There is so much that can be said about “The Greatest” and his life outside the ring, but Muhammad Ali’s boxing career was also the stuff of legend.
Ali’s journey inside the ropes began with a stolen bicycle. When Ali (then Cassius Clay) was 12 years old, his bike was stolen after he left it unattended. This event led the young Clay to a police officer named Joe Martin, who encouraged the boy to take the anger he was feeling and channel it inside a boxing ring.
Little did anyone know what would eventually stem from that chance meeting in 1954, but the sport of boxing, and perhaps the world at large, would never be quite the same.
Cassius Clay moved through the amateur boxing ranks with ease, and earned the opportunity of a lifetime when he qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1960. Clay came away with the gold medal in the light heavyweight division, defeating Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzykowski in the finals.
Upon returning to the United States, Clay turned pro and ran off a string of 19 consecutive victories. Cassius Clay was somewhat untested as a professional at this point, but his undefeated record and impressive skill set earned him a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship in 1964.
Clay’s opponent in that bout was Sonny Liston, a fearsome brawler who was thought to be unbeatable by many inside the boxing establishment. Did this 22-year-old upstart even stand a chance against a wrecking ball like Liston?
As the fight began, it became clear that Clay not only had a chance, but also appeared to be the superior fighter. After absorbing a great deal of punishment from Clay and being continually frustrated by Clay’s elusiveness, Liston failed to come out for the seventh round, making Cassius Clay the new World Heavyweight Champion.
Cassius Clay’s victory, however, was questioned by many boxing fans, and even the FBI. According to Fox Sports, the FBI had suspicions that the Mafia was involved in fixing the outcome of the fight. To this day, no conclusive proof of any wrongdoing has come to light.
Clay, now known as Muhammad Ali, met Liston in a rematch on May 25, 1965. The fight was bizarre from the opening bell, ending late in the first round when referee Jersey Joe Walcott stopped the bout after Liston was knocked down by Ali. Some claimed they never saw the punch that floored Liston, and there was a public outcry that this bout had also been “fixed.”
Muhammad Ali spent the next two years plowing through the heavyweight division, defending his title nine times by 1967. However, Ali’s reign came to an end after he refused induction into the U.S. Army in April of that year. After more than three years of legal wrangling, Ali was allowed to continue his boxing career in 1970.
After notching a couple of wins in his comeback bid, Muhammad Ali took on the current Heavyweight Champion, Joe Frazier. Billed as the “Fight of the Century,” this was an epic showdown between two of boxing’s finest, and the bout itself did not disappoint. Frazier retained his title with a unanimous 15-round decision over Ali, and thus began one of the greatest rivalries boxing has ever seen.
In 1973, Ali was upset by a relatively unknown fighter named Ken Norton, who would become a nemesis to Ali over the course of his boxing career.
Muhammad Ali went on to avenge his losses to Frazier and Norton, but now an even greater challenge loomed on the horizon. Ali signed to fight the current Heavyweight Champion, George Foreman, in 1974. Much like Sonny Liston a decade before, Foreman was a powerful force who many thought could not be defeated — especially by an aging Muhammad Ali.
Facing long odds against the younger and stronger Foreman, Ali once again “shocked the world” as he did against Liston in 1964. Ali took Foreman’s best shots, and as Foreman began to tire badly, Ali pounced on “Big George” and knocked him out in the eighth round to reclaim the Heavyweight Title.
In 1975, Muhammad Ali faced Joe Frazier for the third time, and as reported by CBS News, this bout has long been considered one of the best fights in the history of the sport. The clash between these two warriors ended when Frazier was unable to answer the bell for the 15th round.
Both men gave everything they had that night in Manila, with Ali stating after the fight that facing Frazier was “the closest thing to death.”
The boxing career of Muhammad Ali continued for another six years, but his best days were behind him after he defeated Joe Frazier in ’75.
Muhammad Ali’s boxing career, which spanned 21 years, yielded a record of 56-5, with 37 of those victories by knockout.
The world lost a true icon when Ali passed away on June 3 at the age of 74, but his legacy, both inside and outside the ring, will live on eternally.
[Photo by AP Images]