Often regarded as the greatest athlete of the 29th century, Muhammad Ali was a great boxer who touched lives and inspired millions the world over. Among many things, he is famous for knocking out his opponents, his public feud with Joe Frazier, and his decision to refuse to take part in military service.
Here are some more captivating Muhammad Ali facts to recap the legend’s hugely successful career.
1. Muhammad Ali Declined To Fight in the Vietnam War
Citing religious reasons, Muhammad Ali refused to participate in the Vietnam War in 1967. This prompted the authorities to strip him of his title, and he was convicted of draft evasion. Besides being fined $10,000, he was sentenced to five years in prison for violating Selective Service Laws.
2. He Learned Boxing after His Bike Was Stolen
At 12, Muhammad Ali’s bike was stolen, a matter he reported to the police. Coincidentally, the officer to whom Ali reported the case doubled up as a boxing trainer, so he taught him how to fight. Surprisingly, Ali learned so quickly that he won his first boxing match six weeks later.
3. He Threw Away His Olympic Gold Medal
Before turning pro, Muhammad Ali participated in the 1990 Olympic Games, representing the United States and winning gold. However, when Ali was refused service at a restaurant in his hometown because it only served white people, he threw his medal into the Ohio River. He highlighted the discriminatory treatment in his autobiography titled “The Greatest.”
4. Joe Frazier Handed Muhammad Ali His First Professional Loss
Before March 8, 1971, Muhammad Ali was undefeated, knocking out opponents such as Sonny Liston (twice) and Jerry Quarry. In what was dubbed the “Fight of the Century,” the legendary heavyweight boxer was handed his first defeat by Joe Frazier after 15 rounds. Madison Square Garden hosted the event that saw the fighters go home with $5 million each.
5. He Converted to Islam
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, a name he took after a white farmer and anti-slavery activist. In 1964, with Malcolm X by his side, he converted and joined the Nation of Islam, changing his name to the famous Muhammad Ali with respect to his mentor, Elijah Muhammad.
6. He Participated in The Rumble in the Jungle Match that Happened in Africa
The much-hyped Rumble in the Jungle boxing match took place in Kinshasa, Zaire (currently known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) in Africa. Muhammad Ali participated in the competition, beating George Foreman by knockout in the eighth round.
7. Muhammad Ali’s Speaking Rate Slowed After Fighting Ernie Shivers
Many people, including former boxers, regard Ernie Shivers as one of the hardest punchers. When Muhammad Ali took on Shivers, boxing fans waited with anticipation. Even though Ali won the match, it is said that he took too many shots to the head doing the Rope-a-Dope. Eventually, Ali’s speaking rate reduced by about 16% after the match.
8. Muhammad Early Left the Nation of Islam to Practice More Islam
Abbreviated as NOI, the Nation of Islam is an Islamic movement formed by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in 1930. Its popular members included Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, and Muhammad Ali. Following a turn of events, Ali left NOI in 1975 and converted to Sunni Islam, a movement committed to learning and living by the teachings and habits of the prophet.
9. He Unretired for an $8 Million Guaranteed Prize
Muhammad Ali Retired from boxing on June 26, 1979. Just over a year later, he unretired to participate in the World Boxing Council Title. Besides the chance to claim the championship status, Ali was guaranteed an $8 million purse. He eventually lost to Larry Holmes by knockout in the 11th round.
10. He Made More Money from Selling the Gloves He Used to Beat Liston than from the Victory Itself
The first match between Muhammad Ali and Liston drew a lot of controversy; the FBI reportedly opened an investigation. At the time, Sonny Liston was seemingly unbeatable, with formidable jabs, toughness, and strength among his strongholds. On the other hand, Ali didn’t have much experience, only recording a few fights under his belt. What’s more fascinating is that Ali made more money from auctioning the gloves he used to beat Liston than he got from the fight 50 years after the event.
11. Muhamad Ali Failed to Keep His Promise of Calling Frazier the Greatest
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were very bitter rivals. In fact, at some point, Muhammad Ali said that if Joe Frazier ever beat him, he would crawl across the ring and call Frazier the greatest. Joe Frazier eventually beat Muhammad Ali, but he refused to keep his promise.
12. Muhammad Ali Fought for the Welfare of Others
Other than boxing, Muhammad Ali “fought” off the ring, too. For instance, in 1990, he actively negotiated with the then president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, to release several Americans held in the country as hostages. In 2011, he publicly appealed to Iranian officials to release the US citizens Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer.
13. He Lit the Torch for the 1996 Summer Olympics
The 1996 Summer Olympic Games were marred with violent attacks perpetrated by Eric Rudolph on July 27, 1996. Muhammad Ali had commissioned the event by lighting the official torch several days before.
14. Muhammad Ali’s Hall of Fame Star Is Not Placed on the Ground
Muhammad Ali is the only person whose Hall of Fame Star is not placed on the ground. Instead, it is placed on a wall, following his request. He explained that he did not want the name of Muhammad to be stepped on.
15. Muhammad Ali Was Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984
Parkinson’s disease usually affects the central nervous system and other body parts that rely on nerves. Unfortunately, Muhammad Ali revealed that he was diagnosed with the condition in 1984. After a lengthy battle with it, the boxing icon succumbed on June 3, 2016.
16. There is a Muhammad Ali Center in Kentucky
Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the Muhammad Ali Center was developed to honor the athlete. The center usually takes time to appreciate Ali’s legacy with its “Three Days of Greatness.” During this time, a film on Ali’s life usually premieres, followed by the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards presentation.
17. Muhammad Ali’s Relationship with Joe Frazier Wasn’t the Best
As rivals, you would expect Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier to be best friends. However, the length to which they both demeaned each other was unbelievable. At some point, Ali referred to Frazier as a Gorilla. Ali’s reference to Frazier’s family also resulted in public humiliation for the subject. On the other hand, Frazier wasn’t empathetic to Ali’s situation when he had Parkinson’s disease. He believed that was a punishment from God.
18. Sugar Ray Robinson Denied Muhammad Ali an Autograph
When Muhammad Ali was still early in his career, he was denied an autograph by Sugar Ray Robinson, an American professional boxer who was his mentor. This hurt him so much that he promised not to deny an autograph request once he became a prizefighter.
19. Muhammad Ali Used to Abstain from Sex for Months before a Fight
Sources say Muhammad Ali used to abstain from sex for two months before a fight. According to him, semen retention made him unbeatable in the ring.
20. Muhammad Ali Tried His Hand in Entertainment
Other than boxing, Muhammad Ali tried his hand in acting, rapping, and spoken word. During his three-year boxing ban, he wrote and performed some spoken word poetry and rap music.
21. He Once Stopped a Man from Committing Suicide
In 1981, Muhammad Ali saved a man from committing suicide by shouting encouraging words. This earned him more respect from his fans. He also played a cameo role in the 1962 film version of Requiem for a Heavyweight. Ali was later featured in a documentary, Black Rodeo, released in 1972.