Boxing became a part of Ali’s life at just 12 years old. After having his bike stolen and reporting it to a police officer who was also a boxing trainer, Ali soon began training. The officer took him under his wing and shortly after he won his first boxing victory.
At 18 years old, Ali already captured two national Golden Gloves titles and secured 100 victories. He also won the light heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. His professional boxing debut came on October 29, 1960, and he added another win to his name. It only took Ali four years to become heavyweight champion of the world. He was crowned heavyweight champion in 1964 after defeating the reigning champion, Sonny Liston, in his first title shot opportunity.
During a press conference following his victory, he confirmed his conversion to Islam and the world witnessed the birth of “Muhammad Ali.” Elijah Muhammad, a Nation of Islam leader, gave him the name and Ali continued cultivating relationships with other prominent NOI figures like Malcolm X.
Ali cited his religious beliefs when he was drafted but refused to serve in the Vietnam War. He was arrested and convicted of draft evasion. Additionally, he was sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, but he worked to appeal the conviction and remained free during the process. Initially, his actions brought negative attention to him and he was banned from boxing for three years. However, he continued speaking out and as attitudes about the war shifted, so did his support. In 1970 the New York State Supreme Court ordered his boxing license reinstated, and the following year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in a unanimous decision.
He made his return to the ring in 1970 and faced opponents such as Jerry Quarry, Joe Fraizer, Ken Norton and more. However, by the early 1980’s the famed boxer was making plans to retire. He retired and ended his career with a record of 56 wins, five losses and 37 knockouts.
Following his retirement, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome. Despite his diagnosis, he continued to be a public figure and humanitarian. In true champion fashion, Ali opened the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, in 2005. Ali died at the age of 74 on June 3, 2016.