I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.
Born Cassius Clay in 1942, Ali was introduced to boxing at the age of 12 by a police officer. He made his professional boxing debut in 1960, and later became a heavyweight champion at the age of 22. He converted to Islam in 1963 and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. In 1967, Ali was drafted into the US army to serve in the Vietnam war. He refused. Ali famously said “I got nothing against no Vietcong. No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger.” He was stripped of his boxing title, convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison. Ali was released on appeal but unable to fight. He took up public speaking and debating.
He later returned to the ring continuing his very successful career. In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. As his health began to decline, he focused his energy into humanitarian issues. He travelled to Lebanon in 1985 and Iraq in 1990 to seek the release of American hostages. In 2005, President George W. Bush honoured Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the USA.
In his final years Ali struggled to speak. In an interview in 2009, he gave his wife a letter to read out. “When I proclaimed that I was the greatest of all time, I believed in myself, and I still do.”
On the third of June 2016, Muhammad Ali passed away, leaving us with his wise words and our fond memories of him. Not only was he a legend in boxing, but a champion in social and political issues. The seed from which gardens grew has left our world, but will always be remembered.
Rest in peace champion. X