Born Cassius Clay, in a span of eight years, Muhammad Ali won an Olympic gold medal, a Golden Gloves tournament and the world heavyweight championship. His life includes religious, political and health struggles. His boxing legacy involves boastful rhymes -- used to taunt his opponents with brazen predictions before fights. In later years, Ali became a philanthropist and humanitarian.
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In January 1942, Mohammad Ali was born Cassius Clay Jr. to parents Cassius and Odessa Clay. His mother worked as a domestic servant; while his father painted billboards. The family was a part of the Louisville, Kentucky, black middle class. In the book "Muhammad Ali," author Carrie Golus says Ali's interest in boxing occurred after getting his bike stolen at the age of 12. He reported the missing bicycle to police officer and boxing trainer Joe Martin. Subsequently, Joe offered Ali a chance to learn how to box.
Early Boxing Career
During his amateur career, Ali participated in 108 fights. He won 100 of the bouts including the 1960 light-heavyweight Olympic gold medal, 1959 Amateur Athletic Union light-heavyweight title and the 1959 Golden Gloves championship. The Official Muhammad Ali website notes his professional career began in 1960. After going professionally undefeated for four years, Ali defeated Sonny Liston to win world heavyweight championship in 1964.
Religion and Politics
In 1964 Cassius Clay Jr. joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He was also drafted into the military. Due to religious believes, Ali refused to serve in the military. The United States Department of Justice rejected Ali's request for conscientious objector status. In 1967 he was ordered to show up for induction in the military. Ali did not cooperate and was subsequently stripped of his boxing rights. After 3 1/2 years he was allowed to return to the ring.
Late Boxing Career
Ali returned to the ring in 1970. He won his first match back after the three-year hiatus. In 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier for the heavyweight championship. He lost in the 15th round. During the 1974 fight known as the "Rumble in the Jungle," against George Foreman, Ali regained the heavyweight championship title. The following year, Ali prevailed in the "Thrilla in Manilla" rematch against Joe Frazier. After winning the heavyweight title on three occasions, Ali retired in 1981 after a loss to Trevor Berbick.
Three years after retirement, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. According to MayoClinic.com, Parkinson's disease is a genetic condition, resulting in loss of motor skills, speech and dementia. In his autobiography "The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey" Ali discredits the myth that boxing caused his condition. In 1997, he opened the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.