No fighter has ever done for boxing what Cassius Clay did, sure there had been showmen and there had been cocky fighters but no one had ever been cocky, arrogant, a showman a fortune teller a poet and to top it all one of the fastest and most brilliant fighters of all time.
Everyone was bemused by the Louisville lip, interviewers couldn't get a word in people were fascinated by him and the girls loved him. More importantly boxers adored him, this guy couldn't just talk a good fight he could actually perform them.
Standing at 6' 3" tall weighing in at 210 lbs he won 56 fights with 37 KO's lost 5. Born in louisville Kentucky on 17 January 1942, he was to take up boxing at the age of 12 after having his bike stolen he declared he would find out who done it and whup 'em. He won the Golden Gloves at age 17, 12 months later he was an Olympic Champion. After the olympics he turned pro and his first fight was against Tunney Hunsaker, winning on points he went on over the next couple of years beating all comers, slowly moving closer to the point where he was the number one challenger to Sonny Liston.
1963 saw Clay face Britain' s Henry Cooper the date was 18 June and this fight has gone down in history as the great what if. Cooper was a rugged fighter well loved by the British public, the fight was going pretty much as expected with Clay winning easily when in the fourth with Copper badly cut over his eyes Clay became over confident and looked over towards his corner, at that moment the canny Cooper hit Clay with a perfect left hook, Clay went down he wasn't out but Cooper must have thought he now had a chance, the bell saved Clay and what happened next has gone down in boxing infamy, the break was extended because of Clay's split glove, some say Angelo Dundee Clay's manager had deliberately split the glove to give his man a chance, this we will never know but after that the outcome was never in doubt Clay battered Cooper to a pulp before the referee stopped the fight. in the round that Clay had predicted.
Miami 25 February 1964 saw Cassius Clay step into the ring with the man whom he said was too ugly to be champion. Liston was a powerful man who many said would make short work of the young upstart, it started out well for Sonny Liston but soon went down hill he suffered a cut in the third round and his corner smeared some ointment on it, which had somehow got on his gloves, this ointment was soon causing Clay's eyes to smart and with his vision badly impaired, however using his quick feet to keep out of trouble until his eyes had cleared by the sixth round Clay was beginning to grind Liston down during the sixth and the champion looked tired and sluggish. What happened next shocked the boxing world, Liston refused to leave his chair at the start of the seventh round claiming he had a shoulder injury. Cassius Clay was world champion and that was the last fight he was to have as Cassius Clay, the very next day he declared he would no longer use a slave name and from then on he was to be known as Muhammad Ali.
Ali had a rematch with Liston but it was a chaotic fight which ended with the fastest knockout in championship history. Ali then beat Patterson, not long after this he went on his infamous bum a month tour where he fought all comers and despatched them all with ease.
1967 saw the unification fight with Ernie Terrell unfortunately Terrell called Ali, Clay Ali made the fight last 15 rounds toying with Terrell and kept saying what's may name. six weeks later he fought Zora Folley a stylish boxer who was no match for Ali's class. Shortly after this fight Ali was drafted into the US Army He refused to go on the basis that no Viet Cong ever called him nigger. He was stripped of his title fined $10,000 and sentenced to 5 years in prison, fortunately on appeal the supreme court saw sense, they tried to make Ali comprise by being photographed in uniform, to his credit he refused any form of compromise though it cost him dear and boxing lost three and half years of a wonderful champion.
It was 1970 before Ali was allowed to fight again what was surprising was that it took a Southern State Georgia to break ranks and give him his licence back his first fight back was against Jerry Quarry, Quarry had become a top contender during Ali's absence from the ring but he could only last 3 rounds against a ring rusty Ali.
Ali didn't wait long for his next fight Oscar Bonavena came next the tough Argentinan had taken Frazier the distance and he was durable and dangerous. Ali was comfortably ahead but couldn't put Bonavena down, then in the 15th he dropped Bonavena 3 times in succession and under New York rules the fight was over.
Ali was now going to fight Smokin Joe Frazier for his title back, unfortunately Frazier hadn't read the script and he was determined to keep his title, the fight is regarded as one of the best ever seen and Frazier won on points. Ali went to hospital with a suspected broken jaw and was heard to mutter must have been one helluva fight. Ali soon recovered and went about beating all comers again working towards a rematch but before he could Frazier lost his title to George Foreman.
1973 saw Ali lose to Ken Norton everybody started to say that now it was all over for Ali he was now 32 they couldn't see a way back. Once again Ali proved everybody wrong he avenged his defeat by Norton and set up a long awaited rematch with smokin Joe this time for the right to face Foreman after another marvelous fight Ali won on points This set up the Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman which Ali won on a knockout.
There followed one more great fight with Frazier the thriller in manilla which Ali won, there was then lots of fights with some real no hoper candidates who Ali despatched with ease until he came up against a young novice pro Leon Spinks Ali treated Spinks with disdain and lost the fight on points.
Ali could and should have been finished there and then but he had an ego to match his talent and he wanted to be the only man in history to win his title three times. on 15 September 1978 in New Orleans they met again and this time Ali won. Ali then retired, sadly he decided to make one more attempt at taking back his crown and against Larry Holmes he got a terrible beating, he tried one more attempt at a comeback in December 1981 against Trevor Berbick.