Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., was an American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist. He is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century. From early in his career, Ali was known as an inspiring, controversial, and polarizing figure both inside and outside the ring. Take a look below for 30 more fascinating and interesting facts about Muhammad Ali.
1. He was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and began training as an amateur boxer when he was 12 years old.
2. At the age of 18, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and turned professional later that year.
3. At the age of 22, in 1964, he won the WBA, WBC, and lineal heavyweight titles from Sonny Liston in a major upset.
4. After his win against Sonny Listen, he announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay, which he called his “slave name”, to Muhammad Ali.
5. He set an example of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination during the Civil Rights Movement.
6. In 1966, two years after winning the heavyweight title, Ali further antagonized the white establishment by refusing to be drafted into the United States military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War.
7. He was eventually arrested, found guilty of draft evasion charges, and stripped of his boxing titles.
8. He successfully appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, by which time he had not fought for nearly four years and thereby lost a period of peak performance as an athlete.
9. Ali’s action as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation.
10. Ali was one of the leading heavyweight boxers of the 20th century, and remains the only three time lineal heavyweight champion.
11. His records of beating 21 boxers for the world heavyweight title, as well as winning 14 unified title bouts, were unbeaten for 35 years.
12. Ali is the only boxer to be named The Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year six times.
13. He was ranked the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time by Ring Magazine and The Associated Press, and the second greatest pound-for-pound boxer by ESPN.
14. He was ranked as the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC, and the third greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN SportsCentury.
15. Nicknamed “the Greatest,” he was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these were the Liston fights; the “Fight of the Century”, ‘Super Fight II” and the “Thrilla in Manila” against his rival Joe Frazier, and “The Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman.
16. At a time when most fighters let their managers do the talking, Ali thrived in and indeed craved the spotlight, where he was often provocative and outlandish.
17. He was known for trash talking, and often freestyled with rhyme schemes and spoken word poetry, both for his trash talking in boxing and as political poetry for his activism, anticipating elements of rap and hip hop music.
18. As a musician, Ali recorded two spoken word albums and a rhythm and blues song, and received two Grammy Award nominations.
19. As an actor, he performed in several films and a Broadway musical. He also wrote two autobiographies, one during and one after his boxing career.
20. As a Muslim, Ali was initially affiliated with Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam and advocated their black separatist ideology. However, he later disavowed the Nation of Islam, adhering to Sunni Islam, practicing Sufism, and supporting racial integration, like his former mentor Malcolm X.
21. As a child, Ali was refused an autograph from his boxing idol Sugar Ray Robinson. When Ali became a prized fighter, he vowed to never deny an autograph request, which he honored through his entire career. He even had a special P.O. Box for anyone who wanted his autograph.
22. He reportedly went two months without sex before a big fight, claiming that it made him unbeatable in the ring.
23. When Ali was 12 years old, he and his friend went to the Columbia Auditorium. On returning from the show, they went back to get their bicycles only to discover that Ali’s bike had been stolen. This incident inspired Ali to become a boxer.
24. One of the first MMA fights was between Ali and a Japanese professional wrestler. Only shortly before the fight, Ali’s camp realized that it wasn’t going to be orchestrated. After the fight, and 64 kicks to his legs, Ali was left with 2 blood clots which nearly caused his leg to be amputated.
25. He was invited to North Korea in 1995 with a collection of other athletes. Though he didn’t speak much during the visit, at one function, as officials claimed that they could take out the United States or Japan whenever they wanted to, Ali declared loudly, “no wonder we hate these motherfuckers.”
26. Mike Tyson saw Ali’s last much at the age of 14 and got mad at Larry Holmes, who beat Ali. Tyson got Ali on the phone and said: “I’ll grow up and get him back for you.” Seven years later, Tyson met Holmes. Retired Ali stepped in the ring and said: “Remember what you promised.” Tyson beat Holmes in the 4th round.
27. The Hollywood Walk of Fame star for Ali is the only one that’s placed on a wall and not on the ground because Ali, “didn’t want the name of Muhammad to be stepped on.”
28. In the “Rumble in the Jungle” fight, Ali allowed George Foreman to fruitlessly strike him in the arms and torso for 8 rounds, without fighting back to tire him out, then punched Foreman ten times in a row to knock him out.
29. Wilt Chamberlain once challenged Ali to a boxing match. Wilt was a foot taller and 60 pounds heavier with a massive reach. During a joint conference, Ali answered every question with “Timberrrr!” After breaking to meet with his lawyers, Wilt returned and called the fight off.
30. In 1976, Teofilo Stevenson was offered $5 million to turn professional and challenge the world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Stevenson refused the offer, saying, “What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?” He won three Olympic medals for Cuba.