Obituary: Muhammad Ali – 1942-2016. Three-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who boasted that he was “The Greatest” and usually backed it up, has died at the age of 74.
Perhaps the most controversial and yet colorful athlete of the 20th Century, he was villified for refusing induction into the Army during the Vietnam War but later was embraced by the public as he battled Parkinson’s disease.
Ali spent his later years as a beloved icon and continued to spread goodwill as one of the most famous men in the world. Perhaps the crowning moment for Ali came when he steadied trembling hands to light the cauldron that signaled the opening of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.
• PHOTOS: Muhammad Ali’s amazing life
He was born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Ky., Jan. 18, 1942, but joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964, shortly after having upset overwhelming favorite Sonny Liston via technical knockout to capture the heavyweight title in Miami Beach.
The 6-foot-3 Ali, who possessed a remarkable combination of speed and power, and bragged about his ability to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” proved the victory was no fluke by knocking out Liston in the first round of a 1965 rematch in Lewiston, Maine.
Often making good on rhyming predictions of exactly when he would stop opponents, Ali defended his championship eight times in 20 months, including a victory over former title-holder Floyd Patterson, before having the championship stripped and being sentenced to five years in prison for draft evasion.
Following his 1967 technical knockout of Zora Folley, New York and other states suspended Ali’s boxing license. Citing religious convictions and calling himself a conscientious objector, Ali watched his popularity wane and spent 3½ years unable to fight while appealing a conviction that jurors needed only 21 minutes of deliberation to impose.
Ali announced his retirement in early 1970, but taking advantage of the lack of a state boxing commission in Georgia, he returned to the ring and scored a third-round stoppage of Jerry Quarry in Atlanta later that year.
• Reaction: Reflections on Ali’s life and boxing career
A court order forcing New York to restore Ali’s license enabled him to challenge new champion Joe Frazier in what became known as “The Fight of the Century” in March 1971 at Madison Square Garden. The two undefeated heavyweights, each receiving a then-record $2.5 million purse, slugged it out at a furious pace for 15 rounds, with Frazier emerging with both a battered face and a unanimous decision after having knocked down Ali in the final round.