Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., was born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 18, 1942. At the young age of 12, Clay received his first boxing lessons. By the age of 16 he would go on to win the Louisville Golden Gloves tournament as a light heavyweight, sending him to the quarter finals of the regional championship in Chicago. In 1960, Clay won the Olympic Gold Medal as a Light Heavyweight at the age of 18, launching him on his way toward a professional career in boxing. In 1964, at the age of 22, Clay became an undefeated heavyweight champion. These events were the beginning of a 20+ year career in boxing that would ultimately earn him a title as the three-time Heavy Weight Champion of the World.
In 1963, Clay joined the Nation of Islam. Soon after, he would change his name to Muhammad Ali. Ali would eventually find disagreement with some of the beliefs of the Nation of Islam, and instead join the religion of Islam. In a 1991 Sport’s Illustrated interview by Bill Nack, Ali told him ``I was Cassius Clay then. I was a Negro. I ate pork. I had no confidence. I thought white people were superior. I was a Christian Baptist named Cassius Clay.’’
Ali had a record of 56 wins and five losses and was both well loved and hated for his charismatic and confident manner in describing his looks, his fighting and his beliefs. Ali was famous for his poetic phrases like "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," and proclaiming "I am the greatest." He was also a man that stood firmly to his principles and faith. In 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army claiming conscientious objector status as a "minister of the religion of Islam." His refusal got him arrested, his boxing license suspended, and he was stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali was banned from boxing for 3 ½ years only to regain the heavyweight title against George Foreman in 1974 (pictured below). The 1974 fight was documented in the 1996 film "When We Were Kings" by Leon Gast. In 1981, Ali retired from boxing. Muhammad Ali was elected to the boxing Hall of Fame on September 14, 1987.
During his retirement Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which affected his motor skills, particularly his speech. It is believed that the disease was caused by too many blows to the head. Parkinson's Disease, however, has done little to stop the determination of Ali, who likes to practice his Islamic duty of performing "good deeds." Ali’s charity work has included donating millions of dollars to those in need and organizations of all religious denominations. Much of his work has been done anonymously. In 1990, before the Gulf War erupted, Ali met with Saddam Hussein in Iraq and negotiated the release of 15 hostages. In 1997 Ali called on the U.S. government to aid the refugees of Rwanda and for Americans to donate to charities involved in helping the people of Rwanda. These are just some of the many contributions Muhammad Ali has made.
Ali is also well known for taking it upon himself to hand out information about Islam to educate people about the Islamic faith. Ali and Thomas Hauser, a Jew, put together a booklet called "Healing" which they distribute freely. The booklet contains quotes on tolerance from various thinkers such as Voltaire, not to mention Ali himself, that the former boxer found moving. Ali also has a daily hobby of working on what he calls "contradictions." He finds a list of passages in the Bible that are conflicting with other passages and shares these contradictions in an effort to promote and teach Islam. Ali is a devout Muslim, who regularly performs prayers and attends his local mosque near his South Bend estate in Indiana.
At the 1996 Olympic Opening Games Ceremony in Atlanta, Ali was honored to carry the torch before a crowd of 800,000 cheering fans to light the Olympic Flame that would begin the Olympic Games. The moment was a very touching climax in the life of the great boxer Muhammad Ali. Ali is a man who aside from his notable explosive punches in the ring, overcame many personal obstacles in his own life, while standing firm in his religious beliefs, to become a man that fans and history books will never forget. The boxer may have slowed with age, but he still floats like a butterfly….