#70SportWays (67): Muhammed Ali, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
Arguably boxing’s most celebrated athlete, also known for his public stance against the Vietnam War and his longtime battle with Parkinson’s disease: this is Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay): a boxer, philanthropist and social activist who is universally regarded as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. He had a career record of 56 wins, five losses and 37 knockouts before his retirement from boxing in 1981 at the age of 39.
Muhammad Ali showed that he wasn’t afraid of any bout — inside or outside of the ring. Growing up in the segregated South, he experienced racial prejudice and discrimination first-hand. At the age of 12, Ali discovered his talent for boxing through an odd twist of fate. His bike was stolen, and Ali told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief. “Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people” Martin reportedly told him at the time. In addition to being a police officer, Martin also trained young boxers at a local gym. Ali started working with Martin to learn how to spar, and soon began his boxing career.
Ali became an Olympic gold medalist in 1960 and the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964. Following his suspension for refusing military service, Ali reclaimed the heavyweight title two more times during the 1970s, winning famed bouts against Joe Frazier and George Foreman along the way. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, Ali devoted much of his time to philanthropy, earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Muhammad Ali joined the black Muslim group the Nation of Islam in 1964. At first he called himself “Cassius X” before settling on the name Muhammad Ali. The boxer eventually converted to orthodox Islam during the 1970s.
In 1984, he announced that he had Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition. Despite all, he remained active in public life: he raised funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona and more later in 1998, he was chosen to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace because of his work in developing nations.
Ali died on June 3, 2016 but he continues to be a legend that grow even after his death. He is celebrated not only for his remarkable athletic skills but for his willingness to speak his mind and his courage to challenge the status quo.