How Muhammad Ali Became The Greatest Boxer Of The 20th Century

Muhammad Ali is a former world-renowned boxer. He became the first man to win the undisputed world heavyweight boxing title three times. As a boxer, Ali brought speed, grace and passion to the ring, traits that went on to inspire other boxers throughout the world.

muhammad ali

He bragged of his abilities to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” and he lived to prove his prowess. Ali was involved in several historic and record-breaking matches. His accomplishments in the ring saw him accumulate a net worth estimated at $80 million.

Muhammad Ali’s Childhood

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in 1942 in Kentucky. He was raised in a middle -class African-American family. His father Cassius Marcellus painted signs for a living. His mother, Odessa Gray, was a housewife and a cook. Odessa described young Ali as a talkative and restless baby.

Ali was an easy going polite boy who would obey everything he was told. He carried his Bible everywhere he went and while other boys were whistling at pretty girls, Ali would be flipping Bible pages.

muhammad ali wife

Muhammad Ali and wife, Yolanda Williams

The Stolen Bicycle: The Budding Boxer

On October 1954, 12 year old Ali along with a friend went to the Columbia Auditorium where the annual convention of the Louisville Service club was held. After indulging in the free hotdogs and popcorns, the two boys left the auditorium only to find Ali’s bicycle had been stolen.

A furious and tearful Ali reported the incident to Police Officer Joe Martin, who happened to be the boxing coach at the Columbia gym. Ali ranted on how he would beat up the thief if he ever found him. Despite his threats, he did not know how to fight.

Joe advised the hot-tempered Ali to come back and train under his wing. A few days later, Ali began training hard at the gym. He would train six days a week, and when Joe’s gym closed at 8pm, Ali would go train at another gym. His goal was to become the best boxer in the world.

Conquering The Ring

During his high school days, the brash youngster became a terrific fighter. He won 6 Kentucky championships, 2 National Gloves Titles and 2 Amateur Athletic Union Championships. At the age of 18, he competed in the 1960 Olympics which were held in Rome, Italy. He went on to win the gold medal in the light heavyweight division. Ali worked his way through a series of professional victories using a style that combined speed, agility and stinging jabs.

Heavyweight Champion Of The World

After winning his first 19 fights which included 15 knockouts, Ali got his chance to fight against the most feared heavyweight of the time- Sonny Liston.  He predicted in rhyme and confidence the round in which he would trounce his opponent and indeed he didn’t disappoint. Ali’s footwork and dizzying combinations outpaced Liston‘s slower moves on the ring. After the sixth round, Liston retired from the match and Ali was crowned heavyweight champion of the world.

After his victory against Lisbon in 1964, Ali announced his conversion to Islam. Up to now, he was known as Cassius Clay. With his new religion, he took up the name Muhammad Ali. His conversion came with mixed reaction which saw Ali’s popularity take a nose dive.

muhammad ali

Final Victorious Years In The Ring

After 43 months in exile, Ali returned to the ring in 1970 and in 1971, he got a chance to regain his heavyweight title from Joe Frazier in what was deemed the fight of the century. He lost the fight but managed to scoop the title in 1974 in the fight against George Foreman.

 In 1978, Ali became the first fighter to ever win the world heavyweight boxer title three times after he trounced Leon Spinks in a unanimous 15-round decision. Ali retired from his boxing career in 1979, but he had achieved a great feat having won 56 bouts 37 of them being by knockouts.

Lessons from Muhammad Ali

  • Getting to your dreams requires sacrifices and paying the price in terms of dedication and self-control. “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
  • Keep challenging yourself to think better and do better. “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”
  • Setting goals is essential to a life of greatness. “What keeps me going is goals.”
  • Believe in yourself. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Nobody can beat Mohammad Ali”

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"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." Isaac Newton

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