(Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an American Olympic and professional boxer, widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century. From early in his career, Ali was known as an inspiring, controversial and polarizing figure both inside and outside the ring.
Clay was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and began training when he was 12 years old. At 22, he won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in an upset in 1964. Shortly after that, Clay converted to Islam, changed his “slave” name to Ali, and gave a message of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. In 1966, two years after winning the heavyweight title, Ali further antagonized the white establishment by refusing to be conscripted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. He was eventually arrested, found guilty of draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing titles. He successfully appealed in the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971. By that time, he had not fought for nearly four years—losing a period of peak performance as an athlete. Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation.
Ali remains the only three-time lineal world heavyweight champion; he won the title in 1964, 1974, and 1978. Between February 25, 1964, and September 19, 1964, Ali reigned as the heavyweight boxing champion. Nicknamed “The Greatest”, he was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these were the “Fight of the Century”, “Super Fight II” and the “Thrilla in Manila” versus his rival Joe Frazier, the first Liston fight, and “The Rumble in the Jungle” versus George Foreman. Ali retired from boxing in 1981.
Ali resembled resiliency, fortitude and confidence to stand squarely on his principles when approached with adversity. He was not only a loud, hard hitting boxer but a conscious intelligent thinker, who understood his task as a leader for a nation of oppressed Africans here in America.