Boxing legend Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) was born Cassius Marcellus Clay on this day in Louisville, Kentucky. At age 12, he began working with boxing coach Joe Martin and became an Olympic gold medal winner in 1960.
"There are no pleasures in a fight," he claimed, "but some of my fights have been a pleasure to win."
At 22, he beat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world, converted to the Islamic faith, and changed his name to Muhammad Ali ("worthy of praise").
Upon conversion, he refused to fight in Vietnam, was convicted of draft evasion, spent 29 months in jail, and was stripped of his title. "I knew the war was wrong," he said, "it was against my religious beliefs, and I was willing to go to jail for those beliefs."
He was banned from the ring for three years until the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971. "Man's rise or fall, success or failure, happiness or unhappiness depends on his attitude... a man's attitude will create the situation he imagines," he said.
The charasmatic boxer described his ring skills with poetic confidence. Words were are powerful as his fists. He predicted he'd beat Liston and famously said he'd "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see."
Ali won 56 matches, with 37 knockouts. "I'm so fast I could hit you before God gets the news," he told the NY Times in 1975.
More than a fighter, Ali built a reputation as a compassionate man who fought social injustice. In 1990, on his own initiative, he traveled to Iraq and met with dictator Saddam Hussein to successfully negotiate the release of 15 U.S. hostages.
One hostage, Harry Brill-Edwards said, "I've always known that Muhammad Ali was a super sportsman; but during those hours that we were together, inside that enormous body, I saw an angel."
More ALI Quotations
Make EVERY day count.