Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight victories were legendary. His footwork and lightning-fast jabs confounded opponents, while his “rope-a-dope” strategy stunned them. He defeated dominant champions like Sonny Liston with shocking knockouts, and emerged victorious in grueling contests against Joe Frazier. Ali’s wins transcended boxing; they were triumphs of athletic brilliance and unwavering spirit. He was social worker and Civil Rights Icon.

Early Life of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali, the great American boxer. His real name is Cassius Marcellus Clay. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on Jan. 17, 1942, and named after his father, a sign painter. His great-great-grandfather had been one of the slaves of a 19th-century abolitionist politician and diplomat of that name. He was introduced to boxing at the age of twelve by a local downtown policeman. In 1960 at the age of 14, he won the US National AAU light-heavyweight title and became light heavyweight champion in the national Golden Gloves.


He was selected for the Rome Olympics and casually outpointed the 213-fight veteran, Zbigniew Pietrzykowski, of Poland, in the final. He joined the queue of admirers knocking on the front door of triple sprint gold medalist Wilma Rudolph. On the gold medal dais, he waved the American flag. He wore the gold medal every day in the bath, on evenings out, everywhere.

Professional boxing and Heavyweight championship

One day Muhammad Ali (Clay), and a couple of friends with gold medals were crossing the Ohio Bridge. At a café by the bridge, they stopped and entered to buy refreshments, and were immediately accosted by a group of white groupies, or bikies, as they were called. They fancied the gold medal. After the inevitable brawl, he took the medal onto the bridge and threw it into the Ohio. If that was the American dream, the ideal, then he wanted no part of it. Whether the story is true or not, he turned professional immediately afterward and his views hardened.


He then turned professional boxing, and he knocked out Henry Cooper, the British Empire champion, in London in 1963. On Feb. 25, 1964, he won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston. Immediately after, he revealed that he had joined the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims) and had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.  Ali defended his title seven times in 1965 and 1966, defeating, in turn, Liston in a return match, Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London, Karl Mildenberger, and Cleveland Williams, and in 1967 he beat Ernie Terrell and Zora Folley. Ali was undefeated after 29 matches when his title was abruptly stripped from him by the World Boxing Association.


Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight victories were legendary. His footwork and lightning-fast jabs confounded opponents, while his “rope-a-dope” strategy stunned them. He defeated dominant champions like Sonny Liston with shocking knockouts and emerged victorious in grueling contests against Joe Frazier. Ali’s wins transcended boxing: they were triumphs of athletic brilliance and unwavering spirit. Here is a list of his heavyweight victories.

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali's world heavyweight winning title fights.

U.S. Army and Muhammad Ali

In April 1967 Muhammad Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army, claiming exempt status as a Muslim minister. ‘No Vietcong ever called me nigger, he stated. Sentenced, more as an example, to a five-year term which he never served, he was out of the ring from March 1967 until October 1970. Ali marched through three years of increasing invincibility. In June he was sentenced to five years in jail for draft evasion, but remained at liberty pending appeal. In late 1970, resuming his career after a three-year suspension, he beat Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena in nontitle bouts.

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier, the former Philadelphia slaughterhouse worker, had assumed Ali’s throne. Frazier, short, squat, and with a fine left hook, was another ex-Olympic gold medalist. The WBA/ WBC issue had been resolved and Frazier was a fine champion. The pair was to have three of the greatest fights ever seen.


Muhammad Ali and Frazier beat the publicity drum. They wrestled on the floor in a TV studio showdown, which cost them, both £2000. But March 1971 was no gimmick. They fought to exhaustion. Frazier, courtesy of a fifteenth-round knockdown, won the decision. Both went into hospital for a few days.


Frazier then lost his title to George Foreman in Kingston, Jamaica. Ali, at thirty-two, appeared to have missed the boat. Foreman, unbeaten in forty fights with thirty-seven knockouts, could reign as the 7-1 underdog when the pair met for Liston’s world title at Miami Beach on long as he wished. Ali, beaten by and then the victor against Ken Norton beat Frazier for the American title and was the logical contender.


Joe Frazier, the relentless former champion, held the heavyweight title; Muhammad Ali was still a force. Ali, known for his “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” style, relied on incredible footwork and speed to evade Frazier’s powerful punches. This tactic, in contrast to Frazier’s brawling style, would define their epic trilogy. Their first fight, the “Fight of the Century,” went the distance with Frazier emerging victorious on a close decision. Despite the loss, Ali’s strategy would prove successful in their later bouts, with Ali ultimately reclaiming the heavyweight crown.

Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston

The heavyweight championship clashes between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston are etched in boxing history. Liston, a fearsome puncher with an intimidating presence, reigned supreme. Young, brash Ali, known for his lightning reflexes and dazzling footwork, taunted the champion.


In their first fight, in 1964, Ali, the underdog, shocked the world with a controversial upset in the seventh round. No one knew how old he was. ‘Chop his leg off and count the rings, suggested someone. His two world title fights with Floyd Patterson had lasted a shade under five minutes Ali entered the ring a 6-1 underdog.


It was his twentieth fight, and Muhammad Ali paws at the Beariled Sonny Liston. But Liston failed to answer the bell to start the seventh round. At the end of the seventh round, Liston bemused, quit on his stool, claiming shoulder damage. He called for a rematch, but it was a fiasco, all over inside a round. Jim Murray said of Ali’s phantom punch which ended the fight, ‘It wouldn’t have crushed a grape.


The rematch a year later saw Ali dominate, flooring Liston with a powerful right in the first round. These fights, filled with drama and controversy, solidified Muhammad Ali’s rise as a legend, forever linked to the fallen champion, Sonny Liston.

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Alipaws at the Bear- Sonny Liston .Ali, then Cassius Clay,was the 7-1 underdog when the pair met for liston;s world title at Miami Beach.

Muhammad Ali and other opponents

Angelo Dundee and Bundini ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ Brown had to get Ali into shape. His first opponent was Jerry Quarry. who, disappointingly, had problems with a cut eye in round three. The Argentinian, Oscar Bonavena, lasted until the final round. They were now ready for Frazier or they thought they were.


Foreman and Ali met in Kinshasa, Zaïre, in October 1974. ‘The rumble in the jungle’ fitted the prefight ballyhoo. Ali’s strategy was perfect. Foreman tired himself out hammering away at Ali’s body and arms. Ali struck in round eight.


On then to the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ and the third encounter with Smokin’ Joe. ‘He’s got two chances, slim and none.’ said Ali. ‘It’s gonna be a chilla and a thrilla when I get the gorilla in Manila.’ he added. Ali beat Frazier in round fourteen. Both went back to the hospital. ‘It was like death, the nearest thing I know to dying,’ said the winner.


Even going downhill, Ali picked up the decisions, until he met Leon Spinks, a mismanaged eight-fight novice. Spinks, the best of the US gold medal quintet at the Montreal Olympics, sneaked a points decision. ‘I will return, goofy.’ said Ali. He did. He had now won the title three times.


He bumbled on, his ego filling a room, until the courts took his title away. Larry Holmes, his former sparring partner, was a deserved champion. Compassionate too. When Ali, was nearly forty years old.

Later Life of Muhammad Ali

In June 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Ali’s 1967 conviction. On Oct. 30, 1974, Ali regained the title when he knocked out George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire. On Oct. 1, 1975, he defeated his most formidable remaining challenger, Joe Frazier in the Philippines. He successfully defended his title six times in 1976 and 1977.


Ali lost the title to Leon Spinks in a split decision on Feb. 15, 1978, but regained it against Spinks in a unanimous decision on Sept. 15, 1978. Ali thus became the first boxer to win the heavyweight title three times. He then retired but later came out of retirement to seek a fourth heavyweight title. He fought the current champion, Larry Holmes, and lost by a technical knockout on Oct. 2, 1980.

Vietnam War and Civil Rights Icon

Muhammad Ali’s reign as heavyweight champion was nothing short of phenomenal. In 1964, at the young age of 22, he pulled off a stunning upset against the fearsome Sonny Liston, claiming his first title. Ali’s flashy footwork and quick wit were as legendary as his powerful punches. He’d float around the ring, peppering opponents with jabs, before unleashing lightning-fast knockouts. His victories went beyond the ring; they were symbols of defiance and social change.


Ali refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War, citing his Islamic beliefs and opposition to the conflict. This stance cost him years of his prime but solidified his status as a global icon. Ali’s return in the 1970s saw him reclaim the championship twice more, etching his name as the first boxer to win the heavyweight title three times.

Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War and his conversion to Islam made him a powerful symbol of resistance and self-determination for African Americans facing racial injustice.

Social Activist

Muhammad Ali’s fight for social justice extended beyond race. He spoke out against war, poverty, and discrimination, inspiring people worldwide to fight for a better future. It’s difficult to know where to begin with Muhammad Ali, boxer and showman supreme, would-be poet and politician, occasional diplomat. A film on his own life. The Greatest, was made before he was thirty-five. From the Eskimos to the mud huts of Africa, his was the most recognizable face on earth, and probably still is.


The date of his death (June 3, 2016) and age (74). Briefly touch on the cause of death, mentioning his long battle with Parkinson’s disease.


Muhammad Ali wasn’t just a boxer; he was a cultural icon who shattered barriers and inspired millions. From his lightning-fast footwork in the ring to his unwavering stance outside of it, Ali’s legacy extends far beyond the heavyweight championship belt. He challenged racism, defied expectations, and fought for what he believed in, all while captivating the world with his charisma and wit. Even today, Muhammad Ali remains a powerful symbol of courage, conviction, and the unwavering human spirit.


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Jack Dempsey 

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