US boxer and world heavyweight champion (1964–67; 1974–78; 1978–79). He is generally accepted as the finest heavyweight boxer of all time.
Shortly after winning an Olympic gold medal in the light-heavyweight class at Rome in 1960, Ali turned professional. He won his first professional fight in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky, and of his next seventeen victories all but three were gained on a knock-out. In a famous nontitle fight at Wembley, England, he was knocked down by Henry Cooper but still won in the fifth round.
He won the world heavyweight title in 1964 by beating Sonny Liston and successfully defended it until 1967, when he had his licence to box withdrawn because he refused, as his pledge to the Black Muslim faith, to serve in the US armed forces. This kept him out of boxing for more than three years. He suffered his first defeat in 1971, to Joe Frazier on points, but in 1974 regained the world title by knocking out George Foreman. In 1978, after losing the title to Leon Spinks, he became the only boxer to become world champion three times when he defeated Spinks in a return match later that year.
Ali announced his retirement in 1981 after two unsuccessful bids for a fourth world title, against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick. He was always a colourful and controversial character, in and out of the ring. His habit of nominating the round in which he intended to beat his opponent added to the appeal of this innate showman. The blows he took during his career did permanent damage to his brain and after his retirement he was confirmed to be suffering from Parkinson's disease.
Subjects: United States History.