A Brief History
On September 5, 1960, Cassius Clay, a brash young man known as the “Louisville Lip,” won the Olympic Gold Medal for boxing in the light heavyweight division. Clay would go on to fame and infamy as Muhammad Ali, a professional heavyweight boxing champ and one of sport’s all-time greats.
Of course, if you listen to Ali, he, himself, will tell you over and over again that he is “The Greatest.” Modesty was never one of his virtues… Of course, he did not need to be modest, as he won, in addition to Olympic Gold, the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship 3 times.
Ali first won the professional championship in 1963 at the age 22 when he was still Cassius Clay, beating the heavily favored Sonny Liston after Liston complained of a shoulder injury and failed to come out for the seventh round. Clay also won a rematch with Liston, though that fight has been tainted by allegations that Liston took a dive in the famous “Phantom Punch” incident. Shortly after winning the crown, Clay joined the Nation of Islam Church and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. His refusal to be drafted into the U.S. military in 1967 on the grounds of being a conscientious objector was not taken seriously since he had previously stated he would fight in a war if Allah or Elijah Muhhamad told him to. As punishment, he was stripped of his title and forced into a 4-year lay off during his prime.
The religion and name change, coupled with his refusal to serve his country, made Ali a pariah to many (mostly white) Americans. His popularity, however, made a huge comeback in 1971 when he returned to the ring after Supreme Court had made a decision in his favor.
In 1974 Ali won the professional title back against George Foreman after having already beaten Joe Frazier. After Leon Spinks (one of 3 U.S. Marines who have been heavyweight champs; Jack Dempsey and Ken Norton were the others) took the title from Ali in 1978, Ali won it back in a rematch that same year in what became for him a record third time winning the heavyweight championship.
With his best days clearly behind him, Ali fought Larry Holmes for the championship in 1980, but by that time Ali was already showing signs of a speech impediment and coordination problems. Ali was beaten easily but insisted on fighting one more time against Trevor Berbick who beat Ali in 10 rounds. Ali’s boxing days were now officially over.
Suffering from a form of Parkinson’s disease and with hardly any resemblance to his former self, Ali has been a pathetic sight for the past 20 years. Sadly, it appears to be that Ali is another of the many fighters who stayed in the ring far too long and is now paying the price for it.
Question for students (and subscribers): Is Ali the greatest? He thinks so, do you? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
For another interesting event that happened on September 5, please see the History and Headlines article: “10 More Incredibly Unpopular Laws.”
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Bingham, Howard L., Max Wallace, et al. Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight: Cassius Clay vs. the United States of America. M. Evans & Company, 2012.