Muhammad Ali is widely regarded as the greatest of all time, he is someone who transcended the sport to become one of the most recognised people in the history of humanity. He is a person who embodies the indomitable human spirit, someone who time and time again stood tall and fought back when all of the odds were stacked against him.
He was born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17th 1942 being named Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr after his father who painted billboards and signs, his mother - Odessa O'Grady Clay was a domestic helper. He had a sister and four brothers and grew up during a time of racial segregation. Coming from humble beginnings and growing up in a turbulent atmosphere of disharmony amongst communities had a very significant impact of young Cassius and shaped his personality. His controversial opinions and troubled nature that surfaced later on in life were evidently a result of growing up in such a hostile environment.
Ali fought Sonny Liston twice. They were among the most anticipated, viewed and controversial fights in the sport's history. Sonny Liston was around at a time when mass media was less prominent so we only really have accounts from people who were there about a man who was both feared and respected inside and outside the ring. Liston learnt to box in the Missouri State Penitentiary while serving time for armed robbery, he came up the hard way and never managed to escape the life of criminality having strong ties to the mob when he was boxing professionally.
Liston was avoided time and time again, not just because of his ruthlessness in the ring proved by knocking out Floyd Patterson twice in the first round but because of his reputation outside the ring and his ties to the crime families of the time. Up steps then named Cassius Clay to take up the challenge, the 22 year old witty, fast talking boy from Kentucky with limitless confidence had a point to prove. The fight was set to be held on February 25th, 1964. Nobody gave Clay a chance against Liston, journalists and fans alike dismissed him as a madman without a hope in hell against one of the best heavyweights of all time.
In what was to later become trademark fashion, Cassius Clay came back from what looked like certain defeat to shock the world and do the unthinkable in heroic fashion. At the end of the fourth round he returned to his corner and started complaining that there was something burning in his eyes and he could not see. At one point he even said 'cut the gloves off. I want to prove to the world there's dirty work afoot.' Angelo Dundee, Clay's trainer, at the time refused to cut the gloves and rallied his fighter to bite down on his gum shield and not give in. Clay survived the next round by moving around the ring and staying evasive to the pressure of his opponent, later said that he could only see Liston as a faint shadow. He weathered the storm and as his vision cleared in the sixth he began landing combinations at will. Liston was done at this point, he had tried everything and could not get young Cassius out of there, he failed to answer the bell in the seventh and Clay was declared the victor by technical knockout.
This was a fight that everyone wanted to see, Ali was the one man that Foreman was yet to face and the atmosphere around this fight was feverish. The whole world tuned in to watch this these two men face off in a bout that was dubbed 'The Rumble in the Jungle'. It was the Summer of 1974 and the fight was set to take place in Zaire which is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ali fought a great fight managing to nullify the larger Foreman by tying him up against the ropes and countering at every opportunity. George battered his opponents body landing big shots but rarely being able to land anything to the head. Eventually, Foreman began to tire, and his punches became increasingly wild, losing power in the process. Ali taunted and goaded Foreman throughout the whole fight and in the eighth round he rocked the bigger man with a haymaker. He smelt blood and went for the kill unleashing a combination on Big George which resluted in a knockdown and ultimately the end of the fight. He was the first and only man to stop the great George Foreman.