Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest boxer of all time and without doubt the most flamboyant character in sporting history, was born on 12 January 1942 to Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. and Odessa at Louisville in Kentucky, USA. He was named Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. He took up boxing at the age of 12 when somebody stole his bicycle. At 18, he won the light-heavyweight boxing gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Ali would sleep with the gold medal round his neck ever since he won it at Rome. He was given a hero's welcome home, but realized that he was still being treated as a 'black' and a 'slave'. He once had a fight in a restaurant meant exclusively for 'whites' and then had to fight off a gang of hoodlums to save his medal. That night, disgusted with the racist attitude of Americans, he went to the Jefferson County Bridge in Louisville and tossed his Olympic gold medal - which had taken him six years of blood, sweat and tears to win - down the Ohio River.
Known as the 'Louisville Lip', Ali fought boxing greats like Floyd Patterson, Sonny 'Big Ugly Bear' Liston, 'Smokin' Joe' Frazier, George Foreman, and Leon Spinks during a long and successful career. He was stripped of the title after he refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War in 1967. Joe Frazier then beat him in an epic fight in 1971 when he was making a comeback after serving a ban. But Ali came back to win the coveted title of the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World an unprecedented three times. He beat George Foreman in 1974 and then lost the title. He came back in 1978 to beat Leon Spinks to win it for the third time.
Early in his career, Ali would even predict the round in which he would knockout his opponent. Pronouncements like "I am fast, I am pretty and I am the Greatest" and "I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" are now legend. Large audiences would gather to watch his bouts and Ali would say, " I know that more than half of that crowd comes to see me beat because of my big mouth!"
Ali wrote poetry when he was relaxing away from the ring. He once addressed a bunch of students at one of the premier colleges in the USA and he gave them the following advice:
Stay in college; get the knowledge
Stay there till you are through.
If they can make Penicillin out of mouldy bread
They sure'll make something out of you!
Muhammad Ali now lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA and suffers from Parkinson's disease. He travels round the world doing social and religious work for his is still one of the most recognized faces on Earth. And decades after he burst upon the scene as a gold-medal winner at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, he remains a magical figure, known and loved throughout the world.
Muhammad Ali's daughter Laila is a boxer of world renown.