Muhammad Ali was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.; on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, United States, is a former American boxer and three-time World Heavyweight Champion, who is widely considered one of the greatest heavyweight championship boxers. As an amateur, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. After turning professional, he went on to become the first boxer to win the lineal heavyweight championship three times.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., the younger of two boys, he was named after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., who was named for the 19th century abolitionist and politician of the same name. His father painted billboards and signs, and his mother, Odessa Grady Clay, was a household domestic. Although Cassius Sr. was a Methodist, he allowed Odessa to bring up both Cassius and his elder brother Rudolph “Rudy” Clay (later renamed Rahman Ali) as Baptists. He is a descendant of pre-Civil War era American slaves in the American South, and is predominantly of African-American descent, with some Irish and English ancestry.
Clay was first directed toward boxing by the white Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin, who encountered the 12-year-old fuming over the theft of his bicycle. However, without Martin’s knowledge, Clay also began training with Fred Stoner, an African-American trainer working at the local community center. In this way, Clay could make $4 a week on Tomorrow’s Champions, a local, weekly TV show that Martin hosted, while benefiting from the coaching of the more experienced Stoner, who continued working with Clay throughout his amateur career.
Under Stoner’s guidance, Cassius Clay won six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union National Title, and the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Clay’s amateur record was 100 wins with five losses.
Ali states that he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River after being refused service at a ‘whites-only’ restaurant, and fighting with a white gang. Whether this is true is still debated, although he was given a replacement medal at a basketball intermission during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he lit the torch to start the games.
Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converting to Sunni Islam in 1975 and more recently to Sufism. In 1967, Ali refused to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. He was arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges, stripped of his boxing title, and his boxing license was suspended. He was not imprisoned, but did not fight again for nearly four years while his appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was successful.
Nicknamed “The Greatest”, Ali was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these are three with rival Joe Frazier and one with George Foreman, whom he beat by knockout to win the world heavyweight title for the second time. He suffered only five losses with no draws in his career, while amassing 56 wins.
Ali was well known for his unorthodox fighting style, which he described as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, and employing techniques such as the rope-a-dope. He was also known for his pre-match hype, where he would “trash talk” opponents on television and in person some time before the match, often with rhymes. These personality quips and idioms, along with an unorthodox fighting technique, made him a cultural icon. In later life, Ali developed Parkinson’s disease. In 1999, Ali was crowned “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC.
After his Olympic triumph, Clay returned to Louisville to begin his professional career. There, on October 29, 1960, he won his first professional fight, a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker, who was the police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia.
Muhammad Ali has been married four times and has seven daughters and two sons. Ali met his first wife, cocktail waitress Sonji Roi, approximately one month before they married on August 14, 1964. Roi’s objections to certain Muslim customs in regard to dress for women contributed to the breakup of their marriage. They divorced on January 10, 1966.
On August 17, 1967, Ali married 17-year old Belinda Boyd. After the wedding, she converted to Islam and changed her name to Khalilah Ali, though she was still called Belinda by old friends and family. They had four children: Maryum, Jamillah and Liban, and Muhammad Ali Jr..
In 1975, Ali began an affair with Veronica Porsche, an actress and model. By the summer of 1977, Ali’s second marriage was over and he had married Veronica. At the time of their marriage, they had a baby girl, Hana, and Veronica was pregnant with their second child. Their second daughter, Laila, was born in December 1977. By 1986, Ali and Veronica were divorced.
On November 19, 1986, Ali married Yolanda Ali. They had been friends since 1964 in Louisville. They have one adopted son, Asaad Amin, who they adopted when Amin was five.
Ali has two other daughters, Miya and Khaliah, from extramarital relationships.