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Muhammad Ali

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Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali (b.January 17, 1942) born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, nicknamed "The Greatest", is a retired American boxer. He is considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, as well as one of the world's most famous individuals, renowned the world over for his boxing and political activism. In 1999, he was crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century.

Biography

Early boxing career

In 1954, Ali, who was then known as Cassius Clay, was twelve years old when he parked his bicycle in front of a Louisville department store. When he learned that his bicycle had been stolen, he approached a police officer named Joe Elsby Martin, Sr. and told him that he wanted to "whoop" the thief. Martin, who was the coach of the the Louisville city boxing program, told Ali that if he intended to "whoop" someone, he should learn to fight. The next day, Ali appeared at Louisville's Columbia Gym and began boxing lessons with Martin. Martin taught Ali how to "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." As an Olympic coach, Martin accompanied Ali to the Rome Olympics in 1960 where Ali won a Gold Medal in the light heavyweight division.

Ali had a highly unorthodox style for a heavyweight boxer. He carried his hands at his sides, rather than the normal boxing style of carrying the hands high to defend the face. Instead, he relied on his extraordinary reflexes and footwork to keep him away from his opponents' blows. In Louisville, October 29, 1960, Cassius Clay won his first professional fight. He won a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker , who was the police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia. From 1960 to 1963, the young fighter amassed a record of 19-0, with 15 knockouts. He defeated such boxers as Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, Alonzo Johnson, George Logan, Willi Besmanoff, and Lamar Clark (who had won his previous 40 bouts by knockout), Doug Jones, and Henry Cooper. Among Clay's more impressive victories were against Sonny Banks (who knocked him down earlier in the bout), Alejandro Lavorante, and Archie Moore (a boxing legend who had won over 200 previous fights). Cassius became the number one contender for Sonny Liston's title. Liston was greatly feared, and some have said that he was the Mike Tyson of his era. Almost no one gave the young boxer a chance of beating Liston. The date was fixed for February 25, 1964; during the weigh-in, the boisterous Ali declared that he would "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee." and to sum up his defense he quoted "Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see"

First title fight

Clay, however, had a plan. Misreading Clay's exuberance as nervousness, Liston was over-confident, and unprepared for any result but a quick stoppage. In the opening rounds, Clay's speed kept him away from Liston's powerful head and body shots, as he used his height and reach advantage to effectively beat Liston to the punch with his jab. By the third, Clay was clearly on top, and had opened a cut under Liston's eye. Liston regained some ground in the fourth, as Clay was blinded by a foreign substance. It is unknown whether this was something used to close Liston's cuts, or applied to Liston's gloves for a nefarious purpose. Partially-sighted, Clay passively sought to escape Liston's offensive. He was able to keep out of range until his sweat cleaned the ointment from his eyes, responding with a flurry of combinations near the end of the fifth round. By the sixth, he was looking for a finish and dominated Liston. The end came after that round, when Liston retired on his stool, later claiming his shoulder had become dislocated. Clay leapt out of his corner, proclaiming himself "King of the World", and demanding the writers eat their words!

Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. changes his name to Muhammad Ali

Following his ascension to champion, he also became famous for other reasons: he revealed that he was a member of the Nation of Islam (often called the Black Muslims at the time) and changed his name to Cassius X, discarding his surname as a symbol of his ancestors' enslavement, as had been done by other Nation members such as Malcolm X. He was soon given the name Muhammad Ali by the leader of the Nation, Elijah Muhammad, who revealed the name to Ali as "his true name," although only a few journalists (most notably Howard Cosell) accepted it at that time. The adoption of this name symbolized his new identity as a Muslim, and he retained the name even after his later conversion to Sunni Islam.

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