Muhammad Ali during training at the Royal Artillery Gymnasium in London for his 1966 fight with British champion Henry Cooper. (Trevor Humphries/Getty Images)
Muhammad Ali turns 65
By Chris Iorfida, CBC Sports
Muhammad Ali’s 65th birthday, on Jan. 17, is at once a cause for celebration, a chance to wax nostalgic and a reminder of mortality, in light of his struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
While it’s hard to believe there is an entire generation of sports fans who never saw Muhammad Ali fight, in a contemporary sense, it’s heartening to know that his exploits are more available than ever with the growth of the web and classic sports channels. Still, Ali had a staggering global reach in the pre-wired world (only Pelé came close).
Here’s a taste of the evolution of the man, the fighter and the legend.
Jan. 17, 1942: The first of two sons is born in Louisville, Ky., to Cassius and Odessa Clay, named, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. Rudolph Valentino Clay follows two years later.
October 1954: The theft of young Clay’s bike leads him to policeman Joe Martin, who also helps out at the Columbia boxing gym in Louisville. He encourages Clay to take up the sport.
February 1957: Clay meets Angelo Dundee, in Louisville. Dundee would eventually become head trainer, beginning with Clay’s second pro bout. (Fred Stoner is the obscure trivia answer for fight No. 1.)
Sept. 5, 1960: Clay caps an off a 100-8 amateur career by winning Olympic gold in the light-heavyweight division in Rome.
Oct. 29, 1960: The Louisville Sponsoring Group, a consortium of white businessmen is created to handle Clay’s career, which begins with a six-round win over Tunney Hunsaker.
Ali with longtime trainer Angelo Dundee in 1964. (Harry Benson/Getty Images)
March 1961: Curious about the Black Muslims for some time, Clay meets member Sam Saxon in Miami, gradually increasing his involvement with the group. Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad finds boxing distasteful, but Clay would form a close relationship with the Nation’s Malcolm X for a time.
Nov. 15, 1962: Clay fights his biggest name yet, legend Archie Moore, who briefly trained him two years earlier before Dundee joined. “Moore will fall in four,” the burgeoning poet predicts, and he does.
March 1963: Clay is befriended by the colourful Drew (Bundini) Brown, who would join the fighter’s entourage and help pen lines such as: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, rumble young man, rumble.”
September 1963: On the verge of a title shot, the first major media reports of Clay’s involvement with the Black Muslims surface.
Feb. 25, 1964: Clay stuns the boxing world by forcing menacing heavyweight champ Sonny Liston to quit on his stool after six rounds in Miami. Liston’s team cites a shoulder injury; skeptics cast a wary eye on Liston’s Mob ties and Ali’s link to the Nation.
March 6, 1964: With Malcolm X in tow at the UN, the new heavyweight champion of the world announces he is changing his name to Cassius X. The same day in Chicago, Elijah Muhammad tells a radio host Muhammad Ali is a more appropriate, divine name and the fighter ultimately agreed. Ali gets caught in the growing rift within the Nation between Elijah and Malcolm X for leadership of the Nation of Islam.
Feb. 21, 1965: Malcolm X is shot to death in New York City.
Perhaps Ali’s most iconic photo: he stands over a fallen Sonny Liston during their 1965 rematch. (John Rooney/Associated Press)
May 25, 1965: Another fight with Liston, another controversy. Ali knocks out his opponent in just over two minutes on what many call “the phantom punch.” Ali’s spin is it was an “anchor punch” he learned from Stepin Fetchit, actor and one-time entourage member of brash champion Jack Johnson.
February 1966: Originally rejected by the U.S. Army two years earlier, Ali is reclassified as eligible for service. He opposes the Vietnam War and seeks a draft deferment.
March 29, 1966: Ali beats George Chuvalo by 15-round decision at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Chuvalo, whom Ali dubs “Washerwoman” for his awkward punching style, was a replacement for Ernie Terrell. Toronto is the site after the Illinois commission nixes a bout due to comments by Ali about the war.
Fall, 1966: The Louisville Group’s contract expires. Elijah’s son, Herbert, takes over as manager.
April 25, 1967: Ali refuses induction into the U.S. Army and is immediately stripped of his title by the New York State Athletic Commission, then a major power broker in the sport.
Oct. 26, 1970: With the tide of Vietnam opinion turning, state commissions begin relicensing Ali. He returns with a three-round win over Jerry Quarry in Atlanta.
Ali is knocked to the canvas in the 15th round by a Joe Frazier left hook during the 1971 “Fight of the Century.” Ali would avenge the loss in 1973, and in 1975 win the Thrilla in Manila” rubber match. (Keystone/Getty Images)
March. 8, 1971: In the one of the biggest events in sports history, dubbed the “Fight of the Century,” Ali is knocked down in the 15th by Joe Frazier en route to losing a decision and the heavyweight title, the first defeat of his pro career.
June 1971: Ali’s draft evasion conviction is overturned by the Supreme Court, 8-0.
March 31, 1973: Ali’s days as a relevant fighter appear over after his jaw is broken in a decision loss against unheralded Ken Norton.
Oct. 30, 1974: After avenging the defeats to Frazier and Norton, Ali pulls off the upset in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, stopping George Foreman, thought invincible, in eight rounds to regain the heavyweight crown.
March 24, 1975: Ali beats iron-chinned journeyman Chuck Wepner, who is credited with a knockdown of Ali in the fight. Fledgling actor Sylvester Stallone takes full notice while penning the screenplay for Rocky.
Oct. 1, 1975: Ali and Frazier engage in the brutal “Thrilla in Manila,” with Frazier kept on his stool after the 14th round by trainer Eddie Futch to spare further punishment.
Sept. 15, 1978: Ali becomes the first man to hold the heavyweight title a third time after winning over the man who beat him six months earlier, the young and unpredictable Leon Spinks.
Oct. 2, 1980: In the first of two ill-advised comeback bouts, Ali absorbs a frightening beating in an 11th-round loss to champion Larry Holmes.
September 1984: It is first revealed that Ali is suffering from Parkinson’s syndrome, a neurological condition that causes loss of muscle control and tremors.
November 1986: Ali marries his fourth and present wife, Lonnie Williams.
Ali and his wife Lonnie, left, share a laugh with President George W. Bush after the legendary boxer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)
1988 – 1994: Several people close to Ali pass away: both his parents and entourage members Drew (Bundini) Brown and Lana Shabazz.
July 19, 1996: Despite his advancing Parkinson’s, Ali lights the Olympic torch to open the Summer Games in Atlanta.
Oct. 8, 1999: Laila Ali, daughter with third wife Veronica, makes her pro boxing debut and seven years later remains an undefeated champion.
Nov. 19, 2005: Ten days after he is awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Muhammad Ali Center opens in Louisville.