On January 17, 1942 - at about six thirty p.m. - the biggest sport legend of the twentieth century was born in Louisville, Kentucky.
When Odessa Clay and her husband Cassius Marcellus looked proudly at their tiny son on this winter day in Louisville they didn't dare to dream that the six and one half pound human being they held in their arms would one day be the heavyweight champion and one of the most popular men of the world.
Cassius grew up in West End Louisville, a black area, together with his younger brother Rudolph who later changed his name into Rahaman. Their father painted religious and commercial plates while Odessa Clay worked as a cleaning woman and cook in white upper-class families. Although the Clays were not very wealthy.
At the age of twelve, Cassius got into boxing. His new Schwinn bike had been stolen and on his way to the police station he met police officer Joe Martin who besides ran a boxing gym. The furious lad told Martin that he would whip the thief if he found him. Martin suggested Cassius to learn how to box properly. Cassius agreed and went to Martin's gym regularly from then on.
Ali always had a pretty good idea of what he was talking about. He became the first man to win the heavyweight title three times and revolutionized the sport by introducing a new style.
As Cassius Clay, he won a light heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Olympics, and "danced"
his way to the heavyweight crown. On the way up he beat Billy Daniels, Archie Moore, Doug Jones and Henry Cooper.
In 1964, he challenged the most famous boxer at the time, Sonny Liston, for the heavyweight title. Clay indeed "Shocked the World" by forcing Liston to give up after the sixth round. After the fight Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and became a muslim.
Ali was very arrogant and selfconfident. He often wrote poetry describing how he would defeat opponents. So talented and so fast was Ali, that he was able to box while holding his left hand by his side and often pulled straight back to avoid punches. Nevertheless, he had the best jab in boxing.
Then in 1967, Ali, because of his religous beliefs, refused to recruit into the U.S. Army. He was arrested, had his boxing license suspended and lost his heavyweight title. He was inactive from March 22, 1967 to October 26, 1970, and got almost broke. Many feel that this were his bad years.
With Ali gone, Joe Frazier boxed his way through the division and won the title of heavyweight champion. Ali returned in 1970 with wins over Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena, and arranged a fight between himself and Frazier.
Both men were unbeaten at the time, and while Frazier earned his heavyweight title in the ring, Before the fight, Ali named himself the peoples' champion and said that Frazier could say goodbye to his "undefeated king of the division" title. But Frazier managed to beat Ali in the 15th round and won in what is still called "The Fight of the Century".
Ali regained the heavyweight crown in 1974 by slaying a giant. George Foreman was considered invincible and the 32-year-old Ali was given little chance to beat him. The fight ,also known as "The rumble in the jungle," was held in Kinsasha, Zaire and Ali stopped Foreman in the eighth round.
Ali successfully defended the title against a host of contenders, including the final fights of his trilogies with Frazier and Ken Norton. Finally, in 1978, Olympic gold medalist Leon Spinks, who had participated in just eighth pro fight, upset Ali to win the title. However, Ali made history six months later when he defeated Spinks in a rematch to capture the crown a third time. Ali had two more fights and both ended in defeat. He was stopped by Larry Holmes in 1980 and lost against Trevor Berbick in 1981.
Ali became an idol and gave courage to the black population in America during the sixties.