Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on January 17, 1942) is a American boxer. In 1999, Ali was crowned “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated. He won the World Heavyweight Boxing championship three times, and won the North American Boxing Federation championship as well as an Olympic gold medal.
Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He was named after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., (who was named for the 19th century abolitionist and politician Cassius Clay). Ali later changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam and subsequently converted to Sunni Islam in 1975. 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 box, and soon began his boxing career. In his first amateur bout in 1954, he won the fight by split decision. Ali went on to win the 1956 Golden Gloves tournament for novices in the light heavyweight class. Three years later, he won the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions, as well as the Amateur Athletic Union’s national title for the light heavyweight division. Ali and Frazier fought each other on March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden. The fight, known as ‘”The Fight of the Century”, was one of the most eagerly anticipated bouts of all time and remains one of the most famous. It featured two skilled, undefeated fighters, both of whom had reasonable claims to the heavyweight crown. The fight lived up to the hype, and Frazier punctuated his victory by flooring Ali with a hard left hook in the 15th and final round and won on points. Frank Sinatra — unable to acquire a ringside seat — took photos of the match for Life Magazine. Legendary boxing announcer Don Dunphy and actor and boxing aficionado Burt Lancaster called the action for the broadcast, which reached millions of people. Frazier eventually won the fight and retained the title with a unanimous decision, dealing Ali his first professional loss. Despite an impressive performance, Ali may have still been suffering from the effects of “ring rust” due to his long layoff. In 1973, after a string of victories over top Heavyweight opposition in a campaign to force a rematch with Frazier, Ali split two bouts with Ken Norton (in the bout that Ali lost to Norton, Ali suffered a broken jaw).Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the early 1980s, following which his motor functions began a slow decline. Although Ali’s doctors disagreed during the 1980s and 1990s about whether his symptoms were caused by boxing and whether or not his condition was degenerative, he was ultimately diagnosed with Pugilistic Parkinson’s syndrome. By late 2005 it was reported that Ali’s condition was notably worsening. According to the documentary When We Were Kings, when Ali was asked about whether he has any regrets about boxing due to his disability, he responded that if he didn’t box he would still be a painter in Louisville, Kentucky. Despite the progression of his disease, Ali remained active in public life. He was on hand to celebrate the inauguration of the first African-American president in January 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn into office. Soon after the inauguration, Ali received the President’s Award from the NAACP for his public service efforts. Ali has been married to his fourth wife, Yolanda, since 1986. The couple has one son, Asaad, and Ali has several children from previous relationships, including daughter Laila, who followed in his footsteps by becoming a champion boxer. Universally regarded as one of the greatest boxers in history, Ali’s stature as a legend continues to grow even as his physical state diminishes. He has been celebrated not only for his remarkable athletic skills, but for his willingness to speak his mind, and his courage to challenge. Muhammad Ali currently lives on a small farm near Berrien Springs, Michigan with his fourth wife, Yolanda ‘Lonnie’ Ali.