Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali is one of the best, if not the best, boxers of all time. He was an
influential leader not only inside the ring, but throughout the world. His
overwhelming confidence captured millions, bringing the sport of boxing the
publicity it has always deserved. Though many criticized his brash comments, he
became a role model of children across the nation. He frequently gave speeches
in schools and ghettos throughout America. He managed to succeed in a world that
was run by whites. Born January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Clay,
Jr., displayed fighting skills early in his life when he punched his mother
after she spanked him for misbehavior. It was not until he turned 12, however,
that he became interested in boxing. He had just received a new, red bicycle for
his birthday, so he and a friend rode bikes to the fair. While he was milling
around, someone stole his bike. He searched for his bike for hours, but it was
to no avail. When he started asking people on his block if they had seen it,
someone suggested he go ask Joe Martin, a policeman and owner of a boxing gym.


Cassius was awestruck the moment he walked into the gym. Joe gave him an
application and Cassius joined the gym the following day. Though he had not
found his bike, he did find his future. Cassius trained constantly. He worked
out after school every day, and he trained with Fred Stoner after supper from
eight until midnight. Finally, his hard work was starting to pay off. In 1956 he
won the Kentucky Golden Gloves tournament. Then, in 1958, he won the Louisville
Golden Gloves light-heavyweight crown. He went on to win the National Golden
Gloves light-heavyweight title in Chicago. Cassius really showed his skills in
1960 by winning the Golden Gloves title in Madison Square Garden as well as the
Tournament of Champions in Chicago. Throughout his amateur career, Cassius had
fought in 130 fights and won all but seven. As his wins increased, so did his
boasting. He bragged that he was going to win the gold metal in the 1960 summer
Olympics before even stepping on the plane. When he returned home with the gold
metal around his neck, however, he still was not even allowed to order a
cheeseburger from a fast food restaurant. This upset him so much that he ran to
a nearby river and threw his metal into the swift current. Cassius was now ready
to turn pro. He brought attention to himself by bragging about his boxing
abilities as much as possible. He also predicted the round in which he would
defeat his opponents. The arrogant poems quickly followed. Unbeaten, he felt he
could face Sonny Liston, the Heavyweight Champion of the world. After being
pummeled for six straight rounds, Liston could not get off his stool to fight
the seventh round. Cassius Clay was now the Heavyweight Champion! In 1963, a few
weeks after his fight with Liston, Cassius announced that he was a member of the
Muslim faith and had changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Ironically, the name
means “the one who is worthy of praise”. Many people were upset at
this because they thought the Muslims were violent racists. Ali told reporters
that “Islam is a religion of peace and love. All I want is peace.” Ali
was drafted into the army in 1967. He refused to serve in the army, as killing
and bearing weapons were against his religious principles. After being found
guilty of draft dodging, the World Boxing Association (WBA)stripped him of his
championship title and boxing license. His lawyers made an appeal, and this time
the court confirmed his beliefs were sincere. His license was returned as well
as his title. He soon lost his title, however, in 1971 in a 15 round match
against Joe Frazier. Many people thought Ali should have retired after the loss,
but he refused to quit. He only ran and trained harder and longer. This helped
him to overcome the odds and regain his title in 1974 by knocking out George
Foreman in the eighth round. Again, people believed Ali should have retired a
champion, but he kept on fighting….and winning! Writers that year voted him
the third greatest athlete from 1900-1977, next to Jim Thorpe and Babe Ruth. In
1978 Ali lost his title in a 15 round fight versus Leon Spinks. After a long and
grueling seven months of training, Ali won back the championship title in a
rematch. Finally, in 1979, Ali wrote a letter to the WBA saying that he was
going to retire and give up his heavyweight title. Despite his logic, Ali just
could not stay away from boxing. He decided to box against Larry Holmes in 1980.

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Though he trained hard, the 38 year old, three time heavyweight champion was no
match for Holmes. In 1984, Ali went to a medical center in New York with
complaints of slurred speech and poor hand-eye coordination. Doctors discovered
Ali had been suffering from a disease known as Parkinsons syndrome. The
disease slurs speech, slows movement, and can cause sudden fatigue. The cause of
the syndrome has been linked to the suffering of too many blows to Ali’s head,
particularly in the fights against Frazier, Norton, and Holmes. He now spends
his time with his wife and children, as well as supporting various charity
events.


Bibliography
Muhammad Ali. By John Stravinsky. Copyright 1997. Random House
Value Publishing, Inc. 201 East 50th Street. New York, New York. Muhammad Ali:
The Greatest. By Jim Spence. Copyright 1995. The Rourke Press, Inc. Vero Beach,
Florida. Encyclopedia of American Biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and
Jerome L. Sternstein. Ali, Muhammad, pg. 29-30, Harvard Sitkoff. Muhammad Ali:
The Fight for Respect. Thomas Conklin. Copyright 1992. Millbrook Press.


Brookfield, Connecticut. Champions Forever. Film. 115 min. 1996 American Home
Entertainment.