Mohammad Ali: A Short Biography of A Legend

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Mohammad Ali is a boxing legend who is considered one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. He was prominent throughout the 1960s and 1970s and was perhaps the greatest athlete of that time.

He was born a Christian, with the name Cassius Clay Jr. but he later changed his faith to Islam and changed his name to Mohammad Ali.

Clay was an African American i.e. he was a Black American. At that time, racism was prevalent in America at a dangerous rate, and Clay used to face a lot of racial prejudice and discrimination during his childhood years. That created a tough and daring attitude in him, which later helped him with boxing.

When Clay was 12 years old, his bike was stolen. He reported the crime to the police. He told a police officer that he wanted to find and beat the person who stole his bike. The police officer used to train young boxers at the local gym. He told Clay, “You need to learn to fight before you start thinking about beating people up.” Then he recruited Clay into the gym and started teaching him boxing. Clay found out that he had the talent and skills of boxing, and very soon he started taking part in amateur boxing contests. He was earning a great reputation as an amateur boxer. He won most of his matches as an amateur light heavyweight boxer and he even won several Golden Glove championships. He was therefore dubbed as one of best amateur boxers in the world.

In 1960, Clay joined the US Olympic team and travelled to Rome, Italy to take part in the Olympics. He shocked everyone by winning the Gold medal for the light heavyweight championship there, which consequently made him an American hero. After that, he became a professional boxer.

From 1960 to 1963, Clay played 19 boxing bouts (matches) and didn’t lose a single one of them. 15 of those 19 wins were knockouts. He defeated great boxers like Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, George Logan, Donnie Fleeman, Alonzo Johnson etc. In 1964, he faced Sonny Liston in a world heavyweight championship match. He stunned the whole world by defeating Liston and thus became the World Heavyweight Champion.

Around this time, Clay joined the African American society ‘Nation of Islam’ and then changed his religion from Christianity to Islam. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Mohammad Ali. This action of his led to controversies when he was asked to join the U.S military. He was asked to join the military and go to war in Vietnam. Ali said no to their request. He said that he was devoted to Islam and would not go against its’ teachings. He said that the war in Vietnam was un-Islamic, and he would never do anything that would contradict with the teachings of the Quran. Because of this, the professional boxing commission relieved him off his title of World Heavyweight Champion and banned him from boxing in America. For three years, Ali was not allowed to box in America but he continued to box abroad.

In 1970, after more than three years of being banned from boxing, Ali was finally given a boxing license and he was allowed to box again in the U.S. He made a terrific comeback by defeating Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena, which allowed him to fight Joe Frazier for the world heavyweight title again.

The epic bout between Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier was one of the most eagerly anticipated and famous boxing matches of all time. Both participants were then undefeated and on a long winning streak. So it was a bout between the two best boxers in the world, and the winner would be named the undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the world. The fight lived up to its’ expectations and it went on to the last round. After a long epic display of sportsmanship from the duo, Frazier defeated Ali and kept his World Heavyweight Championship title intact. The fight was held on 8 March, 1971, in Madison Square Garden, New York. The fight has later been named as ‘The Fight of The Century’.

In 1974, Ali faced off against then world heavyweight champion George Foreman. The odds were against Ali in this bout, but again Ali proved the world wrong by defeating George Foreman. This fight was later name as ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’. 

In 1975, Ali managed to have a rematch with Frazier at Quezon City of Philippines. The fight was another epic battle like the previous one, and it was later named ‘The Thriller in Manila’. But this time, Mohammad Ali defeated Joe Frazier to get the World Heavyweight Championship title as well as his sweet revenge.

In February 1978, after he had lost the heavyweight title to Leon Spinks, Ali journeyed to Bangladesh with his wife Veronica for a weeklong tour.

According to a documentary made of his trip called “Muhammad Ali Goes East: Bangladesh, I Love You,” Ali initially balked at the idea of traveling to the other side of the world, fearing the public's reaction to his recent defeat in the ring. (Ali wore dark sunglasses not only to protect himself from the sweltering Bengal heat, but also to hide the swelling in his eyes — a brutal gift from Spinks.) However, Ali need not have worried.

Some 2 million fans greeted Ali's arrival at the airport in Dhaka. During his stay in Bangladesh, Ali went to the Sundarbans, Sylhet Tea Gardens, Rangamati and Cox's Bazaar. The champ even received Bangladeshi citizenship, courtesy of a passport, which prompted him to quip: “If I get kicked out of America, I have another home.”

Perhaps the highlight of Ali's visit occurred at Dhaka Stadium, where he staged a “boxing match” with a 12-year-old boy who “knocked him out” (to huge cheers and laughs). Ali was also awarded a plot of land in Cox's Bazaar and had a stadium named in his honor. In the documentary, Ali speaks of returning to Bangladesh and building a home there, declaring “If you want to go to heaven, come to Bangladesh.”

In 1981, Mohammad Ali retired from boxing and soon after that, he started his philanthropic (charity) work. He is a devout follower of Islam, and he is continuously travelling round the world and giving charities wherever he can. It is estimated that to-date, he has given 22 million meals to hungry people around the world. For his charitable works and his philanthropic deeds, Mohammad Ali has received numerous honorable awards, like the ‘Presidential Award of Freedom’ from George Bush.