Learning the Remarkable Story of Muhammad Ali: From Stolen Bike to The Greatest
Go toe-to-toe with one of the greatest sports figures in history, Muhammad Ali.
A man who embodied the tumultuous social climate of the 1960s and inspired millions with his poetically blunt words.
Every time Ali stepped into the ring, it became a powerful political event that galvanized both fans and opponents alike.
Learn about how this dynamic life all started when a young Cassius Clay had his bicycle stolen and found comfort in boxing; how he made the difficult decision to choose between faith and boxing; and finally becoming known as simply “The Greatest” by his fans.
This is your opportunity to get up close and personal with Ali as journalist Jonathan Eig takes us deep into the story behind this legendary man’s life & times.
Discover why every punch thrown was more than just for sport, but for something much bigger than himself.
The Struggles of Muhammed Ali’s Ancestors Helped Shape an Iconic Figure
Muhammad Ali is, without a doubt, one of the greatest boxers that ever lived.
But to truly understand him, it’s important to look into his family background.
Ali’s family tree was full of a complex mix of slavery and freedom.
His great-grandfather, John Henry Clay, was a slave named after his owner, Kentucky politician Henry Clay.
Though surprisingly close to Abraham Lincoln at one point in history, Henry Clay was still involved with the American Colonization Society which proposed sending slaves back to Africa.
After emancipation was declared for John Henry Clay he eventually obtained some property and grew his family there.
Unfortunately though this didn’t mean an easy life for African Americans as trouble constantly dogged Ali’s grandfather Herman Heaton Clay.
He landed in jail for 6 years after supposedly stealing a quarter from Charles Dickey and shooting one of his friends who had come looking for him with a heavy cane demanding repayment.
Most likely worsening this situation even further was Everett Clay, the first son of Hermon and Edith Greathouse (who Hermon married while in prison), who was sent to prison himself for killing his wife with a razor.
The story ends thankfully on a much more positive note with Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., Muhammad Ali’s father, who made a living as painter and billboard worker eventually becoming the father of Muhammad Ali himself.
Despite his troubled family ties though you could never deny that he had something special inside of him from birth!
Cassius Clay Showed Self-Reliance from a Young Age and Got by with the Love and Support of His Family
Cassius Clay was a precocious and stubborn child who experienced a relatively pleasant upbringing.
From day one, he already had a knack for grabbing people’s attention.
He even screamed louder than any other baby in the hospital ward!
His parents, Cassius Clay Sr.
and Odessa Clay, worked hard to make their West Louisville home as comfortable as possible for their growing boys by planting a vegetable garden and digging out goldfish ponds.
The Clays weren’t rich but they were able to provide some of life’s luxuries such as an electric train set and bicycles that Cassius and his brother Rudolph Arnett could share.
Odessa remembers that he was always trying to jump out of his stroller, eager to take matters into his own hands.
By the age of ten months he refused any help with dressing or eating and some messes in his bedroom were inevitable because of it.
Nevertheless, thanks to the Clays’ love, care and hard work, both boys had everything they needed while growing up.
How Being Robbed of His Bicycle Inspired Cassius Clay’s Boxing Career
When 12-year-old Cassius Clay, Jr., had his beloved Christmas present bicycle stolen from him in Louisville in October 1954, it was an event that would eventually lead to his glory as a boxer.
Furious and wanting revenge, he sought justice by reporting the theft to the police officer on duty at the Columbia Auditorium – Joe Elsby Martin.
Martin had been running a boxing club out of the basement of the auditorium, and noticing Cassius’ enthusiasm for waging a fight against whoever had taken his bike, suggested he join them instead.
Filled with fascination about boxing, Cassius accepted the offer which began a trajectory towards greatness.
Though not particularly successful academically at school, young Clarence dedicated himself to improving his skills at boxing and within six years of his first amateur match in 1954 he gained acknowledgment for his feat.
This continued on until 1960 when Cassius Clay became famous as one of boxing’s rising talents.
Cassius Clay’s Olympic Gold Medal Win: A Turning Point in His Career
In 1960, 18 year old Cassius Clay was on the verge of making a big name for himself in the light-heavyweight boxing world.
That same year, he got a big break when he was chosen to be part of the US Olympic Boxing Team, who were headed to Rome for the 1960 Olympics.
Though considered to be the best that America had to offer, it seemed unlikely that Clay could beat reigning Olympic Champion Gennadiy Shatkov, Australia’s Tony Madigan or Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzykowski and take home gold.
Things kicked off brilliantly when Clay won his first match against a Belgian competitor without breaking a sweat.
He then went on to defeat Shatkov – much to everyone’s surprise.
When it came time for him to face Tony Madigan in the semi-finals, things became even tougher.
It was down to the judges – who chose unanimously in favor of Clay due to his level of aggression -to decide who would go through to compete against Pietrzykowski in the final round.
Muhammad Ali Finds His Calling in the Nation of Islam and Becomes a Beacon for Social Change
When Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam in 1964, he began to use his notable platform to publicly address social and political issues.
After an epic victory against Sonny Liston, Clay was invited to a party at which he met Malcolm X, a prominent spokesperson for the Black Muslim movement.
Seeing this as an opportunity to join the movement and lend support for their cause, Clay soon expressed his long-held interest for joining.
At his next press conference after meeting with Malcolm X at the party, reporters were eager to question Clay about his religious beliefs and new found membership in the Nation of Islam.
Clay confirmed that he was indeed now a Muslim and had changed his name accordingly.
But more importantly, he used this event as an opportunity to explain why he wanted to join the movement-illustrating that it was more than an act of faith but also a way for him to promote civil rights and create a strong black culture in America through opposing integration simply blending into white society.
Clay’s involvement with the Nation of Islam fueled much public discourse during this era, making him known not just as one of boxing’s greatest legends but also as one who actively works towards bringing dignity and recognition within African American communities during tumultuous times in United States history.
Muhammad Ali’s Courageous Defiance of the US Military During the Vietnam War
When Muhammad Ali chose to publicly state his stance against the US military’s involvement in Vietnam, he had no idea what repercussions he would face.
In April of 1967, Ali declared that he would not serve in the US Armed Forces as a conscientious objector.
He argued that the military was exploiting black people for recruitment efforts while privileged white people were being allowed to avoid the draft.
When Ali showed up at US headquarters with a lawyer to present his argument, there were other 26 men scheduled to be processed by US Armed Forces staff.
They called his name and when he refused to stand up, a Navy officer warned him of facing five years in prison and ten thousand dollars fine but still Ali didn’t comply and instead presented papers stating his objection.
This refusal earned him a controversial punishment from WBA (World Boxing Association) – they annulled all of his championship titles and suspended him from boxing professionally in the US for three years.
This event was seen as an injustice and it made it clear that this was a political move on their part rather than anything else – they didn’t agree with his beliefs and weren’t afraid to voice it with tough action directly affecting Ali’s professional life and duties.
The Cost of Disobeying Elijah Muhammad: Muhammad Ali Loses His Place in The Nation of Islam
The consequences of disobeying Elijah Muhammad, the leader of The Nation of Islam, were serious.
Anyone who disregarded his orders faced the risk of being shunned by their peers.
This was the fate that awaited Muhammad Ali after he expressed a desire to return to boxing in March 1969.
Elijah summoned him to his home and made it clear that Ali could not go back to boxing while still under The Nation’s rules.
Ali was faced with a choice – either pursue boxing or follow Elijah’s commands – and his decision was soon made evident when he was officially expelled from The Nation for defying Elijah’s orders.
He was not the only one affected by this change; many people who chose to go against the rules were also barred from joining or staying within the group’s ranks any longer.
Louis Farrakhan, a famous Calypso singer, had been forced to give up music before becoming the new leader after Elijah passed away in 1975.
Ali’s Tenacious Willpower and Strength of Character on Display in the Fight of the Century
Muhammad Ali’s return to boxing was marked by a thrilling and highly hyped match against Joe Frazier, called “The Fight of the Century,” which took place on March 8th, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.
Everybody wanted a piece of this momentous match; tickets sold out instantly, and were even being scalped for prices exceeding $700!
An staggering 300 million people are believed to have watched it on television.
Though Ali landed more punches in the first two rounds, Frazier outdid him in the later rounds.
In a dramatic climax, a crushing left hook thrown by Frazier sent Ali flying to the ground in round 15.
It was later discovered that this punch had shaken Ali’s brain enough to tear some of his brain cells!
Incredibly, despite all this damage from the blow, Ali still managed to get back up again in under ten seconds!
He stayed standing until the end of the fight — but after 15 spectacular rounds it was Joe Frazier who emerged victorious with the unanimous decision of all three judges.
Although this marked Muhammad Ali’s first professional loss since starting his career three years prior, he showed immense courage and determination throughout what would remain one of the most iconic fights in history.
Ali’s Unrelenting Determination and Rope-a-Dope Strategy Lead Him to a Historic Third World Heavyweight Title
The Rumble in the Jungle became legendary as it was perhaps Muhammad Ali’s most famous fight, taking place in Zaire on October 30th, 1974.
He squared off against an undefeated George Foreman and won using the incredibly effective “rope-a-dope” strategy that would take Foreman’s strength and use it against him.
During this match Ali was taunting Foreman and playing defensively to tire him out before unleashing a series of punches at the end of each round.
After winning his third Heavyweight Championship Title, Ali would go on to face Leon Spinks in two matches for his title defense.
In the first match Ali lost to an up-and-coming Leon, shocking many spectators.
However, the rematch held only months later proved more successful when they met again in New Orleans and Ali received a unanimous decision win.
Despite both fighters not being in their prime form or health and Ali having to use techniques such as locking his arm around Spink’s neck to catch his breath, he still put up a determined fight which lead him to be the first ever Heavyweight Champion who had earned three titles.
This fight would also be Ali’s last championship win.
Despite Mental and Physical Deterioration, Muhammad Ali Found Creative Ways To Use His Fame for Good
Even when it became clear that his boxing career was over, Muhammad Ali refused to stop entertaining and using his fame for good causes.
When television interviews presented an opportunity to display his gift of gab, he made the most of the challenging situation by pretending to fall asleep and “dreaming” about boxing, or springing alive while singing a tune from The Platters – leaving audiences laughing in both scenarios.
Ali also put his celebrity status to work in other ways.
In 1985, at the request of President Reagan, he joined a delegation to Beirut, Lebanon in an attempt to secure the release of hostages held by Muslim extremists – although this effort ultimately proved unsuccessful.
Later on, he offered his services in similar situations that called for diplomacy and peace-building initiatives.
Throughout it all, Muhammad Ali stayed determined to contribute despite growing weaker from Parkinson’s disease (which was first diagnosed around 1984).
In fact, even until his death in 2016, he continued advocating for more funding for Parkinson’s research as well as more peace in the world.
Muhammad Ali left behind an incredible legacy.
He was not only one of the greatest boxers of all time, but he also dedicated his life to defending peace, racial equality, and religious freedom.
Through his position in the spotlight, Ali was able to influence people around the world and advance civil rights worldwide.
His tenacious spirit will continue to inspire generations of people everywhere who are looking to make a difference in their communities.