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70 moments that made Ali great


Admit it, as much as you'd like to brag you know everything there is to know about Ali, even the biggest fan won't know all of these. Well, we're hoping anyway.

1) “Gee-gee, gee-gee,” were the first words Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr spoke, two years after being born on 17 January 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. His mother, Odessa, will call him GG for the rest of her life.

2) “The first person I ever knocked out was my mom.” Baby Clay hits his mother, loosening two teeth.

3) A tearful 12-year-old Clay tells Joe Martin, a police officer who runs the local Columbia Gym, that his bike’s been stolen and that he wants to “whup” whoever stole it. Martin becomes his first trainer.

4) The same 12-year-old gives the Louisville Courier-Journal his first pre-fight prediction: “This guy is done. I’ll stop him in one.”

5) A year later, Clay sees a picture of Emmett Till’s open coffin. Till was a young black boy, tortured and lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman. “It made me sick, and it scared me.”

6) Wins the 1959 Golden Gloves Tournament Of Champions and the Amateur Athletic Union’s national title at light-heavyweight.

7) In 1960, Clay searches out his hero, Sugar Ray Robinson, in New York. Robinson tells him to go away. “At that moment, I vowed never to turn a fan away.”

8) Battles his fear of flying to compete in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and wins light-heavyweight gold. “First time I slept on my back. Had to or the medal would’ve hurt my chest.”

9) Refused service in a whites-only restaurant in Ohio, Clay throws his medal in a river because “it can’t even get me a burger”.

10) Uses the signing-on fee from his first professional contract to buy his mother a $10,000 pink Cadillac.

11) “I’m the one who should be fighting Patterson, not you. Come on, sucker, what’s the matter?” Clay’s sparring session with Ingemar Johansson is stopped after just two rounds — to spare the Swede who was preparing to fight Floyd Patterson for the world heavyweight title.

12) On 29 October 1960, Tunney Hunsaker goes down in history, but not to the canvas, as he loses a six-round decision to become the now-heavyweight Clay’s first professional victim.

13) “They must fall in the round I call.” Clay builds an early reputation for (mostly accurately) predicting the round in which he’ll knock his opponents out; a promotional gimmick he took from a professional wrestler called ‘Gorgeous George’ Wagner.

14) “Do you know why I’m the fastest heavyweight in the world? I’m the only heavyweight that trains under water.” Ali pulls off his first media hoax in 1961, courtesy of photos showing him shadow-boxing at the bottom of a swimming pool.

15) “I want to see my beautiful Technicolor face on the cover of Life,” says the increasingly media-savvy Clay.

16) Clay makes his Hollywood debut in 1962’s Blood Money, laying out Anthony Quinn. “When I saw the movie, I felt so sorry for him.”

“Henry Cooper is nothing to me. If this bum goes over five rounds, I won’t return to the United States for 30 days, and that’s final.” Clay prepares for his 1963 fight at Wembley Stadium.

17) Henry Cooper is nothing to me. If this bum goes over five rounds, I won’t return to the United States for 30 days, and that’s final.” Clay prepares for his 1963 fight at Wembley Stadium.

Muhammad Ali

18) “This time I’m an even bigger fool, flat on my back instead of a stool.” Cooper gives Clay his first professional taste of the canvas in round four. The dazed fighter is bought recovery time when trainer Angelo Dundee opens a tear in his glove and calls for a replacement. Clay then keeps his promise, stopping a heavily-bleeding Cooper in the next round. The damaged glove was never changed.

19) “I was momentarily distracted when I saw Cleopatra.” Clay’s excuse for getting felled by Cooper was Elizabeth Taylor’s presence at ringside.

20) “I dig them cats.” Clay attends his first Nation Of Islam meetings.

21) “I’ll fight you for free!” The goading of Sonny Liston, in an effort to get a world title fight, is ceaseless. It includes an offer of a bareknuckle fight and shooting Liston with a water-pistol. Clay gets his fight. The date is set for 25 February 1964.

22) Clay converts to Islam, under Malcolm X, but it’s not announced in case it affects the gate for the fight. “Malcolm X was right about so many things.”

23) Declares the immortal line that he’ll “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” during the build-up to the fight.

24) “I am the king! King of the world. Eat your words! Eat! Eat your words! I am the greatest!” At 22 years and 36 days, Clay becomes the youngest ever heavyweight world champion with a seventh-round TKO, and immediately taunts the watching press who had been quick to write off his chances.

25) “Cassius Clay is a slave name. Clay means dirt. I didn’t choose it and I didn’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name — Muhammad means ‘worthy of praise’ and Ali means ‘most high’ — and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me.” Announces his conversion to Islam after the fight.

26) Ten days after the fight, Ali gets his Life cover, though it bears the name Clay.

27) “I’m the people’s champion. You can walk up to me and say ‘hello’ without paying.” Ali remembers his pledge, as his fame grows.

28) Fails the US Armed Forces qualifying test due to sub-standard literacy. “I said I was the greatest, not the smartest.”

29) Ali marries Sonji Roi on 14 August 1964. It’s the first of four marriages.

30) “A black man should be killed if he’s messing with a white woman.” Ali turns down the lead role in a Jack Johnson biopic because he’d have to ‘marry’ a white woman.

31) “I’m too fast to be hit by a bullet.” He responds to death threats.

32) “Get up and fight, sucker! Nobody will believe this!” 25 May 1965: Ali KOs Liston in the first round of their rematch with what becomes known as the ‘Phantom Punch’, leading to conspiracy theories that gambling debts or pressure from the Nation Of Islam caused heavy favourite Liston to throw the fight.

33) “I ain’t got no quarrel with no Vietcong. They never called me nigger.” Ali is informed that, due to a change in the testing process, he is now eligible for the military draft. He declares himself a conscientious objector.

34) Catches eight flies with his hand during a 15-minute interview. Says it’s “better than the speedbag”.

35) “I can’t stand the sight of blood.” 21 May 1966, Arsenal Stadium: stops Cooper for a second time, this time in the sixth, again with Cooper cut to pieces.

36) “Your husband is OK, Mrs Folley. And tell your kids they should be proud of their father.” After a seven-round win over Zora Folley, Ali grabs the ring microphone and comforts his opponent’s wife, who was watching at home.

37) 28 April 1967: Ali refuses, three times, to step forward at his Army induction. He is arrested. Boxing commissions across the US strip Ali of his titles.

38) “God don’t want me to go down for standing up.” On 20 June 1967, Ali is found guilty in court of refusing induction. The case is eventually passed on to the US Supreme Court.

39) In 1968, Ali seeks a comeback fight in Las Vegas. Eccentric right-wing billionaire Howard Hughes intervenes to prevent it.

40) Ali famously poses as the arrow-pierced martyr St Sebastian on the April 1968 cover of US Esquire, but only after seeking permission from mentor Elijah Muhammad.

Muhammad Ali

41) “There were people who thought the Vietnam war was right. And those people, if they went to war, acted as brave as I did.” Ali makes a living from public speaking.

42) “Nobody has to tell me that this is a serious business. I’m not fighting one man. I’m fighting a lot of men, showing a lot of ’em, here is one man they couldn’t defeat, couldn’t conquer.” Ali is granted a licence by the Atlanta Boxing Commission to fight Jerry Quarry on 26 October 1970. He stops Quarry in three rounds to regain the world title.

43) “I would say the onliest thing that you could rank this with was the landing on the moon.” Ali underplays his forthcoming Fight Of The Century with Joe Frazier. Each fighter will receive a then-record $2.5m bounty.

44) “I looked up and I was on the floor.” 8 March 1971: Ali loses to Frazier on points after an epic 15-round battle. It is his first professional defeat. He’ll wait three years for another world title shot.

45) Both fighters are taken to hospital. Upon hearing rumours that Frazier has died, Ali vows to retire if they are true.

46) 28 June 1971: the Supreme Court unanimously votes to reverse Ali’s conviction for refusing to serve in the Army.

47) “That night, if Frazier had killed me, I would have gotten up. I would have become the first dead champion in history.” On 28 January 1974, Ali gets his revenge on Frazier in New York’s Madison Square Garden, retaining his NABF national title on points.

48) Addresses the crowd at a Bob Dylan gig. Both men are campaigning for the release of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a boxer wrongly convicted of murder.

49) “You are too small mentally to tackle me. I’m serious. You and this little TV show is nothin’ to Muhammad Ali.” Ali squares up to Michael Parkinson on his chatshow in 1974. Parkinson calls him Cassius Clay and tackles him on Muslim attitudes to women. It’s the second of four legendary conversations between the two.

50) Following the typical pre-fight media circus, Ali whips up the Zairian crowd ahead of the Rumble In The Jungle against George Foreman with “Ali bomaye!”. It means ‘Ali kill him’.

51) “You have heard of me since you were young. You have been following me since you were a little boy. Now you must meet me, your master.” 30 October 1974: Ali whispers to the undefeated, all-conquering champion Foreman during the referee’s instructions.

52) “The bull is stronger, but the matador is smarter.” Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’ tactics of absorbing Foreman’s punches on the ropes work as he knocks out his weary opponent in the eighth.

53) March 1975: Knocked down by journeyman Chuck Wepner, Ali recovers to win in the 15th round. The fight inspires Sylvester Stallone to pen Rocky.

54) “It will be a killer, and a chiller, and a thriller, when I get the gorilla in Manila.” Ali provides the lyrical build-up to the final part of the Ali vs Frazier trilogy: the Thrilla In Manila.

55) “Frazier quit just before I did.” 1 October 1975: Frazier’s corner stop their man from getting up for the 15th round. Ali, who retained his world title, was reportedly telling his corner to “cut my gloves off”.

56) June 1976: Ali takes on Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki in a ‘special rules’ contest that’s later seen as the precursor to MMA.

57) 1977: The Greatest, a film of Ali’s life, is released. Ali plays the lead.

58) 1978: Walnut Avenue in Louisville is renamed Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

59) “Do I sound like I’ve got brain damage to you?” The 39-year-old Ali defends his decision to fight Trevor Berbick on 11 December 1981. He loses a unanimous decision. It will be his last fight.

60) “The Pyramids of Egypt are crumbling.” Ali retires. His final professional record is 56 wins (37 by knockout) and five defeats. No draws.

61) “This is a trial from God. He gave me this illness to remind me that I’m not No1: he is.” The 42-year-old Ali is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984.

62) Ali travels to Iraq during the Gulf War in 1990 and meets with Saddam Hussein to negotiate the release of 14 US hostages.

63) “My left hand was shaking because of Parkinson’s, my right hand was shaking from fear. Somehow, between the two of them, I got the thing lit.” Ali lights the Olympic flame at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

64) Ali meets Fidel Castro in Cuba during a 1996 humanitarian mission. Castro jokingly invites Ali to land a punch on his beard.

65) 2 January 2000: The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act is enacted to protect boxers from unscrupulous promoters and hazardous conditions.

66) In 2001, Ali is released starring Will Smith. Ali tells Smith: “Man, you’re almost pretty enough to play me.”

67) In 2002, Ali’s star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame is mounted on a wall of the Kodak Theatre because he doesn’t want people walking on him.

68) Asked what the greatest thrill of his career was, Ali says “Zaire. Foreman. Got my title back.”

69) Receives the Presidential Medal Of Freedom from George Bush in 2005 — the US’s highest civilian honour.

70) In 2005, the Muhammad Ali Centre opens in Louisville. It’s based on Ali’s values: respect, confidence, conviction, giving, dedication and spirituality.

(Image: Rex Features)



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