2016 was a horrible year for celebrity deaths. David Bowie, Prince, former WWE wrestler, Chyna, and Merle Haggard, just to name a few. Probably the most controversial and well-loved celeb that had passed in 2016 was Muhammad Ali.
Ali was born Cassius Clay, Jr. on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. it is said that a stolen bicycle steered Ali to boxing. When his bike was stolen at the age of 12 and he reported the crime to Joe Martin, a Louisville police officer. A very upset Cassius Clay told the officer that he will beat up the people responsible for his stolen bike. Joe Martin saw something in this kid. Joe Martin was a boxing trainer and told the young Clay that he should learn how to fight first and personally taught Cassius Clay how to box. Clay won his first boxing match in a split decision.
By the time Clay was eighteen years old, he had earned two national Golden Gloves titles, two Amateur Athletic Union national titles, and had earned 100 victories and 8 losses in boxing. Clay entered the 1960 Summer Olympics, after graduating high school, and won the gold medal for the light heavyweight boxing category.
In October of that year, Cassius Clay won his first professional boxing match. At 6’3” tall, Clay stymied his opponents with lightning quick jabs and footwork. His constant bragging and self-promotion had earned him the nickname of the “Louisville Lip”.
Cassius Clay won his first World Heavyweight boxing championship on February 25, 1964 in Miami Florida against reigning boxing champion, Sonny Liston. Clay was 7-1 underdog going into the fight but he mocked Sonny Liston at press conferences by telling everyone that he will “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” and also guaranteed a knockout. Clay did in fact knock Sonny Liston out in the 7th round of the fight and at the end of the match, Clay said his immortal words, “I AM THE GREATEST.”
Shortly after the fight, Clay joined the controversial religion of Nation of Islam at the behest of Nation of Islam leader, Malcolm X. He then was given the name of Muhammad Ali. After joining the Nation, Ali had a very controversial life by avoiding the Viet Nam draft. He was stripped of his title, banned form the sport and fined 10,000 dollars. Muhammad Ali was also given a maximum prison sentence of five years, but was allowed to remain free while the sentence was being appealed. Being called a “draft dodger”, Ali’s popularity took a nose dive.
Muhammad Ali would eventually overcome this and go on to be one of the most popular boxing champions ever. In 981, the 39-year-old boxer retired from the sport with a career record of 56 wins, 5 losses, and 37 knock-outs. Then in 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. His speech and motor skills began to deteriorate and just got worse over the years.
The greatest boxer to ever live, in my opinion, had succumbed due to complications of Parkinson’s Disease on June 3, 2016.