A strong opponent of the scourge of racial prejudice in the United States, Muhammad Ali’s original name was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., who converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1975, and 30 years later began adhering to Sufism.
Born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, US, ‘The Greatest’ fought 61 matches and won 56, including 37 knockouts. He lived life king-size both inside and outside the boxing ring. For his immense contribution to the causes of the common people, he was also known as ‘The People's Champion’.

Here, we bring some major highlights from the life of Muhammad Ali:  

* Ali had a show-time personality, dazzling footwork and great hand speed that combined to make him a champion like his sport had never seen. His career record was 56 victories, 37 of them by knockout, and five losses. He held the world championship an unprecedented three different times.

* Fighting under his given name of Cassius Clay, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight competition at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. In a 1975 autobiography, he said he threw the medal into a river one night after being refused service in a Louisville restaurant and being harassed by a gang of whites. Two biographers, however, said Ali actually lost the medal unintentionally.

* The US Army measured Ali's IQ at 78. In his autobiography, he said, "I only said I was the greatest, not the smartest."

* His first professional fight was a six-round decision in 1960 over Tunney Hunsaker, whose day job was police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia. Ali and Hunsaker became friends and Ali wrote in an autobiography that one of the hardest body blows he ever received came from Hunsaker.

* After Malcolm X helped Ali become a member of the Nation of Islam, he dropped his given name in favor of Cassius X. Malcolm X later split from the church in a dispute but the fighter stayed on and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, which Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad said was his "true name."

* Claiming conscientious objector status, Ali refused to be inducted into the US Army in 1967. He was sentenced to five years in prison, lost his title and could not get a fight at a time when he was in his athletic prime. He never went to prison while his case was under appeal and in 1971 the US Supreme Court overturned the conviction.

* In 1984 Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome that apparently was linked to his career. It left him slow, shaky and unable to speak much above a whisper but close associates said he never lost his sense of humor or zeal for his faith.

* Ali named the top sportsman of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated magazine, met world leaders such as Queen Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein. He was given a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

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