Boxer. Philanthropist. Social Activist. Cultural Icon. These are just some of the labels associated with the greatest of all-time, Muhammad Ali. Cassius Clay, as he was known before converting to Islam, passed away June 3, 2016 at Scottsdale, Arizona due to septic shock. He was 74 years old.
The silver-tongued boxer had a very colorful life; Ali not only became a three-time heavyweight champion of the world, he also transcended the sport of boxing by becoming an icon beloved by everyone from all corners of the globe. As a tribute to The Greatest, let’s take a look at the top 10 matches and moments of his illustrious career.
Will the world find its new Ali in heavyweight boxing? Check out our odds for the big heavyweight clash this July, Wladimir Klitschko vs. Tyson Fury.
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Top 10 Muhammad Ali Matches and Moments
10. “I Ain’t Got No Quarrel with Them Vietcong”
Ali’s example inspired many black Americans and plenty more. For instance, he inspired Martin Luther King Jr. to oppose the Vietnam War, even energizing the progress of the freedom movement as a whole. Ali was barred from boxing for three years, robbing him of some of his best years. Instead, he spent the time criticizing the Vietnam War while advocating African American pride and racial justice, which goes to show that his impact spanned farther than just the boxing ring.
9. Gold at the Rome Olympics (1960)
Boxing was in Ali’s DNA. Before he became a legendary heavyweight champion, he had a very successful amateur career. As Cassius Clay, he won six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, and an Amateur Athletic Union national title. Clay then won the light heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. His amateur record was an outstanding 100 wins with five losses.
8. “I Shook Up the World”
Sonny Liston was a bad, bad man. He sucked his opponents’ souls even before he fought them, having been a heavyweight champion with a dazzling 35-1 record. Despite such intimidation, Cassius Clay stood up to meet the challenge head on. His pulse was double his normal rate at the weigh in, prompting people to think he was frightened. But Clay had a plan, opting to scare Liston by acting like a nut.
The 22-year-old challenger proved to be slicker and sharper. He even showed some resolve after surviving a horrendous fifth round when Liston’s gloves were laced with liniment. Clay forced Liston to quit the bout at the end of the sixth round, and had a tasty sound bite ready for reporters after exclaiming, “I am the greatest! I shook up the world! I am the prettiest thing that ever lived!”
7. Ali vs. Liston 2
Soon after the first Liston fight, Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali upon converting and affiliating with the Nation of Islam. He faced Liston again in May 1965, and it was a controversial fight indeed, with the former champion knocked down by a phantom punch. Liston got up, but didn’t last long. The rematch wasn’t a blockbuster fight in itself, but it did produce one of the most iconic images of all time with Ali towering and shouting over a crumpled Liston on the canvas.
6. Ali the Negotiator
Ali wasn’t just a boxer and a force for social change in the United States. His celebrity and cultural icon status extended towards the farthest corners of the world. Take for instance his meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1990, when the Iraqi dictator had taken plenty of hostages after he invaded Kuwait in 1990, including 15 Americans.
Ali flew to Baghdad in November to negotiate for the release of the Americans against President George H.W. Bush’s wishes. The former heavyweight champ met Hussein on November 29 and on December 2, Ali and all 15 American hostages boarded a plane back to New York safe and sound.
5. The Birth of the Ali Shuffle
The Greatest produced one of the best visual performances of his career in 1966. He stopped Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams in just three rounds with four knock downs. Ali debuted a series of blurring footwork he then dubbed as the “Ali Shuffle”. It eventually became the hottest dance sensation since the Twist, or so the brash heavyweight champion believed.
4. The Fight of the Century
Ali came out of boxing exile in 1971, and instead of being hated, he was adored by the public. People now knew that he was sincere, making him a lovable underdog to root for. Ali called Frazier an Uncle Tom, a tool working for the white establishment, while he himself fought for the little men in the ghetto.
The highly-anticipated match between two undefeated fighters finally materialized at Madison Square Garden, and it didn’t disappoint. Both men threw everything at each other for 15 hard rounds. Ali wasn’t quite as elusive or sharp as the last time he laced up the gloves, though. Frazier caught up with him throughout the match, and planted him on his butt with a left hook in the 15th round. Ali lost a unanimous decision, but he did rise from that knockout and come back stronger than ever.
3. The Rumble in the Jungle
Nobody though Ali could defeat defending 1974’s world champion, George Foreman. The Greatest was already 32 years old, and he was facing an undefeated 25-year-old champion Big George, who was fresh off a two-round demolition of Joe Frazier.
It was in this match that Ali made the rope-a-dope famous. He repeatedly put his back on the ropes and allowed Foreman tee off on him. Head movement saved Ali from eating too many shots; he also peppered his opponent with counters aplenty. By the sixth, Foreman sported lumps all over his face, extremely exhausted. With 20 seconds remaining in the eighth, Ali chained together multiple punches to force Foreman to flop all over the floor.
2. The Thrilla in Manila
Frazier beat Ali the first time around as mentioned above, but The Greatest had his revenge in the rematch. The two would meet for a blockbuster rubber match in 1975, dubbed as the “Thrilla in Manila”. It didn’t just thrill; it would become one of the greatest fights of all time. The two threw everything they had at each other again, and this time including the kitchen sink.
How bad was the beating each fighter received? Ali himself said that it was the closest to death he had ever been. The Greatest emerged as the winner in the 14th round, but not by his own doing. He actually wanted out of the fight, asking his corner to cut off his gloves. However, Frazier’s corner had thrown in the towel to save their fighter from more damage just moments before Ali’s gloves were cut.
1.The Lighting of the 1996 Olympic Torch
Ali was not a man to be held down. He had fought for everything his entire life, from standing up for civil rights to defying the U.S. government’s order that he should fight in the Vietnam War. Need any more proof of his courage? Well, he obviously fought the biggest and baddest men in professional boxing in his career as well. However, nothing comes close to his lighting the Olympic Torch at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Ali’s appearance was meant to be a surprise for the public, with the Olympic committee closely keeping his appearance at the event a secret. It wasn’t really the act of lighting the torch which was the defining moment of the event, though; it was Ali’s very own courage in stepping under the spotlight with his Parkinson’s disease in full display for the whole world to see. With his left arm shaking uncontrollably, he raised the torch with his right ever so resiliently.
Ali lit the Olympic Cauldron with the flame that has forever been regarded as a message of hope and peace, and the sporting world could not have had a better model for sportsmanship and unity worldwide.
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