Muhammad Ali Muhammad Ali, originally Cassius Marcellus Clay, in his lifetime became one of the best and most controversial sports figures of all time. His upfront attitude and devotion to the Muslim religion made him a role model for many people. Perhaps the most surprising thing he did was changing is name to Muhammad Ali after becoming a Muslim. Ali, then still going by Cassius Clay, first came to world attention in 1960, when he won the Olympic light-heavyweight championship. After his surprising victory over then heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in 1964, he produced a steady stream of headlines.
He was the first boxer to benefit from international television, making him all the more visible to the world. In his second fight with Liston, more controversy arose over the way Liston went down and stayed down in the initial round. Ali, however, proved to be a “fighting champion,” accepting the challenges of every heavyweight he had a chance to fight. He was stripped of his title in 1967 for refusing military service on religious grounds during the Vietnam War. He claimed, “If going to war, and possible dying, would help twenty-two million blacks in this country gain freedom, justice and equality, I would join tomorrow.” He also said that he would not help kill poor people in other countries when it is happening to his own people in America.
He was allowed to resume fighting in 1970 and had his appeal of conviction upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. Ali regained the championship in a 1974 bout with George Foreman. He lost the crown again in 1978 to Leon Spinks but regained it the same year, thus becoming the first man to win the title three times. Other than Joe Frazier and Spinks, the only boxers to defeat Ali, who had a 55-5 record, were Ken Norton, who later lost to Ali; Larry Holmes, who foiled Ali’s try for a fourth heavyweight championship; and Trevor Berbick, who defeated Ali after a failed attempt to make a comeback.
After his fight against Berbick, he announced his retirement.