5 minute read

Muhammad Ali

In And Out Of The Wilderness

For three-and-a-half years, Muhammad Ali endured the public outcry and the loss of his livelihood, and numerous death threats, while his case wound through the courts. He managed to support himself by public speaking engagements on college campuses. Finally, in June of 1970, the Supreme Court reversed his draft-dodging conviction on a technicality. In September of that same year the NAACP successfully sued the New York State Athletic Commission for the restoration of Ali's boxing license.


1942 Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, January 17, in Louisville, Kentucky
1954 Begins boxing
1960 Wins gold medal, Rome Olympics, light-heavyweight boxing
1960 First professional boxing match, defeats Tunney Hunsacker, October 29
1963 Converts to Islam, inspired by Malcolm X
1964 Takes World Heavyweight Championship from Sonny Liston
1964 Announces name change, to Muhammad Ali
1964 Marries Sonji Roi
1966 Divorces Sonji
1966 Refuses to go to Vietnam
1967 Stripped of boxing license and heavyweight title by New York State Athletic Commission and World Boxing Association, May
1967 Convicted of draft-dodging, sentenced to five years in prison (but released on appeal)
1967 Marries Belinda Boyd
1970 Conviction overturned
1970 Returns to the ring, against Jerry Quarry, November
1971 Loses to Joe Frazier in title match, February
1974 Beats Joe Frazier in rematch, becomes World Heavyweight Champion again
1974 Defeats George Foreman in "Rumble in the Jungle" to become World Heavyweight Champion again
1975 Defeats Joe Frazier again in "Thrilla in Manilla," often considered the greatest boxing match ever
1976 Divorces Belinda
1977 Marries Veronica Proche
1978 Loses title to Leon Spinks
1978 Reclaims title from Leon Spinks in rematch
1979 Retires from professional boxing
1980 Returns to professional boxing, loses to Larry Holmes in WBC title match
1981 In last professional boxing match, loses to Trevor Berbick
1982 Diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease
1985 Visits Lebanon in attempt to secure release of hostages, February
1985 Founds World Organization for Right, Liberty and Dignity (WORLD)
1985 Divorces Veronica
1986 Marries Yolanda "Lonnie" Williams
1990 Visits Iraq in successful attempt to secure release of American hostages
1996 Chosen to light Olympic Torch in Atlanta
2000 Wins WBA title from John Ruiz
2001 Establishes Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville, Kentucky

Awards and Accomplishments

1959 National Golden Gloves Light Heavyweight Champion
1959 National Amateur Athletic Union champion
1960 National Golden Gloves Light Heavyweight Champion
1960 National Amateur Athletic Union champion
1960 Gold medal, Rome Olympics, light-heavyweight boxing
1964-67 World Heavyweight Champion
1970 Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Award
1974 Sportsman of the Year, Sports Illustrated
1974 Fighter of the Year, Boxing Writers Association
1974-78 World Heavyweight Champion
1978-79 World Heavyweight Champion
1979 Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Texas Southern Univesity
1979 Street named after him in Louisville, Kentucky
1985 Recognized for long, meritorious service, World Boxing Association
1987 Elected to Boxing Hall of Fame
1990 Inducted into International Boxing Hall of Fame
1996 Lights Olympic torch, Atlanta
1997 Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, ESPN
1997 Essence Living Legend Award

It was a heady victory, and the beginning of a long climb that would make Muhammad Ali a national hero once again. In November, 1970, in Atlanta, he fought his first professional match in almost four years, knocking out Jerry Quarry in the third round. In March of 1971,

Muhammad Ali

he returned to New York to fight Joe Frazier, who had risen to the world heavyweight championship in Ali's absence. The fight between the two "champions" was long anticipated, and both were promised an unprecedented $2.5 million. After a long and bruising battle, Joe Frazier knocked Muhammad Ali down in the fifteenth round. Ali managed to get up from the staggering blow, but he lost the match on points. It was Ali's first defeat as a professional boxer.

On January 28, 1974, Ali returned to Madison Square Garden for a rematch with Joe Frazier. By this time, Frazier had lost the crown and Ali had been beaten once again, by Ken Norton. But the fight was highly anticipated by boxing fans. Again, it was a grueling match, with both men taking a lot of punishment. But this time the decision went to Muhammad Ali, who had earned his shot against the new champion, George Foreman.

In one of the biggest spectacles in boxing history, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman met in Kinshasha, Zaire, for the "Rumble in the Jungle." The very air of Africa seemed to give Ali a lift, and wherever he went, enthusiastic crowds followed him. The setting had the opposite effect on George Foreman, in those days known as "the surly champ." The fight took place on October 30, 1974, before 60,000 spectators and millions of payper-view customers. Most experts expected Ali to fall to the legendary Foreman punch, but after absorbing blows for six rounds, Muhammad Ali sent an exhausted George Foreman to the mat in the eighth round. Muhammad Ali was back on top.

The next year, in September of 1975, after easily besting such lesser lights as the "Bayonne Bleeder," Ali met Frazier one last time, for the "Thrilla in Manilla." Many look back on this as the finest boxing match in history. As Gerald Suster wrote in Champions of the Ring, "In the first five rounds, Ali did enough to stop or even kill any strong heavyweight. In the succeeding five rounds, Frazier broke through Ali's guard to pound him to the body and whack him to the head, in turn doing enough to stop or even kill any strong heavyweight." Finally, in the 11th round, Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, threw in the towel. Afterwards, a number of fans signed a petition asking that these two never fight each other again, so brutal had it been.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsBoxingMuhammad Ali Biography - A Stolen Bicycle, The Louisville Lip, A Controversial Champ, In And Out Of The Wilderness - SELECTED WRITINGS BY ALI: