Muhammad Ali died after a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s Disease with his family by his side

Muhammad Ali engaging in some of his famous trash poetry talks

Cassius Marcellus Clay was born in the West End district of Louisville on January 17, 1942. His father Cassius, was a sign-writer with artistic ambitions and his mother, Odessa, a domestic servant. His father, who was told to be a womanizer and heavy drinker, was named after his great-grandfather’s slave owner. His father owned a home and Cassius Clay had only one sibling, his brother Rudy Clay. As a result Cassius Clay grew up in a middle class home, which was unusual in those days.

His mother’s grand father was an Irish man, Abe Grady, who had married her African American grandmother. When Cassius was only 12 years of age he saw someone steal his Schwinn bicycle and he reported it to the police. He told the officer he was going to “whup” the thief. The kind officer told him he better learn how to box first. The police man, Joe Martin, took a liking of the talkative young boy and persuaded him to join his boxing club. Six weeks later, Clay won his first bout in a split decision. Cassius Clay trained with him for six years after which Joe Martin turned professional.

Cassius Clay, just like his father, was named after Cassius Marcellus Clay, a 19th-century farmer who did not believe in slavery. He became an anti-slavery crusader. Although he inherited 40 slaves from his father he emancipated them once he had a chance to do so. This abolitionist edited an anti-slavery newspaper, he commanded troops in the Mexican-American War and served as minister to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln. Even though he was a second cousin to the Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, he put himself in considerable danger with his abolitionist attitudes. Clay faced death threats, beatings, and was stabbed and shot by political opponents. Despite the ordeal he lived to the ripe old age of 92.

The young boxer, Cassius Clay was academically challenged as he spent most of his time in school day dreaming instead of focusing on his academics. Atwood Wilson, the school’s principal, had a soft spot for the entertaining young Cassius and introduced him to the school assembly: ‘Here he is, ladies and gentleman, Cassius Clay! The next heavyweight champion of the world. This guy is going to make a million dollars.” Their shared dream came true with a glorious beginning of Mohamed Ali’s illustrious boxing career. For the last four years of Clay’s amateur career he was trained by boxing cut man, Chuck Bodak. Clay went on to win six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union National Title, and the Light Heavyweight gold medal. Clay’s amateur record was 100 wins with five losses. At the young age of 18 Clay won gold as a light-heavyweight amateur at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

After he took gold in Rome’s Olympic games, Cassius Clay immediately took the opportunity to go professional since he was offered to financially backed by a local Kentucky Millionaire. This relationships was short lived since Cassius Clay did not enjoy being treated with contempt as a slave by that man and his ill mannered family. He left and chose the backing of a small consortium of eleven business man in Louisville, KY. He tried to be trained by Sugar Ray Robinson but was rebuffed due to his boisterous personality and refusal to participate in the training duties such as cleaning dishes and washing the floors. More

Cassius Clay successfully recruited Angelo Dundee who ran the legendary Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach. Dundee encouraged Cassius Clay to freely express himself as did the assistant trainer, Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown. Bundini came up with the phrase ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’, and started Clay’s habit of forecasting the round in which he would fell his opponent.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

While he had a string of successes in beating many of his opponents he annoyed many boxing fans with his belligerent psychological war fare and insults of the opponents before entering the ring. He won his first professional fight against Tunney Hunsaker in October 1963. Thereafter Clay amassed a record of 19–0 with 15 wins by knockout. He defeated boxers including Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, Alonzo Johnson, George Logan, Willi Besmanoff, Lamar Clark, Doug Jones and Henry Cooper. Clay also beat his former trainer and veteran boxer Archie Moore in a 1962 match.

Cassius Clay had been greatly moved by his father’s enraged account of the lynching of a 14-year-old black boy, Emmett Till, in Mississippi in 1955. And it was his father who was encouraged by the political leader Marcus Garvey to be proud of and retrace their ancestral roots. Growing up he was upset by segregation in Louisville, especially when his mother was refused a drink of water in a whites-only café. He started going to the rallies of religious leader Elijah Muhammad from 1959 and befriended Malcolm X in 1962. He secretly converted to Islam at age 18.

During that time he was attended by Ferdie Pacheco, his doctor, who said of Clay: ‘In 1961, 1962, 1963, he was the most perfect physical specimen I had ever seen … perfectly proportioned, handsome, lightning reflexes and a great mind for sports.’

Cassius Clay was a devout Muslim and dedicated member of the Nation of Islam, having fallen under the tutelage of Malcolm X in 1962.

Columbia Records released a 1963 spoken word album called “I Am the Greatest” in which the 21-year-old rising star performed his poetry, backed my musical accompaniment, before an audience. The album also included two songs by the boxer, including a cover of the Ben E. King hit “Stand by Me.”

By late 1963 he was qualified to challenge Sonny Liston for the title. Cassius Clay wanted to announce that he had converted to Islam but what asked to wait after the fight with Sonny Liston to prevent a back lash that was sure to happened before the fight. The fight was set for February 25, 1964, in Miami. Liston was an intimidating personality, a dominating fighter with a criminal past and ties to the mob. Cassius Clay was blinded during the fight by ointment that Liston put on his gloves. Liston had been accused previously by two other fighters of “burning” eyes. But, Cassius Clay won the fight and was declared champion. Liston claimed he had an injured shoulder and others rumored that Liston had bet against himself to pay of his own debts. By winning this fight, Clay became at age 22 the youngest boxer to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion.

By 1964 Clay had won 19 straight fights, all but four of them by knockouts, and was ready to challenge for the world title.

In March 1964 Cassius Clay was bestowed the name Mohammad Ali by his religious teachers. He was initially inspired by Malcolm X, choosing to change his last name to X for a while during his religious Muslim training. He stayed with the Nation of Islam, despite the rift between the founder and Malcolm X following the Kennedy assassination. Malcolm X was expelled and started his own competing Islamic organization. When rumors began circulating that year that Cassius Clay had joined the Nation of Islam, one of his bouts was nearly canceled, and when he officially joined in 1964, he had his boxing titles stripped from two organizations, including the WBA.

When Cassius Clay announced that he had changed his name for religious reasons the press reacted strongly. The Saturday Evening Post wrote: “For a time, when he was confining himself to bad poetry, Cassius was a loudmouth but a likable character who seemed to be harmless in or out of the ring. Then he won the championship and became, in his own estimation, “The Greatest.” After the fight, he acknowledged that he was a Black Muslim, converted by the arch-extremist, Malcolm X, the man who crowed that President Kennedy’s assassination was “a case of the chickens coming home to roost.” Malcolm X was separated from the Black Muslim movement after that remark and is now attempting to organize his own black nation. He wants to arm all the Negroes in the U.S. and ultimately take them back to Africa.” It went on to say: “Clay’s history of calculated deceptions now prompts the suspicion, of course, that his present case of galloping religion is but another decoy to serve who knows what end. Clay himself strengthened the suspicion when he declared, “Just by my being a Muslim, that should draw a bigger gate…” In actuality his commitment to Islam has cost him roughly two million dollars in commercial endorsements.

In July 1964 he met a cocktail waitress named Sonji Roi and they married after a one month courtship. But the pair separated when she refused to conform to the strict edicts by which the group thought women should live. They were divorced by January 1966.

April 28, 1967 Mohammad Ali reported to the Military Entrance Processing Station in Houston. As officials called his name for induction to the Army to fight in the Vietnam War he wouldn’t step forward. He was eventually arrested, but that wasn’t even close to the end of his legal woes. A week before appearing in Houston, he told reporters in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky, that he planned to not accept induction in military service. He stated to the press: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

Two months later, a jury took just 20 minutes to convict Ali of draft evasion. He was given a five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine; he was stripped of his passport and his heavyweight title, and was banned from fighting in the United States. It took four years to eventually settle the case after he had taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. Ali would remain out of jail on posted bail while his case was being appealed, he would not fight again until October 1970. The following year, the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction in a unanimous 8-0 ruling. Full Transcript

Between February 25, 1964 and September 19, 1964 Muhammad Ali reigned as the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion. Nicknamed “The Greatest”, Ali was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these were the first Liston fight, three with rival Joe Frazier, and one with George Foreman, in which he regained titles he had been stripped of seven years earlier. After the Superior Court reversed the ruling of the lower courts and agreed that he refused military service legally as a conscientious objector he finally was able to fight again. At last he was able to fight again. After being prevented from fighting for four years he lost the first fight against Joe Frazier.

Joe Frazier wins over Mohammad Ali

After Joe Frazier lost the title to George Foreman Mohammad Ali urged George Foreman to a fight which organized by Don King in Africa.

Mohammad Ali fights George Foreman to regain ‘his’ world champion title.

His doctor, Freddie Pacheco, resigned when Mohammad Ali was in his 30s and starting to show the effects of taking too many punches, yet refusing his advice to retire before he suffered permanent injury.

He was then married to Belinda Boyd from 1967 until 1975. During his relationship with Belinda, Muhammad started seeing Veronica Porsche in 1975. He converted to Sunni Islam in 1975. The affair ruined his second marriage with Belinda Boyd by 1977. In 1977 he married Veronica that summer who was already pregnant with their daughter, Hana. Their second daughter, Laila, was born in Dec. 1977, and the couple split up in 1986. Muhammad then married Yolonda Williams in Nov. 1986, and they adopted a son, Assad Amin. He was married to Yolonda, who he’d been friends with since 1964, at the time of his death on June 3. Yolonda took care of him throughout his very difficult 40 years while he suffered from Parkinson Disease.

In 1986 he began adhering to Sufism a rather peaceful and mature religion.  It helped him live his life out gracefully despite the fact he suffered from Parkinson Disease.  He was a true blessing to many people and raised the awareness about the beauty of grace, personal commitment to truth and ones’ own convictions.  Mohammad Ali was a great man and he will be truly missed.

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