Muhammad Ali, born on January 17, 1942, is one of the greatest boxers who ever lived. Today, one cannot talk about boxing without referencing him. He was one of the most celebrated sports icons of the 20th century, and he’s known as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Ali started training at 12, and he achieved heights that are still unbeatable to this day. He was a boxer, philanthropist, activist, poet, and entertainer who molded his success with his very hands. Ali lived a rewarding life. His legacy is still relevant a century later, which is why we’ll help you celebrate his birthday.
Muhammad Ali was a global force within and outside the ring. His resilience, determination, and hard work helped him attain unattainable feats, and even in death, his legacy still lives on. Ali was born Cassius Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. His parents, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. and Odessa Grady Clay, were descendants of enslaved South antebellum people. Therefore, Ali was of African and Irish descent but was predominantly African. Ali was a Capricorn and had dyslexia when he was growing up. In the Central High School, Louisville, where he attended, Ali had problems reading and writing for a significant part of his life. However, this didn’t deter his boxing dreams.
When Ali turned 12, he started training as an amateur boxer. His boxing career debuted in 1954 with a match against Ronnie O’Keefe, which he won. By 1960, when he was 18, Ali won a gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics Light Heavyweight division. That same year, he joined Islam and became a Muslim. Four years later, on February 25, 1964, Ali took the World Heavyweight Championship title from Sonny Liston. He married his first wife, Sonji Roi, the same year and later renounced his birth name ‘Cassius,’ adopting ‘Muhammad Ali’ instead.
Being an African-American in the 1960s was difficult for Ali. He refused to be drafted in the Vietnam War and was stripped of his boxing titles, but the Supreme Court later overturned this in 1971. However, Ali was an African-American first. While exiled, he partook in the Civil Rights Movement by protesting on the streets, speaking in colleges, and becoming a spoken word artist. He received Grammy nominations for his two studio albums, “I Am the Greatest!” released in 1963, and “The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay,” released in 1976.
On October 29, Ali boxes professionally against Tunney Hunsaker — he wins the match.
In a match against Sonny Liston, the then World Heavyweight Champion, Ali wins by a T.K.O.
In the third fight against Joe Frazier, Ali is declared the World Heavyweight Champion after 15 rounds.
Ali gives up boxing permanently.
Due to head trauma from boxing, Ali gets diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 42.
On June 3, Ali passes away from septic shock following a respiratory illness.
Why We Love Muhammad Ali
He was a civil rights activist
Ali walked the streets with Dr. Martin Luther King in protests for the Civil Rights Movement. Ali was Dr. King’s ally and friend.
He was a philanthropist
Ali practiced his Islamic duty of giving charity. He helped feed 22 million people affected by hunger across diverse nations.
He saved a life
Aside from the lives he’s saved via his philanthropic acts, Ali singlehandedly talked a suicidal man off a ninth-floor ledge. The event happened in January 1981.
5 Surprising Facts
Ali had been married four times
He’s walked down the aisle four times; his last wife was Yolanda Williams, whom he married in 1986.
He had nine kids
Ali fathered nine children from five women — he was legally married to three of those women.
U.S. hostages release
Ali traveled to Iraq, where he met Saddam Hussein and got the U.S. hostages released.
A momentous achievement
Ali achieved the title of a three-time World Heavyweight Champion — no one has accomplished the same feat.
He was a doctor
In June 2007, Princeton University awarded Ali an honorary doctorate of humanities.
Muhammad Ali FAQs
Did Muhammad Ali ever lose a fight?
Yes, in his entire professional career, Ali only lost five times.
Who was Muhammad Ali’s toughest opponent?
Ali cited his fight with Sonny Liston as his toughest in an interview.
Did Muhammad Ali ever fight Mike Tyson?
These two Heavyweight Champions never fought against each other.
Muhammad Ali’s birthday dates