Muhammad Ali led arguably the most fascinating life of the past 100 years. Ali was an international sports icon. The multi-time heavyweight champion of the world was a political activist. Ali was the most famous living follower of Islam on the planet. It is no wonder that so many have written so much about Ali since he first became a famous boxer who also happened to have a big mouth. Even casual sports fans who have watched movies and/or read books about Ali probably know more about the legend than that he was a talented boxer who changed his name and fought against the United States government for a time.
With that said, there is also a plethora of information that even the biggest fan of Ali may have either forgotten or never learned. For example, it is possible that we could have known Ali by a different name had he stuck with a decision that he made after he chose to make the switch from Cassius Clay. Ali could have been just a guy who lived a quiet life if not for an event that occurred during his younger days and that ultimately changed his life. Ali showed time and time again how to turn negatives into positives, and that is one of the many reasons he was so respected and so beloved by millions of people who never met him.
We will start with one that may surprise you. Some of Ali's ancestors, particularly his great-grandfather, were from the town of Ennis. Yes, that means that Ali was, in fact, part Irish. While this was not something that Ali was famous for talking about during the prime of his career, the boxer also did not hide this portion of his background. Ali even made a trip to his great-grandfather's former home back in 2009, and he was honored during that visit. The town of Ennis also paid tribute to Ali following the fighter's death in 2016. Ali did not belong to any one country or background. He belonged to the world.
You may be surprised to learn that boxing was not always in Ali's blood. A 12-year-old Cassius Clay was introduced to the sport after he became a victim of a crime. Ali was left fuming and looking to fight the individual who stole his bicycle, and a policeman pointed Ali in the direction of a gym. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Imagine what would have been had a young Ali never had his bike stolen on that fateful day. Perhaps Ali would have eventually found boxing or a different sport, or maybe the world never would have heard of the “Louisville Lip.”
There are pockets of young people around the world who do not know that Muhammad Ali did not have that name at his birth. Ali's conversion to Islam resulted in him abandoning his Cassius Clay name, but he did not originally accept his famous name. At first, the former Clay had decided to go by the name “Cassius X.” That name, as you know, did not stick, as the Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad eventually gave the fighter the name Muhammad Ali. While some around the United States were not fond of Ali's name change, everybody eventually called him “Ali,” “Champ” and “The Greatest.”
We do not have to wonder if Ali was a fan of professional wrestling during his younger days. Ali admitted that he was influenced by Gorgeous George and that George served as the inspiration for Ali's most famous interviews and promos that he cut as a pro boxer. We cannot know for sure how many current boxers, mixed martial artists and pro wrestlers have been influenced by Ali over the past several decades. Individuals such as Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and so many others owe Ali a lot.
Ali was famously stripped of his heavyweight championship after he refused to fight in the Vietnam War. With no ability to box until he was reinstated and a lot of free time on his hands, Ali decided to accept a part in a Broadway musical. Buck White was a show that was not long for this world, but those who were able to catch editions of it in 1969 were able to see Ali act and sing. The show may not have been all that great, but Ali received positive reviews for his role. Nobody should be all that surprised that the talented Ali could entertain while on the stage.
Ali and the United States government fought publicly for years over his refusal to fight for the U.S. Army. It was learned, many years after the fact, that there was also a secret war against Ali taking place behind the scenes. Declassified National Security Agency files showed that Ali was one of several individuals spied on during what was called “Operation Minaret.” Nothing significant came of this, as Ali eventually won his case against the government and made a return to the ring. Ali was in no physical shape to take on the government a second time after these documents were declassified, but one has to imagine that he could have won a lawsuit had he pressed the matter.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were responsible for the greatest feud in the history of pro boxing. Ali and Frazier were actually friends before the two first fought against each other in the ring. Frazier campaigned for Ali to be reinstated after Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War, and Frazier even loaned Ali money when Ali was unable to fight and unable to make much of a living. Things changed once Ali began to insult Frazier before their first ever bout, and the relationship was never the same. In cutting those promos and doing what was best for business, Ali deeply hurt Frazier.
The “fight” involving Muhammad Ali and wrestler Antonio Inoki was supposed to be a gimmick, a “worked” match in which neither man did any real damage. Inoki did not see this as a joke, however, as he took the fight seriously. The bout was not only terrible. It is one that left Ali suffering from an injured leg. While we cannot know for sure, it could be believed that the match with Inoki cost Ali at least a couple of years of his boxing career. Ali ultimately overstayed his welcome and fought long after he should have retired.
“I am the greatest!” It was the claim that Ali made time and time again during and after his boxing career. Those words happen to be the title of a spoken word LP that Ali recorded in 1963. Ali also recorded a version of the song “Stand By Me” that served as a B-side. While Ali's voice was far from terrible, it was also for the best that he did not quit his day job and that he continued to fight after the album was released. Ali was the greatest as a fighter and as a sports entertainer even if he was not the greatest singer in the world during his younger years.
Ali was a star in every sense of the word, and thus it only makes sense that Ali received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Unlike others, however, Ali's star is mounted on a wall rather than placed on the ground. This is because Ali did not want to feel disrespected by having his name walked on by others. Ali earned that right because of all that he gave to the world during his many years of service outside of the ring, and it is not a stretch to suggest that no other athlete will ever be as beloved as was Ali.