Arizona (WENN) – Boxing legend Muhammad Ali has died. The 74-year-old passed away in hospital on Friday night.
He was admitted to the medical center in Arizona earlier this week battling a respiratory problem and reports suggest he spent his final hours on life support.
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942. He began training to fight at the age of 12 after a thief stole his bicycle and he won six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles and two national Golden Gloves titles among a haul of early accolades. He picked up gold at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Clay’s amateur record was 100 wins with five losses. He first became the world heavyweight champion in 1964, after he beat Sonny Liston in one of the greatest upsets in the sport. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam months later.
He made the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 1967, when he refused to be conscripted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. He was arrested and found guilty of draft evasion and stripped of his boxing title. He did not fight again for almost four years, until his conviction was overturned in 1971.
Nicknamed The Greatest, he became the most famous sportsman of his generation and the finest fighter to ever step into a boxing ring. His greatest fights as champion included clashes with Joe Frazier and George Foreman.
He briefly quit the sport in 1976 to focus on his faith, having converted to Sunni Islam, and upon his return his doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, advised him to quit due to internal injuries from boxing. Ali refused and his longtime medic retired.
He lost his title in 1978 to Leon Spinks in Las Vegas in part because he wasn’t physically prepared for the fight, looking seriously out of shape. Spinks was declared the winner by split decision. Ali was better prepared for the rematch in New Orleans, winning by unanimous decision. The win made him the first heavyweight champion to win the belt three times.
Ali announced his retirement from boxing in July, 1979, but came back for one more fight against Larry Holmes for the WBC belt for an unprecedented fourth time. Reporters started noting the sports legend was struggling with his speech and trembling uncontrollably at times, but Ali was given the OK to fight by medics at the Mayo Clinic and his return to the ring went ahead in October, 1980.
Holmes dominated the fight, which his trainer Angelo Dundee stopped in the 11th round. He fought one last time, in December, 1981, against Trevor Berbick, losing a 10-round decision.
Today my heart goes out to a pioneer, a true legend, and a hero by all means! Not a day went by entering the gym that I didn’t think of you. Your charisma, your charm and above all, your class are all of the elements that will be greatly missed by myself and the world. You are someone that inspired me greatly throughout my boxing journey and words cannot express how great you were as a person! Thank you for everything you’ve done for Black America, in the the world of sports entertainment and for the legacy you leave behind! My sincerest condolences to the Ali family!
A photo posted by Floyd Mayweather (@floydmayweather) on Jun 4, 2016 at 12:00am PDT
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome, a disease that commonly results from head trauma from activities such as boxing, in 1984.
He remained a hero to the masses and was honored by several U.S. Presidents. After his boxing career was over, his life highlights included a trip to Iraq to meet with leader Saddam Hussein to negotiate the release of American hostages, and he had the honor of lighting the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. He also flew to Afghanistan in 2002 as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
His health started to noticeably decline in 2004 and by 2013, his brother, Rahman Ali, declared Muhammad could no longer speak.
Ali was hospitalized in December, 2014 for a mild case of pneumonia, and again a month later for a urinary tract infection after being found unresponsive at a guest house in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was released the next day.
He was married four times and had seven daughters and two sons. He lived out his days in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife Lonnie Williams, who he married in 1986.