30. March 2011 01:50
Prize fighter, war protester and goodwill ambassador, Muhammad Ali was an icon of the 1960s and 1970s.
Born Cassius Clay, he captured world attention with an Olympic gold medal in boxing’s light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome. Legend says he later threw that medal into the Ohio River after being refused service at a segregated diner in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
On February 25, 1964, the superbly confident 22-year-old waged his first challenge for the heavyweight championship in a match against Sonny Liston. Many thought Liston was invincible, but the outspoken Ali spent weeks before the match entertaining reporters and fans with colorful promises of victory. Light on his feet, he’d “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” He wasn’t bluffing. In one of the most stunning upsets in boxing history, Liston was unable to answer the bell for the start of the seventh round.
Shortly after the fight, Cassius Clay shocked the sports world by announcing that he had joined the Nation of Islam and had changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He defended his heavyweight crown in nine matches over the next two years. His title was revoked in 1967 when, citing his Islamic faith, Ali refused induction into the U.S. military. He was sentenced to five-years in prison but was later released on appeal.