Was it sheer accident that Muhammad Ali found himself in a boxing ring – or was it fate? Who would’ve thought that a stolen bike would be the beginning of such an illustrious boxing career? Muhammad Ali born Cassius Marcellus Clay, bike was stolen in 1954. The 12-year-old Cassius found a cop in a gym, Joe Martin, and boiling with youthful rage, told Martin he was going to beat whoever stole his bike. Martin admonished, “You better learn to box first.” Within weeks, 89-pound Cassius had won his first bout. Even in his youth, he had dreams of being heavyweight champion.
Ali would continue to dominate the ring as a teen, he did not work and his only activity was boxing. Young Cassius dedicated himself to boxing with a fervor unmatched by other young boxers Cassius won the Olympic Gold Medal in Rome in 1960. Although Cassius returned home to a parade, Louisville was still part of the segregate south.
Ali is a three-time World Heavyweight Champion. He defeated Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964 to capture his first Heavyweight title. He won the Heavyweight title the 2nd time when he stopped George Forman on October 30, 1974 and his 3rd Heavyweight title, when he beat Joe Frazier on September 30, 1975.
In 1964, he joined the black muslim nation and then got named as “Muhammad Ali”. In April 1967, he refused to serve on the millitiary grounds because he was a practicing Muslim minister with religious beliefs that prevented him from fighting. He was arrested for committing an assault and almost immediately stripped of his world title and boxing license. He was found guilty of violating Selective Service laws and sentenced to five years in prison in June 1967, but remained free while appealing his conviction. Unable to compete professionally in the meantime, Ali missed more than three prime years of his athletic career. He finally returned to the ring in 1970.
In 1984 he announced that he had Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition, and was involved in raising funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the years, Ali also supported the Special Olympics and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, among other organizations. Ali traveled to numerous countries, including Mexico and Morocco, to help out those in need. In 1998, he was chosen to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace because of his work in developing nations.
Despite the progression of Parkinson’s and the onset of spinal stenosis, 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.
Things began taking a turn for the worse within a few years. In early 2015, Ali was hospitalized for a severe urinary tract infection after having battled pneumonia. He was hospitalized again in early June 2016 for what was reportedly a respiratory issue. The revered athlete passed away on the evening of June 3, 2016, at a Phoenix, Arizona facility.
Universally regarded as one of the greatest boxers in history, Ali’s stature as a legend continued to grow even as his physical state diminished. He continues to be celebrated not only for his remarkable athletic skills but for his willingness to speak his mind and his courage to challenge the status quo.