Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. Ali had battled Parkinson’s disease for the latter portion of his life, but there is no doubt that he made the most of the time he had on this planet.
Ali once said “Don’t count the days; make the days count,” and as the world mourns the passing of Ali, his words of wisdom have perhaps never been truer.
Ali is one of the greatest boxing legends of all time, but he was so much more than just a boxer. In fact, someone whose face he once beat in stated “[Ali is] the greatest man I've ever known. Not greatest boxer, that's too small for him. He had a gift. He's not pretty, he's beautiful. Everything America should be, Muhammad Ali is.”
As you read this list, you’re going to get a chronological look at some of the greatest moments of his life. From his start as Cassius Clay and the gold medal win, through his name change, to reading quotes about the most memorable bouts of all time. You’ll even learn about the time that Ali went to Iraq to try and save 15 American hostages.
While there is never going to be a boxer quite as amazing as Ali (after all, he was the greatest, as he often said!), it is not hard to recall the vast amount of accomplishments that Ali had, both in and outside of the ring. If you're just looking for inspiration, more of his amazing quotes are included in number 3, and there's one that will assure you that he was at peace at number 1.
Ali is easily considered to be the greatest boxer of all time, isn’t it time to find out why?
20 Gold Medal At The 1960 Rome Olympics
Prior to being the boxer you know, Ali used to go by Cassius Clay (but more on that below). One of the biggest moments that helped catapult Cassius Clay to being one of the best boxers was his gold medal win at the 1960 Olympic games.
As an amateur boxer, Clay boasted a record of 100 wins and 5 losses, so you can imagine he was feeling confident when he made his professional debut that same year. There is an infamous story about Ali that he threw the medal into the river after he and a friend were refused service at a "whites-only restaurant."
Despite being a great story, it was refuted by several people that are close to Ali who state that he just lost it somewhere a year after winning it. Ali made an appearance at the opening games for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and received a replacement medal at the ceremony.
19 His First Professional Win - 1960
It’s hard to not imagine that Ali’s first official win as a professional boxer must have ranked pretty high on his own list of personal accomplishments. The bout was scheduled in 1960 and Cassius Clay was scheduled to face Tunney Hunsaker. The match was a unanimous decision for Ali, but both men had positive things to say about each other.
Hunsaker stated, "Clay was as fast as lightning ... I tried every trick I knew to throw at him off balance but he was just too good." Later in Ali’s biography, he describes Hunsaker as delivering one of the hardest body blows that he ever suffered in his career.
18 Mohammad Ali vs Sonny Liston - February, 1964
When it comes to talking about the legacy of Muhammad, there is still more to be said about the time when he still went by Cassius Clay. Clay was one of the best boxers in the world, but Liston was downright feared. He had won his two previous fights in first round knockouts, which makes Ali’s victory all the more impressive. In fact, in Liston’s 3 previous bouts, he had boxed for under 6 minutes, total! Clay was not shy at attacking Liston prior to the fight with his mouth.
“After the fight, I'm gonna build myself a pretty home and use him as a bearskin rug. Liston even smells like a bear. I'm gonna give him to the local zoo after I whup him... if Sonny Liston whups me, I'll kiss his feet in the ring, crawl out of the ring on my knees, tell him he's the greatest, and catch the next jet out of the country."
On top of this, he claimed that he was going to win the bought in 8 rounds. The match ended after Sonny failed to answer the bell to start the 7th round. Liston had battled shoulder issues, and by that point in the bout was paralyzed in that arm, which you can imagine makes it hard to fight.
This was also the fight that saw Ali shout at the cameras that he was the greatest in the world. “Look at me. Not a mark on me. I could never be an underdog. I am too great. Hail the champion!” Clearly the new heavyweight champion was not a humble one.
Liston admitted that he did not properly train for the bout, drinking beer, eating hot dogs and enjoying plenty of women's company at the training facility.
17 The Changing Of The Name
You aren’t going to be able to learn much more about Muhammad Ali until you learn more about how he earned that name. Ali switched his name to Cassius X after beating Liston, and joined the “Black Muslims” which was seen as an anti-white hate group. Ali had his name changed to Muhammad Ali by Islam Leader Elijah Muhammad. While this earned him plenty of hate, it did cause Martin Luther King Jr. to state “When Cassius Clay joined the Black Muslims and started calling himself Cassius X, he became a champion of racial segregation.” The above photo shows Ali meeting up with another revolutionary figure, Malcolm X.
16 Sonny 2: March, 1965
When the first bout between the two ended without a knockout or going the distance, many people started to think that maybe there it was "fixed". Especially when they realized that there was a rematch clause, granting Sonny another shot at Ali. Ali had all the controversy around his name though, and Liston had recently had some trouble with the law (speeding, reckless driving, and carrying a concealed weapon). This bout may have been a win for Ali, but it was not without its controversy as well.
It was halfway through the first round that Liston was hit by Ali and went down, got up, went down to a knee and then went down on his back again. Many fans in attendance did not even see the punch, leading to the nickname of the "phantom punch."
The match was over in the first round, and featured the iconic photo of Ali yelling, “Get up and fight, sucker!”
The match was one of the shortest heavyweight bouts of all time, and while it left many furious, others like Tex Maule who worked for Sports Illustrated stated, "The blow had so much force it lifted Liston's left foot, upon which most of his weight was resting, well off the canvas."
The fight helped further push Ali towards the spotlight, and left Liston’s reputation as low as it could possibly go.
15 His Refusal To Join The Military: 1967
Muhammad Ali’s legacy would not have been the same if not for the war at Vietnam. Back in 1967, when he was still the champion, Ali refused to be conscripted into the U.S. Military, stating that he had religious beliefs and was openly opposed to the American involvement in Vietnam.
Ali was arrested on draft evasion charges, lost his title, and did not box again for four years. While this could be considered a low, he eventually had his conviction overturned, which allowed Ali to be an inspirational icon for the counterculture generation that was emerging during the Vietnam era.
14 Vs. Joe Frazier (Fight of the Century): May 8th, 1971
Does it count as one of the biggest achievements of Ali’s career if he lost? When the fight gets the nickname of Fight of the Century, you better believe it does. Ali was undefeated (31-0) and challenging champion Joe Frazier (26-0). To Ali’s credit he was able to last the distance (15 rounds), but Frazier was announced the winner via unanimous decision. The fight sparked a rivalry that furthered along the career of both men. It also helps that both Frazier and Ali were guaranteed to bring in $2.5 million each! While Ali refused to openly admit defeat, you’ll find he let his fists do the talking for part two.
13 Vs. Joe Frazier (Super Fight Two): January 24th, 1974
The big knock on this fight was that it was not for a heavyweight title, but that didn’t stop it from being a big deal. To raise the stakes, the winner of the fight was also going to get a shot at current champion, George Foreman. The fight went for the entire 12 rounds, but Ali was announced the champion by unanimous decision. Boxing critics praised Ali for his ability to switch up his tactics from the first fight, preventing Frazier from working up close and personal, which was his strength.
Not to mention it is clear that Ali is a prideful man, so you can imagine getting revenge on Frazier must have felt pretty sweet.
12 Vs. George Foreman (The Rumble In The Jungle): October 29th, 1974
When Ali defeated Frazier during their second bout, it set the scene for what is famously dubbed “The Rumble In the Jungle”. The event pitted champion George Foreman against Ali, and it is well described by boxing enthusiasts as being one of the greats sporting events of the 20th century. To make things even more interesting, Joe Frazier was part of the color commentary team. It was during this bout that Ali implemented the rope-a-dope strategy, allowing Foreman to punch him in the ribs and arms, knowing that it would eventually tire him out and then he could lay into his face. In the 8th round, Ali connected with a 5-punch combination that put Foreman onto his back. While he got up at the count of 9, the referee ended the bout.
The fight helped Ali reaffirm to the world that he was in fact the greatest in the world. Unfortunately for the world, there was never a rematch between the two men. Over time, Ali and Foreman grew to be incredibly close. When he was asked his thoughts on him, Foreman stated “[Ali is] the greatest man I've ever known. Not greatest boxer, that's too small for him. He had a gift. He's not pretty, he's beautiful. Everything America should be, Muhammad Ali is."
11 Vs. Frazier (The Thrilla in Manila): October 1st, 1975
You aren’t going to be able to finish a list about Ali and not include the Thrilla in Manila. It was the third match-up between Ali and Joe Frazier and fittingly enough, it was for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Prior to the fight, Ali showed off his clever tongue, stating “killa and a thrilla and a chilla, when I get that gorilla in Manilla.”
Ali won the bout in the 15th round after one of Frazier’s trainers stopped the fight. When writing about the turning point of the bout, British sports writer Frank McGhee wrote,
“The main turning point of the fight came very late. It came midway through the thirteenth round when one of two tremendous right-hand smashes sent the gum shield sailing out of Frazier's mouth. The sight of this man actually moving backwards seemed to inspire Ali. I swear he hit Frazier with thirty tremendous punches—each one as hard as those which knocked out George Foreman in Zaire—during the fourteenth round. He was dredging up all his own last reserves of power to make sure there wouldn't have to be a fifteenth round.”
The fight was clearly exhausting, and when talking about it, Ali admitted that it was the closest he had ever felt to dying.
10 Vs. Antonio Inoki (Dawn of MMA): June 26th, 1976
Ali was an inspiration for several things, so are you surprised to learn that he also helped inspire MMA? In 1976, Ali agreed to a fight with Antonio Inoki who was known for his drop-kicks and violent grapples. Roughly a week before the match, Ali was still under the impression that this was going to be an exhibition fight that was rehearsed, but was then informed that Inoki intended to complete as if it was a real fight. As a result, “A list of restrictions was imposed on Inoki. He would not be allowed to throw, grapple or tackle Ali, and could not land any kicks unless he had one knee on the mat.”
Inoki laid on his back and kicked at Ali’s shins throughout the fight. To help picture this, Ali literally only threw 6 punches the entire time. You can understand why the crowd started chanting that they wanted their money back after the fight ended in a draw.
Despite this being a farce of a fight, Ali still suffered an infection from a cut that he suffered during the fight, and two blood clots in his legs that he never completely recovered from.
The two formed a friendship and in 1998 when Inoki retired, Ali went to the match and stated, “Antonio Inoki and I put our best efforts into making world peace through sports, to prove there is only one mankind beyond the sexual, ethnical or cultural differences. It is my pleasure to come here today."
Clearly both Ali and Inoki were aware that even if their fight was embarrassing, it still helped open doors for their sports.
9 His Family
When it comes to things that people value in their life, you can imagine family is often pretty high on the list. You may then be curious to learn that Ali was not only married 4 times, but he had seven daughters and two sons. Imagine having the confidence to try and take out the daughter of the greatest boxer of all time...
One of Ali’s daughters, Laila, is also a boxer and is undefeated in her weight class. At least you can take solace in knowing there were plenty of people in Ali’s life that surely loved him.
8 His Induction to the International Boxing Hall of Fame
Given all the amazing accomplishments that I have written about so far, is it any shocker that he is in the Boxing Hall of Fame? No, but did you know he holds victories over 7 other fellow boxers that are in the hall? Ali was the best at boxing, when boxing truly was at its best. Ali officially had 61 fights, winning 56 of them (and 37 by KO). This would have been even more impressive if he was not forced to sit out of boxing for 4 years.
7 His Accomplishments Outside Of The Hall
Sure, the Hall of Fame is a great accomplishment, but that is not where things stop being impressive for Ali. Ali won “Fighter of the Year” and “Fight of the Year” from Ring Magazine more times than any other fighter in history. On top of that, he is one of three boxers to be awarded “Sportsman of the Year” according to Sports Illustrated. Sports Illustrated clearly loved him, because they put him on the cover 37 different times.
Perhaps this is why in 1993, he was considered, alongside Babe Ruth, to be the most recognizable athlete in America.
6 His Inspiration To The Film industry
There is no doubt that Ali created a life that was well worth trying to capture on the big screen. In 1996 When We Were Kings was released, a documentary that talked about the infamous Rumble in the Jungle. You are also probably well aware of the 2001 biopic, Ali, in which Will Smith was cast as Ali. While he did not win, Smith was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award.
Despite nailing the role, Smith said he had turned it down for over 8 years before agreeing to it. “Intellectually, I didn't feel that I possessed what it took to become Muhammad Ali," Smith told Primetime's special correspondent Tavis Smiley. "I absolutely, positively did not want to be the dude that messed up the Muhammad Ali story."
5 His Visit To Iraq: 1990
There is no doubt that Ali is a tremendous boxer, but more than that, he was a tremendous person. One of his most incredible acts occurred in 1990 when he was sent to Iraq to meet with Saddam Hussein. The goal was to try and secure the release of 15 United States citizens that were taken hostage. While Ali was there for over a week, he was eventually able to convince Hussein to release the hostages. This is made all the more amazing when you consider that Ali was in his sixth year of battling Parkinson’s disease at the time.
4 His Writing Career
Ali may have been able to throw down, but he was also able to put together a compelling book as well. One of his books, Soul of a Butterfly, is written alongside his daughter and goes over some of the biggest moments in Ali’s life. Ali also helped to write a more standard autobiography entitled The Greatest: My Own Story that came out in 2015 and talks more in-depth on the struggles he faced both in and out of the ring. The book was edited by Toni Morrison who has won a Nobel Prize in the past, so you better believe it was well put together. Both books were considered best-sellers.
3 His Quotes
When it comes to leaving your legacy behind, it always helps when people have written down some of the best things you’ve ever said. One of my personal favorites is, “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.” The quote was later adapted to be used in the movie Reservoir Dogs.
As well as this, Ali has helped inspire others with quotes like:
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
And of course,
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
The world clearly lost a wise and inspirational man.
2 His Net Worth
While money does not matter once you pass on from this world, there is no doubt that as he was earning it, money was a huge point of pride for Ali. It was reported that he had a net worth of roughly $50 million. It’s astonishing to think how much more he could have made if he boxed in an era where technology was more developed and social media existed, but $50 million is still not too shabby. I guess it always pays pretty well to be the greatest at something, especially if that thing is a sport! One thing is for sure, money or no money, Ali left an incredibly positive impact on so many in this world.
1 The Long Lasting Fight of Ali
It is with great sadness that the world found out that we had lost Muhammad Ali. Yet it was three years ago that Ali’s brother came out and talked about how it could be a matter of months, or even mere days before he passed away. While Ali’s sister refuted the reports, Ali had been hospitalized in the past for pneumonia, as well as a urinary tract infection. The fact that Ali triumphed against his disease for so long is a true testament to his spirit. When talking about how his life was lived, Ali told his brother, “I’ve achieved everything I’ve ever wanted to accomplish. Don’t cry for me, I’m in no pain."