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The champion is dead. Long live the champion. Whether it is the ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ that you remember about him or his later, weaker, trembling days, Muhammad Ali was perhaps the first global sporting superstar. In our tribute piece to him, we list five things that you must know about ‘The Greatest’.

Muhammad Ali, the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, died on June 3, 2016 at the age of 74, due to respiratory complications brought on by Parkinson’s disease. Calling him a ‘former’ heavyweight boxing champion seems a bit disingenuous, because for all those who have seen and known him, he remained a champion right to his last halting breath.

Here are a few things about Muhammad Ali that you probably did not know.

1. He was born Cassius Marcellus Clayon January 17, 1942. His father, Cassius Clay, Sr., was a commercial painter and musician. His mother, Odessa, was a domestic worker in local white households. He renounced the birth name on his conversion to Islam later in life, calling the name a ‘slave name’ and his new choice, Muhammad Ali, a ‘beautiful African name’. ‘Now that I am free,’ he said, ‘that I don’t belong anymore to anyone, that I’m not a slave anymore, I gave back their white name, and I chose a beautiful African one.’

2. He won gold for the US at the 1960 Summer Olympics. At the age of 18, he trounced Zigzy Pietrzykowski of Poland in a 5-0 decision to secure the gold medal for the United States boxing team. He was still an amateur boxer at that time, and he went professional two months later.

3. He made a reputation for himself as a trash-talker. This image of him as a brash boxer full of showmanship was created early, when he was training for a 10-round fight in Madison Square Garden against Doug Jones in 1963. He participated in a poetry reading competition at a Greenwich Village coffeehouse. His entry was title: ‘Ode to a Champion: Cassius Marcellus Clay, by Cassius Marcellus Clay.’ After the fight, in which Jones gave him stiff competition, he quipped, ‘Jones came here fat as a hen, but he tricked me and lasted to 10.’

4. He fought four big fights during his career. The first came in February 1964, when Muhammad Ali, still named Cassius Clay, broke Sonny Liston’s arm and became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world at the age of 22. The second happened in 1970, against Big Joe Frazier, called the ‘Fight of the Century’, in which Ali first used the ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic in vain and lost to Frazier by unanimous verdict. The third was the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight in 1974 against George Foreman, which he won, and the fourth, in 1975, the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ where he defeated Joe Frazier in a brutal 15-round slugfest.

5. He has remained popular after his fighting days. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, Ali remained in public limelight, championing humanitarian and civil rights causes, earning a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. He also represented the United States when lighting the Olympic Flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Atlanta.

Harshit Sinha

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