Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali – Charismatic and Controversial Sports Icon of the 20th Century

In 1990, Muhammad Ali was entered into the Boxing Hall of Fame, and 15 years later he received the highest civic honour from President Bush for his lifelong contribution, the so-called Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2012, when his health was already very compromised, he was symbolically crowned the King of Boxing. The list of Muhammad Ali’s achievements is lengthy, as he has achieved a lot not only in the field of sports. It is therefore not surprising that at the turn of the millennium the British public television BBC, together with the prestigious sports magazine Sports Illustrated declared him the greatest athlete of the 20th century.

Muhammad Ali
Author of the photo: Michael Karshis

The difficult childhood of the champion in times of segregation and racial inequality

Cassius Marcellus Clay Junior grew up in the difficult conditions of the American South in the 1940s, when the whole world was drowning in World War II. In addition, the United States has faced segregation and the issue of racial inequality for years, including his native state of Louisville.

Muhammad Ali
Author of the photo: public domain

He got into boxing at the age of 12, and just six years later, in Rome, he won his first Olympic gold medal in the under 79 kg category. At the time, Cassius Clay first became known after a surprising victory over Sony Liston, after which he immediately surprised everyone with the information about converting to the Islamic religion and changing his name to Muhammad Ali, after the religious Islamist leader Elijah Muhammad.

He resisted the regime and lost almost everything

The turning point in his career came in 1967, when he refused to enter compulsory military service in distant Vietnam, which had been plagued by a huge military conflict for years. Moreover, in those years, the struggle for the equality of the black people, led mainly by Martin Luther King, did not cease. Nevertheless, Ali did not hesitate to resist the former establishment in a memorable public appearance, for which he lost almost everything. His career, his American passport and almost his freedom.

However, three and a half years later, thanks to an acquittal, he was back to show his glory. He twice defeated then-champion Joe Frazier and also destroyed George Foreman in front of a billion people by their television screens around the world in 1974 with an unprecedented rope-a-dope tactic. He gained this title after seven long years.

Muhammad Ali
Author of the photo: Joshi Bhavya

The first boxer to become a heavyweight champion three times in a row

Muhammad Ali became the first boxer to win the heavyweight championship three times in a row. In total, he managed to defend this title up to 19 times. His match record in the ring stopped at 56 wins, only five losses and 37 KOs. At the beginning of the millennium, in 2001, a biographical film was made about him. Ali’s role was played by Will Smith, who was also nominated for an Oscar for his performance.

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Ali excelled in boxing mainly thanks to his speed, agility and excellent footwork. At the time, he had an unusual style with his arms hanging down while he was in the ring, which he often used to provoke opponents. After the end of his sports career, he started fighting with another opponent, but this time it was a fight longer than 30 years. He began to suffer from Parkinson’s disease, but that did not stop him from travelling around the world and continuing to participate in charitable and social events. Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016 at the age of 74 from the consequences of a respiratory disease related to Parkinson’s disease. Although he was not the only athlete to knock on the door of civil rights and racial justice, he knocked so loudly that the whole world heard it. And his legacy is alive to this day.

In 1967, Muhammad Ali was aware that he will be sanctioned for his refusal to go to war. How would you react? As a recognized sports idol who has a substantial part of his career in front of you, would you act in a similar way?

And if you liked our article about the King of Boxing and the greatest sports icon of the 20th century, share it among your friends. May as many people as possible know Muhammad Ali’s eventful life.


[1] Muhammad Ali crowned 'King of Boxing' – https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-20591588

[2] Muhammad Ali crowned 'King of Boxing' – http://100photos.time.com/photos/neil-leifer-muhammad-ali-sonny-liston

[3] Muhammad Ali awarded Medal of Freedom in 2005 – https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc-news/watch/ali-awarded-medal-of-freedom-in-2005-699118147674

[4] Muhammad Ali lights the Olympic Cauldron – https://www.olympic.org/videos/muhammad-ali-lights-the-olympic-cauldron

[5] Julie Mazziotta – How Muhammad Ali Shaped Daughter Laila Ali’s Cooking Career: ‘My Dad Loved Burgers!’ – https://people.com/food/muhammad-ali-daughter-laila-cooking-burgers-cookbook