There once was a young man who had many nicknames. All of his nicknames fit his personality like a glove, but there was one nickname that stood out from the rest of them. It’s not “Louisville Lip” which he got from his tremendous trash talking and it’s also not “The Champ”. We have all come to know him as this name no matter who it is or where they are from. That nickname was “The Greatest”. People didn’t give him that nickname, he gave it to himself. Nobody ever gave Muhammad anything he had to earn it through hard work and dedication. The earned the title “The Greatest” by beating the best and then becoming it. This is how the journey of the greatest boxer to ever step foot on this earth started. On January 17, 1942, Muhammad’s journey started in Louisville General Hospital. His parents gave him the name of Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. after his father. Muhammad’s father was Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. Cassius was an extremely diligent worker. He was the grandson of “free coloreds” meaning they were not slaves. .He painted billboards for a living and he also painted murals on the side. Occasionally he would even sing. Cassius was one of the main reasons that his family was able to succeed in a segregated south city. If Cassius’s family would have moved away from the city of Louisville then they would have had more opportunity and not faced the difficulties of racism. Most of the African-American families at this time were not able to do well. The ones who lived in segregated cities often faced the threat of being lynched plus the fact that most of them could not provide for their families. Cassius’s husband was Odessa Grady Clay. On Odessa’s maternal side of her family she was a descendant from a white man and a slave whose name was Dina. On Odessa’s paternal side, her grandfather was an Irish immigrant and her grandmother was a “free colored”. She was often a stay at home mom who would always be there for her children. She also worked as a maid. Odessa was very faithful to her Christian religion. She installed the values of the Baptist faith in Muhammad and his younger brother Rudolph. All of Muhammad’s childhood he grew up in segregated public facilities. In fact when Muhammad was just five years old Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Most sports were still segregated at this time but not boxing.
Ever since Muhammad was a little boy people new he was going to be special. Muhammad was relatively small when he was a young boy. When Muhammad was young he didn’t have a love towards any sport. He was very active and liked to play them but he just didn’t find “his sport”. This all changed when at the age of 12 he rode his bike to the Louisville Home Show. He went inside for a short period of time and when he came back out he realized that his bike was stolen. He started walking around and threatening to “whup” anyone who stole his bike. He wondered into the basement of the building where there happened to be a local police officer teaching children how to box. That police officer was named Joe Martin. He said that Muhammad better learn to fight before he was going to “whup” anyone. Muhammad agreed and Joe taught Muhammad the basics of boxing. Luckily for Muhammad boxing was a sport that was not that segregated. If he would have chosen another sport such as baseball he would have found it to be a very hard time to get into the MLB. After all Jackie Robinson had just broken the color barrier and they were still skeptical to have negroes join and possibly take over the sport of baseball. Thankfully, he found the sport of boxing that day and didn’t get into a segregated sport.
Muhammad little by little climbed up the ranks as a boxer. Muhammad was eventually invited to take place in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He led the boxing team and won the gold medal in the 175 pound division. That’s when the Louisville Sponsoring Group, 11 rich white men, started to notice Muhammad and thought that he would be a good investment. They helped Muhammad start a professional career. Early in Muhammad’s career he was known for his overwhelming charm, personality, and his extraordinary ring skills. He would often raise interest in fights by reading childlike poetry. Later in his career he built up confidence and becoming very cocky. He often would call himself the greatest boxer to ever live. Muhammad would create self defense phrases to intimidate other opponents. One of the most famous phrases that he said was “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. He impressed many people across the world. His boxing stance was out of the ordinary. Instead of keeping your hands high and protecting your head he would keep his hands low to protect his ribs. Then he would taunt you with his head being vulnerable. When you would think you have a clear shot at his head he would dodge the punch and come back with a punch and knock you off-balance. He even appeared to be lackadaisical in the ring. Some people said he appear to lack the power needed to knock someone out.
When he was getting into his professional career, he would beat older more experienced fighters. Sometimes he would even predict the round he would knock someone out in. On February 25, 1964 he challenged Sonny Liston for the heavyweight champion title. At the time Liston was the most feared fighter to step in the ring. He had he fight the most power and most of everybody was scared to challenge him. Muhammad was the underdog. The fight was held in February of 1964. It was a back and forth bout between the two dominant boxers. In the sixth round of the fight Muhammad pulled ahead in the fight and landed many more punched than Liston. After the sixth round of the fight Liston could not fight any longer and Muhammad became the heavyweight champion of the world. Two days after the fight Muhammad agreed to the teachings of the Nation of Islam. His younger brother Rahman agreed with him. Many people were disappointed in him for this. On March 6, 1964 Muhammad got the name we all know him as from Elijah Muhammad. That name was Muhammad Ali.
On May 25, 1965 Liston challenged Muhammad to a rematch. Muhammad easily beat the old Liston in the first round of the fight. Muhammad Ali fought Cleveland Williams on November 14, 1966. In three rounds Muhammad landed more than 100 punches. He managed to knock Williams down six times. Perhaps the most impressive feat in those three rounds was he was only hit three times. Muhammad easily pulls ahead and wins the fight.
Muhammad refused induction into the United States Army on April 28, 1976. He refused because of his prominent religious beliefs. He later said “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong”. Most United States citizens were disappointed in him. This was still at a time where the Vietnam war was still supported by most U.S. citizens. After Ali denied going to the war he was stripped of the heavyweight title. On top of being stripped from the title he was banned from fighting in every state for three and a half years. After he refused induction into the U.S. Army he was sentenced to five years in prison. Instead of spending the full five years in jail he spent four years on bail and then the Supreme Court overturned it. Ali also said “Unless you have a very good reason to kill, war is wrong”.
Muhammad returned to boxing in October 1970 but his skills were not nere what they used to be. His legs didn’t have the stamina that they used to. His reflexes have degraded. Muhammad’s first fights when he returned were against Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonquena. On March 8, 1971 Muhammad Ali challenged the great Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title. This fight was nicknamed “The Fight of the Century”. The fight lasted a brutal 15 rounds and Joe Frazier defended the title. After the fight Ali continued to win 10 straight fights. On March 31st Ken Norton beat Muhammad Ali and broke his jaw in the process. Muhammad Ali beat Norton in a rematch. As soon as Muhammad beat Norton in a rematch Muhammad challenged Joe Frazier to a rematch. Joe Frazier could not pull through with a win against Muhammad’s best performance since he was band. Joe Frazier lost to George Foreman before he lost to Muhammad. So Muhammad went after the title again and challenged George Foreman. The fight was going to be fought in Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo). The people of Zaire looked up to Muhammad as if he was their hero. He used a technique created by Archie Moore called the rope-a-dope. Rope-a-dope was when Muhammad leaned against the ropes to avoid the heavy blows by George Foreman. Muhammad won the fight by knockout. Muhammad fought Frazier a third time on October 1, 1975. The fight was fought in the Philippines and was nicknamed the “Thrilla in Manila”. It was nicknamed this because the bout was fought 6 miles away from Manila. Muhammad won the bout after Joe Frazier’s corner called the fight. In 1978 Muhammad lost the heavyweight title to Leon Spinks. Leon won gold in the Olympics but had only fought seven professional bouts. Seven months after his disappointing lost he regained the title. After he regained the title he retired from boxing. He had enough of retirement after about two years of it so he came back to the sport of boxing. His first fight after he came back he lost to Larry Holmes. He was being beaten so badly that Muhammad’s corner stopped the fight after eleven rounds. Muhammad retired from boxing for good. His final record was 56-7 with a total of 37 knockouts. A stunning fact about him is that 58.7% of Muhammad’s boxing matches he knocked someone out. During his boxing career he took too many blows to the head which caused some consequences. They were slurred speech and his movement slowed down tremendously.
Some fun facts about Muhammad were his professional career lasted a total of 21 years. He developed Parkinson’s Syndrome which was cause by deadly blows to the head. He was the oldest son in the Clay family. His dad was born in 1912 and died in 1990. His mother was born in 1917 and died in 1994. There was a 5 year age gap between the two. He has appear on the Sports Illustrated cover the second most ever. He appeared on it 38 times. Only the famed Michael Jordan has appear on it more. By the age of 18 years old Muhammad had won golden gloves two times. Also by the age of 18 he won two Amateur Athletic Union nation titles along with an impressive overall 100 wins and a meer 8 losses. Due to Muhammad’s infamous trash talking he acquired the nickname of “Louisville Lip”. When Muhammad faced Sonny Liston for the first time he was a 7-1 underdog. Perhaps one of the most famous phrases Muhammad said came from that fight. It was “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. Although he did not win the first fight he did indeed deliver the promise. After Sonny Liston refused to fight at the beginning of the seventh round Muhammad exclaimed “I am the greatest!”. Which will later become another one of Muhammad’s famous phrases. He was the first person ever to win the title three times. He was married four times. His first wife was Sonji Roi. His second wife was Veronica Porché Ali. His third wife was Khalilah Ali. His fourth wife was Lonnie Ali. Lonnie was married to Muhammad until he passed away in 2016. The exact date the Muhammad died was on June 3, 2016. Laila Ali was Muhammad’s youngest daughter. She followed in her father’s footsteps and became a professional boxer. Muhammad had a total of nine kids. Muhammad’s trainer from 1960-1981 was Angelo Dundee. Angelo also worked with world famous boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. In the movie Ali Will Smith portrayed the famous Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali said the Sonny Liston “smelled like a bear.” and he was going to “ donate him to a zoo”. In the 20th century he was voted as the number one heavyweight boxer. Muhammad’s most common nicknames were Louisville Lip, The Champ, and The Greatest.
Muhammad Ali was a man with many names. The funny thing about him is that he never gave himself a nickname. All of the ones that he was called by he earned. He earned those throughout hard work and dedication. He always gave his 110%. Muhammad never gave up no matter what. That is why Muhammad is currently ranked the best boxer ever by so many people. People are all born with talent but it is how the choose to bring it out. Some people like to sit inside all day and play video games on their Xbox. Some people go to the gym every day to get stronger and better at what they want to do in life. We need more people that go and work at what they want to do. If you never go and work at something then how will you get better at it. If you just show up to practice and expect that that’s enough and you will be the best on the team from just showing up to practice your wrong. You have to be working when others aren’t. In practice you have to want to give it 110% when others are only giving 50%. That’s the key to becoming a champion like Muhammad Ali.