Muhammad Ali


'Legend' is one of the most over-used words in sport. But when applied to Muhammad Ali, it's almost an understatement.

An inspiration to millions, one of black America's first and most enduring role models, a political activist, convert to Islam and one of sport's greatest and most funny talkers, Ali truly is a legend.

Oh, and he wasn't exactly shabby in a Boxing ring either.

As plain old Cassius Clay, he won gold as a light-heavy at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Four years later, aged just 22, he was heavyweight champion of the world after dethroning Sonny Liston in a stunning upset.

Not long afterwards, he converted to Islam and took the name Muhammad Ali. Controversy would dog him thereafter, most notably when he refused to be drafted for service in the Vietnam War, famously declaring that 'No Viet Cong ever called me nigger'.

Conservative America was appalled, Ali was stripped of his titles and he didn't box for four years.

His comeback was the stuff of, you guessed it, legend, culminating in the epic 1974 Rumble in the Jungle against the fearsome George Foreman. Ali spent the early part of the fight soaking up Foreman's ferocious assaults and then knocked out his opponent when he was all punched-out.

He regained his world crown for a third time in 1978 before retiring – way too late – in 1980 after a desperate loss to Larry Holmes.

By then, the Parkinson's Disease that Ali was diagnosed with in 1984 was already affecting him. The decline in health was there for all to see when he lit the flame at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but Ali has always been a fighter, and he was back on the Olympic stage for London 2012 as a flag bearer.

No figure has ever surprised, delighted, shocked and stirred up people across the worlds of sport, politics and religion quite like Ali. It's unlikely anyone ever will.  

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Muhammad Ali

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