Mohammed Ali was an anti-establishment showman who transcended borders and barriers, race and religion. He became an emblem of strength, eloquence, conscience and courage.
“If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologise.”
Those were the words of the legend who boxed his way into fame. Born at Louisville Kentucky in the US, on January 17, 1942, the pugilist was named after Cassius Marcellus Clay, his father, who was a sign painter, but he changed his name after converting to Islam.
Ali began training at 12 years old, and won the World Heavyweight Championship 10 years later – a feat he repeated two more times in 1974, and 1978. His conversion to Islam happened the year before he won the laurel for the first time, but he kept his new faith a secret until the heavyweight crown was safely in hand.
Below are 10 important things to remember the late boxing supremo;
1. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Cassius X then to Mohammed Ali after he was converted to Islam. He described his given name as a “slave name”.
2. He was a very close friend of American civil rights activist, Malcolm X.
3. He won the light heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
4. He defeated the previously undefeated Sonny Liston after six rounds to win the heavy weight boxing title at 22.
5. He defeated Liston again in 1964 to become the first man to win the world heavyweight title on three occasions.
6. He was stripped of his title and threatened with imprisonment when on April 29, 1967 he refused to be drafted into the US army to fight in the Vietnam war. “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger,” he said.
7. He visited Nigeria in 1964. He was pictured wearing a brown agbada with white strips in the midst of cheering children.
8. In 1974, late Congolese dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko paid Ali and George Foreman $5 million each to have the iconic “Rumble in the Jungle’ fight staged in Kinshasa, Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo. Ali won the fight to reclaim his world title
9. He lit the Olympic cauldron at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and carried the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Games in London.
10. He retired in 1981 with 56 wins, 35 knockouts from 61 fights.