Saturday, June 4, 2016

Boxing Legend Muhammad Ali is dead

Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight boxing champion whose brash yet playful public persona, innovative fighting style and outspoken political stances made him one of the most widely recognized and admired Americans in the world, died Friday evening, according to NBC News. He was 74.

After a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," family spokesman Bob Gunell said. "The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening. Muhammad Ali's funeral will take place in his hometown of Louisville, KY. The Ali family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers and support and asks for privacy at this time."

Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17th, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. His father, Cassius, painted billboards and signs; his mother, Odessa, was a household domestic. When Clay was 12, his bicycle was stolen, and a police officer (who also happened to be a boxing coach) overheard the angry boy threatening harm if he ever found the thief and told him he'd better learn to box first.

Clay took his advice. As an amateur, his record was 100-5. He won six state Golden Gloves titles and two national titles, then went to the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, where he won the Light Heavyweight gold medal. Returning from Rome, Clay went pro in October 1960. Around this time he hired Angelo Dundee, the man who would be his trainer until the boxer retired in 1981.

Ali fought for and won the heavyweight title a record-setting three times in his 22-year career, and his rivalries with Sonny Liston, George Foreman and, especially, Joe Frazier are the stuff of boxing legend. Charismatic, proud, and quotable, Ali's trash-talking, self-aggrandizing and often rhyming interviews made him a new kind of sports celebrity, and his commitment to acting upon his personal convictions redefined the role of professional athlete as public figure.

His conversion to Islam in 1963 alienated white boxing fans, and after he refused to serve in the Vietnam War, he was prevented from boxing for four years at the height of his career. People who never watched a boxing match in their lives, or who never learned to speak a word of English, knew who Muhammad Ali was, and knew he was, as he himself said, "the greatest."

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