Muhammad Ali

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He was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay (Jr.) and in 1964, already the world heavyweight champion, he denounced his ‘slave name’ and officially became Muhammad Ali. He was an American professional boxer and activist. Nicknamed “the Greatest”, he is regarded as one of the most significant sports figures of the 20th century and is often regarded as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. As an amateur he won the 1960 Olympic Games light-heavyweight title in Rome and then turned professional. He converted to Islam in 1961 and three years later he beat the champion ‘Sonny’ Liston (USA) to win the undisputed world heavyweight title. He was soon to refuse to do his National Service in the Vietnam War and was stripped of his titles. He did not fight for four years, but returned to fight in such bouts as ‘The Fight of the Century’ and the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ – both against Joe Frazier (USA) – and ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ versus George Foreman (USA), with Ali saying “I’m gonna rope a dope”. He was famous as ‘The Louisville Lip’ for his provocative talking, rhyme schemes and poetry, stating “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and “I’m gonna amaze ya when I beat Joe Frazier”. He would also usually predict the round he would finish the fight in. As an amateur he won 100 bouts and lost five. After being told in a US restaurant that they did not serve ‘negroes’, Clay said that he threw his Olympic gold medal unto a river. Ali’s ‘trash talk’ was said to be inspired by a professional wrestler, ‘Gorgeous George’ Wagner. He won back his title, eventually lost it to Leon Spinks (USA), but beat Spinks in a return, thus being the first man to win the title three times. As a professional he won 56 bouts (37 by knock-outs) and lost five. In the 1986 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, he was presented with a copy of his gold medal and he lit the torch to start the Games.