HE floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. He rumbled in the jungle and left every challenger mangled. He provided us with the greatest thrilla ... in Manila!
Muhammad Ali, a former three-time world heavyweight champion and cultural icon, passed away on June 4 (Manila time) after 74 summers. While known for his exploits as a boxer, there was more to Ali than the swagger and unparalleled skills he displayed in the ring. How well do you know Ali? Here are some things about "The Greatest" that you may have overlooked:
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky at 6:35 p.m., on January 17, 1942. What was the tale of the tape when baby Ali was delivered by his mother Odessa? Six pounds and seven ounces.
Ali's father Cassius Clay Sr. was one of the most successful sign painters in Louisville. Unfortunately, if Cassius Sr. was not painting, he was into drinking and fighting. Police records showed that Ali's father was arrested for reckless driving, disorderly conduct, ignoring parking tickets and assault and battery.
According to Odessa Clay, Ali started to talk at the age of 10 months. On one occasion, while he was being coddled by his mother, Ali hit Odessa on the mouth, resulting in a loose tooth. According to his father Cassius Sr., Ali's first words were "Gee Gee." "He was trying to tell us that he was going to win the Golden Gloves," said Cassius Sr. For the record, Ali loved to call his mother "Bird."
At age three, Ali was so big he could not fit in a crib. His parents had to move him to a regular bed. And every time Odessa took Ali with her in the bus, the driver made her pay a fare equivalent to a six-year-old boy.
Ali's interest in boxing started at age 12, when his brand new red Schwinn bicycle (worth $60) was stolen from a Louisville street corner. He left the bike while he was trying to avail of free popcorn at a home show. Ali reported the theft at the local police station then manned by officer Joe Martin, who also ran a boxing gym known as the Columbia Gym. Ali promised to beat up the guy who stole his bike. Sensing a lot of holed-up anger, Martin invited the kid to drop by at his gym where he could learn how to properly fight. Upon seeing boxers training and sparring at the gym, a young Ali was left spellbound.
Ali was 15 years old and a rising amateur fighter when he read from a local newspaper that boxing trainer Angelo Dundee was in Louisville with his champion Willie Pastrano. Ali ran to the hotel where Dundee was and shouted aloud: "This is Cassius Clay, the next heavyweight champion talking. I'm gonna win the Olympics and be the heavyweight champ. I'm in the lobby. Can I come up?" Ali was invited up by a dumbfounded Dundee and they ended up talking for several hours. This was the first recorded meeting between the two. Dundee ended up training Ali throughout his professional career.
Ali's first notable triumph as a boxer came when he won the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics while fighting as a light heavyweight. He won the gold medal by outpointing Polish Zbigniew Pietrzykowski. Whenever he was asked about the name of the fighter he defeated for the Olympic gold, Ali's classic reply was: "Someone with 15 letters in his name."
Ali entered pro boxing on October 29, 1960, winning a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker, the police chief of a small town in West Virginia. For his first pro fight, Ali was paid $2,000, a whopping sum for an 18-year-old newbie.
As a professional boxer, Ali earned a lot of media ink for his histrionics. He called himself "The Greatest" and coined poems meant to predict his foes' downfall. These antics of Ali came from his favorite pro wrestler, Gorgeous George. George became famous for entering the wrestling arena garbed in colorful outfits while shouting, "I am the World's Greatest! I am the King!" Ali loved George's antics and adopted it in the ring. Ali often called himself "The Greatest," but he first came to be known by the nickname "Louisville Lip."
By the time Ali was 20 years old, he had earned $100,000 as a pro fighter. He used the money to buy his parents a new home and he gifted himself with a black Cadillac limousine. Oh, he also purchased a second-hand bus on which he painted "Cassius Clay, The World's Most Colorful Fighter!"
On May 25, 1964, in Miami Beach, Ali stopped the heavily-favored Sonny Liston in seven rounds to win the world heavyweight championship, the first of three title reigns he would record. Ali was handily winning the fight when his eyes began to burn in the fifth round due to the liniment Liston's corner had been slathering on the defending champ's sore shoulder. Ali actually instructed Dundee to cut the gloves as he wanted to quit, but Dundee instead shoved Ali back into the ring for the 6th round. Ali recovered and proceeded to batter Liston. When Liston stayed on his stool at the seventh round, the referee raised Ali's hand in triumph. "Eat your words... I am the greatest!"
After the Liston fight, Ali embraced the Muslim religion and officially announced that he was through being known as Cassius Clay Jr. He told reporters that he wanted to be known by the name Muhammad Ali. Unknown to many, Ali's complete Muslim name is Muhammad Ali Haj.
Muhammad Ali. The Greatest. Of all time.