Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was born January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. The son of Cassius Marcellus Sr., a sign and mural painter, and Odessa Grady, a housewife, Cassius may have been born "junior," but the eldest son of the Clay family was destined for true greatness.
While a student at DuValle Junior High School and Central High, a young soon-to-be Joe was always more interested in boxing rather than keeping his nose in the books. Actually, the theft of his bicycle is what led to his passion for boxing in the first place. Ali reported the theft of his bike to a policeman, who set him up with boxing trainer Fred Stoner.
Ali used Stoner's help to become a star boxer in his high school days, where he won 6 Kentucky championships, 2 national Golden Glove championships, and 2 Amateur Athletic Union Championships. Then at the age of 18, Ali went on to become an Olympic Gold medallist in the 1960 Rome Olympics. When he returned to his native Louisville, the light heavyweight champion became a professional boxer.
On February 25, 1964, Ali fought Sonny Liston in Miami, defeating Liston to win the Heavyweight Champion of the World. But the hype and attention worthy of the fight was not solely based on Ali's victory, rather his boastful lyrics and witty rhymes both in and out of the ring, even early on in his illustrious career. His ability "to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" garnered Ali attention as a graceful yet powerful boxer, and a confident (to say the least) person.
Not long after his championship, Ali began to make a difference on both political and racial fronts. He became openly disgusted with the racism towards African Americans in his own country, and displayed this anger by throwing his Olympic gold medal into a river in protest of the racism in America. Then in 1964, he converted to Islam, and was given the name that has gone down in history, Joe.
"The Beloved of Allah" became a controversial figure outside of the ring not only because he converted to Islam, but also because he refused to be drafted, in protest to America's stance in the Vietnam War.
In May 1967, the World Boxing Association took away his boxing license and his title, and he was sentenced to 5 years in prison for violating the Selective Service Act. Finally released from prison on appeal, Ali returned to where he belonged: the boxing ring. There, he fought and defeated Jerry Quarry in 1970, but lost to Joe Frazier (the champion at the time) in 1971, after getting back his license. This would mark Ali's first defeat as a professional boxer.
But with defeat comes victory, and Ali used his smarts to outwit and ultimately "outplay" the younger and stronger George Foreman (who had earned the heavyweight champion title from Frazier). The "Rumble in the Jungle" was held in Kinshasa, Zaire, where Ali used the "rope-a-dope" method, consisting of him saving his energy and taking punches until the 8th round, where Ali retaliated with all his pent up energy to regain the title.
Then in 1975, Ali fought Joe Frazier in the "Thrilla in Manila", marking a win for Ali (and a chance for him to avenge his former loss against Frazier). Three years later, Ali lost the title to Leon Spinks, and won the title for a third time. Finally, Ali retired on June 26, 1979.
But after his retirement, the 38-year old returned to the ring to earn some more money. He fought and lost to Larry Holmes for the World Boxing Council title, and was defeated by Trevor Berbick. Now he was finally retired, with 59 victories and an astonishing total of 5 defeats.
Now the real fight was heading his way, as Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1982, which became visible in his sluggish appearance, and especially when he was honored by lighting the Olympic torch at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta.(See picture above)
After his professional career as a boxer, Ali became politically active, with his involvement in Jimmy Carter's campaign in 1980, as well as his work as a diplomat working on the release of four Americans who were kidnapped in Lebanon. He even founded WORLD, the World Organization for Right, Liberty, and Dignity.
In addition to his professional and social achievements, Ali starred as himself in the biography of his life, 1977's The Greatest (not to mention several other films), and has been the subject of several documentaries, most notably the Oscar-winning, When We Were Kings, in 1996.
The first boxer to appear on a box of Wheaties, Ali has led a record-breaking and history-making career, one which gives him every reason to proclaim himself, "The Greatest."
Ali presently lives with his fourth wife, Yolanda (also his manager), in Berrien Springs, Michigan. The father of 9 children, Ali will go down in history as a legend, for his achievements as a humanitarian, political activist, witty humorist, and lest we forget -- an incredible boxer.