How Muhammad Ali 'shook up the world'

  • Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, in New York City, 1964.
  • Muhammad Ali in a boxing outfit posing for studio photographer in Chicago, Ill. in 1966.
  • World heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali has his hands bandaged by his manager Angelo Dundee before the day’s training session at the Territorial Army Gymnasium at White City, London on May 16, 1966.
  • Cleveland Williams is spreadeagled on the canvas as referee Harry Kessler sends Muhammad Ali to a neutral corner during their heavyweight bout at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas on Nov. 14, 1966.
  • In this photo taken on Oct. 19, 1974 shows US boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (L) (born Cassius Clay) 11 days before the heavy-weight world championship in Kinshasa. On Oct. 30, 1974 Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in a clash of titans known as the “Rumble in the Jungle”, watched by 60 000 people in the stadium in Kinshasa and millions elsewhere. 
  • The winners of the 1960 Olympic medals for light heavyweight boxing on the winners’ podium at Rome: Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali) (C), gold; Zbigniew Pietrzykowski of Poland (R), silver; and Giulio Saraudi (Italy) and Anthony Madigan (Australia), joint bronze. 
  • In this Nov. 15, 1962, file photo, young heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, points to a sign he wrote on a chalkboard in his dressing room before his fight against Archie Moore in Los Angeles, predicting he’d knock Moore out in the fourth round, which he went on to do. 
  • Muhammad Ali is pictured in his training camp.
  • Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw on May 25, 1965, in Lewiston, Maine. The bout lasted only one minute into the first round. Ali is the only man ever to win the world heavyweight boxing championship three times. He also won a gold medal in the light-heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome as a member of the U.S. Olympic boxing team. In 1964 he dropped the name Cassius Clay and adopted the Muslim name Muhammad Ali. 
  • Muhammad Ali in action against Al “Blue” Lewis in Dublin, Ireland, 1972.
  • Muhammad Ali in Miami, Fla, 1970.
  • Heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali with his daughters Laila and Hanna at Grosvenor House on Dec. 19th, 1978.
  • Former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali watches his 21-year-old daughter Laila Ali in her debut as a professional boxer at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, Oct. 8, 1999. 
  • Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), the deposed world heavyweight boxing champion, told an anti-war rally at the University of Chicago on May 11, 1967, that there is a difference between fighting in the ring and fighting in Vietnam.
  • Muhammad Ali on a bridge overlooking the Chicago River and the city’s skyline in Chicago, Il., 1966.
  • Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, the boxing world heavy weight champion in Chicago, Il., on a bridge over the Chicago River in 1966.

of

Updated

Muhammad Ali, the former heavyweight champion boxer and cultural icon, died Friday night in Phoenix at age 74 after a long, public battle with Parkinson’s disease. Ali was arguably the most beloved and recognized sports figure in the world – but it was not always that way.

Vilified from almost the moment he arrived on the national stage, Ali declared himself a legend far earlier than anyone else was willing to do so. When he first gained national exposure, he was a brash, loud-mouthed, 22-year-old upstart named Cassius Clay, who was challenging formidable heavyweight champion Sonny Liston for the title. No one thought he had a chance back in 1964, and when he “shook up the world,” defeating Liston in seven rounds, he changed the worlds of boxing, sports and American culture forever.

The champ stirred more controversy that same year when he changed his name to Muhammad Ali and embraced the radical Nation of Islam. Ali later cited his faith as the reason he did not want to serve in the Vietnam War. His decision to reject the draft sparked national outrage, but also made Ali a counterculture folk hero. Nevertheless, his stalwart stance cost him his championship belt and his boxing license for a period.

In the early 1970s, Ali made a triumphant comeback in a series of high-profile bouts against his most fearsome opponent, the late, great Joe Frazier. Their personalities and boxing styles were polar opposites, but their names will forever be linked due to three epic, racially charged faceoffs. Frazier got the best of Ali the first time, but the self-proclaimed “Greatest of All Time” won the final two.

In 1974, Ali earned the championship title yet again in one of his most celebrated bouts, “The Rumble in the Jungle.” The fight was a multimillion-dollar spectacular staged in the African nation formerly known as Zaire by the one and only Don King. Ali was a tremendous underdog to his opponent, the younger and physically stronger George Foreman. By employing his signature rope-a-dope technique, which exhausted Foreman, Ali pulled off the impossible – knocking out his heavily favored foe in the eighth round.

Ali would win several more victories into the late ’70s, even after many pundits and prognosticators claimed he was past his prime. Some have speculated that the physical punishment Ali took in his later years in the ring may have caused or contributed to his debilitating Parkinson’s disease, but there was never enough scientific or medical evidence to support that conclusion.

As Ali grew older and he started to display signs of Parkinson’s, he continued to do what he did his entire career: put on a brave face. Time and distance warmed much of the American public to Ali’s old antics, and his bravery in the face of illness served as an inspiration to millions around the world. Ali’s lighting of the Olympic torch at the 1996 Atlanta games remains a cherished memory for many of the millennial generation.

Today, Ali’s boasts and braggadocio have had a heavy influence on professional athletes and the hip-hop generation. His political activism and black pride have also only grown in stature with each ensuing decade. And while Ali’s gift of speech – one of his greatest assets – was largely taken from him in his later years, his presence continued to speak volumes.

There will be athletes who earn more fame and endorsements and stars who are more celebrated. But there will only be one who was the greatest.

Speak Out