
February 14, 1973 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Bugner United Kingdom20,000,000 [329]
January 28, 1974 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier II (Super Fight II) Worldwide200,000,000 [330]
October 30, 1974 Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman (The Rumble in the Jungle) Worldwide1,000,000,000 [331] [332]
United Kingdom26,000,000 [333]
May 16, 1975 Muhammad Ali vs. Ron Lyle United States50,000,000 [334]
October 1, 1975 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III (Thrilla in Manila) Worldwide1,000,000,000 [335]
February 20, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Jean-Pierre Coopman United States40,000,000 [336]
April 30, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Jimmy Young United States33,700,000 [337]
May 24, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Richard Dunn United States65,000,000 [338]
June 26, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki Worldwide1,400,000,000 [339] [340]
Japan54,000,000 [341]
September 28, 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton IIIWorldwide900,000,000 [342]
May 16, 1977 Muhammad Ali vs. Alfredo Evangelista United States50,000,000 [343]
September 29, 1977 Muhammad Ali vs. Earnie Shavers United States70,000,000 [338]
February 15, 1978 Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks United States70,000,000 [344]
September 27, 1978 Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks II Worldwide2,000,000,000 [345] [346]
United States90,000,000 [347] [348]
October 2, 1980 Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes (The Last Hurrah) Worldwide2,000,000,000 [349]
Total viewershipWorldwide10,107,000,000

Pay-per-view bouts

The earliest form of pay-per-view boxing telecasts was closed-circuit television, also known as theatre television, where fights were telecast live to a select number of venues, mostly theaters, where viewers paid for tickets to watch the fight live. The use of closed-circuit for boxing telecasts peaked in popularity with Ali in the 1960s and 1970s. [350] [325] Most of Ali's closed-circuit telecasts were handled by his promotion company Main Bout. [63] The following table lists known ticket sales/buys for Ali fights at closed-circuit venues/theaters:

Closed-circuit theatre television
DateFightBilling [351] Region(s)BuysRevenueRevenue (inflation)
March 13, 1963Cassius Clay vs. Doug Jones Clay vs. Jones United States150,000 [352] $500,000 [353] $4,100,000
February 25, 1964Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston Greatest Fight In History United States700,000 [165] $5,000,000 [165] $40,400,000
May 25, 1965Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston II Champion vs. Ex-Champion United States630,000 [320] $4,300,000 [350] $34,200,000
November 22, 1965Muhammad Ali vs. Floyd Patterson Ali vs. Patterson [354] United States500,000 [355] $4,000,000 [350] $31,800,000
March 29, 1966Muhammad Ali vs. George Chuvalo The Second Reckoning United States46,000 [356] $230,000 [356] $1,780,000
May 21, 1966Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper II Friday Night of the Century England40,000 [357] $1,500,000 [357] $11,600,000
August 6, 1966Muhammad Ali vs. Brian London Ali vs. British Bulldog England38,000 [358] $300,000 [357] $2,300,000
November 14, 1966Muhammad Ali vs. Cleveland Williams Ali vs. Williams United States500,000 [357] $3,750,000 [357] $29,800,000
February 6, 1967Muhammad Ali vs. Ernie Terrell The Battle of Champions United States800,000 [359] $4,000,000 [359] $30,900,000
January 20, 1970Muhammad Ali vs. Rocky Marciano The Super Fight Western world$5,000,000 [360] $32,300,000
United States500,000 [361] [362] $2,500,000 [361] $16,100,000
October 26, 1970Muhammad Ali vs. Jerry Quarry Return of the Champion United States630,000 [363] [165] $3,500,000 [364] $22,600,000
March 8, 1971Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier Fight of the Century Anglosphere 2,590,000$45,750,000$300,000,000
United States2,500,000 [365] $45,000,000 [366] $278,000,000
London90,000 [367] $750,000 [368] $4,600,000
February 14, 1973Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Bugner Fight of a Lifetime United Kingdom30,000 [369] $300,000 [369] $1,700,000
January 28, 1974Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier II Super Fight II United States1,100,000 [370] $17,000,000 [370] $86,400,000
October 30, 1974Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman The Rumble in the Jungle Worldwide50,000,000 [371] $100,000,000 [372] [373] $510,000,000
United States3,000,000 [325] $60,000,000 [325] $304,800,000
March 24, 1975Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner Chance of a Lifetime United States500,000 [374] $5,000,000 [375] $23,300,000
October 1, 1975Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III Thrilla in Manila Worldwide100,000,000 [376] $100,000,000$500,000,000
United States3,000,000 [325] $60,000,000 [325] $279,000,000
June 26, 1976Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki War of the Worlds United States2,000,000 [377] $20,000,000 [378] $90,000,000
September 28, 1976Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton III Ali's Revenge United States1,500,000 [379] $33,500,000 [380] [381] $147,500,000
March 31, 1985 WrestleMania I WrestleMania United States1,000,000 [382] $10,000,000 [383] $23,300,000
Total salesWorldwide162,154,000$364,380,000$1,901,930,000

Professional boxing was introduced to pay-per-view home cable television with several Muhammad Ali fights, especially the Thrilla in Manila fight between Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975, which was transmitted through HBO. [384] [385] Ali had several fights broadcast on early pay-per-view home television:

Pay-per-view home television
DateFightBilling [351] NetworkRegion(s)BuysRevenueRevenue (inflation)
March 13, 1963Cassius Clay vs. Doug Jones Clay vs. Jones United States [353]
February 25, 1964Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston Greatest Fight In History WHCT [386] United States250,000 [319] $750,000 [387] [388] $6,100,000
November 22, 1965Muhammad Ali vs. Floyd Patterson Ali vs. Patterson United States$150,000 [389] $1,200,000
May 21, 1966Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper II Friday Night of the Century Pay TVUnited Kingdom40,000 [324] $448,004 [390] [391] $3,750,000
November 14, 1966Muhammad Ali vs. Ernie Terrell The Battle of Champions Hartford United States [392]
October 1, 1975Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III Thrilla in Manila HBO United States500,000 [393] $10,000,000 [394] $46,600,000
December 11, 1981Muhammad Ali vs. Trevor Berbick Drama in Bahama SelectTVUnited States [395]
Total sales790,000$11,348,004$56,100,000

Other appearances

October 17, 1971 Parkinson (series 1, episode 14)United Kingdom12,000,000 [396]
January 25, 1974 Parkinson (series 3, episode 18)United Kingdom12,000,000 [396]
December 7, 1974 Parkinson United Kingdom12,000,000 [396]
March 28, 1977 49th Academy Awards United States39,719,000 [397]
December 25, 1978 This Is Your Life ("Muhammad Ali")United States60,000,000 [398]
October 24, 1979 Diff'rent Strokes ("Arnold's Hero")United States41,000,000 [399]
January 17, 1981 Parkinson (series 10, episode 32)United Kingdom12,000,000 [396]
July 19, 1996 Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics opening ceremony Worldwide3,500,000,000 [196]
United States209,000,000 [400]
January 4, 2007 Michael Parkinson's Greatest Entertainers United Kingdom3,630,000 [401]
June 9, 2016 Muhammad Ali memorial service Worldwide1,000,000,000 [226]
Total viewershipWorldwide4,692,349,000


See also


  1. [Frazier] was harder for me than Liston or Foreman, because he had what I was vulnerable to—a good in-close left hook. Foreman wasn't an infighter or a hooker. He was an uppercutter with a right hand and a jab, always looking you in the eye. Liston was scarier than Frazier, but I fought Liston when I was young. Joe stayed on me, always on my chest, and from out of nowhere he'd throw the hook. If I was young, I'd have danced for fifteen rounds, and Joe wouldn't have ever caught me. But the first time we fought, I was three-and-half years out of shape.
    Muhammad Ali [244]
  2. According to Dave Wolf, the reason for Frazier's hospitalization was hypertension from which he had been suffering before the fight. [250]
  3. Larry Holmes commented that instead of letting Ali's words upset him, Frazier's response to Ali calling him ignorant should have been: "Yeah, okay, I might be ignorant, but this ignorant man is going to kick your ass."Eig [254]
  4. Ali asked for me to come to his dressing room before any of the press arrived. I went in there and Ali was real tired and he hugged me and apologized for what he'd said about my father before the fight. He said, 'Tell your father he's a great man'.
    Marvis Frazier [255]
  5. In the 1996 press conference, Frazier stated that "[Ali] didn't like his white brothers." [243] Prior to their first fight, Frazier had questioned Ali's commitment to blacks, given "a lot of guys around him are white." [241]
  6. In his book, Brunt notes Frazier's struggle of revealing his genuine beliefs about Ali, and being savvy, because by now he had people looking after his commercial interests, and "somebody probably had a talk with him about image and public relations and how they relate to earning potential ... Still, even the new, polished, packaged Frazier has his moments." [262]
  7. In a column in the Hartford Courant, published the day after Frazier's death, Jeff Jacobs wrote: "I hope Smokin' Joe did [forgave Ali]. I hope he let every inch of hate go. The Greatest and The Greatest Opponent deserve to join gloves and walk together into immortality. [259]
  1. These records are shared with Joe Louis and José Napoles, respectively. Both these records were eventually beaten by Wladimir Klitschko.

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  1. "Muhammad Ali: The greatest monument to the great one". MediaWorks TV. March 31, 2011. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 "Muhammad Ali refuses Army induction – Apr 28, 1967". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  3. 1 2 Professional boxing record for Muhammad Ali from BoxRec . Retrieved June 5, 2016.
  4. Wells, John C. (2008). "Ali". Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.). Longman. ISBN   978-1-4058-8118-0. the former boxer Muhammad Ali pronounces ɑːˈliː
  5. "Why Muhammad Ali never legally changed name from Cassius Clay" . Retrieved July 12, 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Hauser, Thomas. "The Importance of Muhammad Ali". Gilder Lehrman Institute.
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