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'The Greatest' Muhammad Ali Dies at 74


Muhammad Ali, “The Greatest” boxer in history, died on Friday at the age of 74.

The former world heavyweight boxing champion died at a hospital near Phoenix, Arizona, according to his family. He had trouble with breathing and was admitted to the hospital earlier in the week.

For over 30 years, Ali was ill with Parkinson’s disease. Doctors said it was likely caused by the punches Ali took during his career as a boxer.

Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942. He was given the name Cassius Clay. He learned to box at 12 after someone stole his new bicycle. Six years later, Clay won the light heavyweight Olympic gold medal, in 1960.

Fists and words

FILE - Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw, in Lewiston, Maine, May 25, 1965.

FILE - Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw, in Lewiston, Maine, May 25, 1965.

In 1964, Clay said that he would “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” to fight world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston.

Before the fight, Clay told reporters that “I am the greatest.” He then shocked the world by beating Sonny Liston to win the first of his three world heavyweight titles.

The Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise said "He was probably the first guy, the first athlete in America, to brag about something and back it up. Nobody boasted in those days.”

After the fight, Clay, who had joined the Nation of Islam, said he rejected his “slave name” and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

FILE - Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali is escorted from the Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station in Houston by Lt. Col. J. Edwin McKee, after Ali refused Army induction, April 28, 1967. Ali died at age 74, June 3, 2016.

FILE - Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali is escorted from the Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station in Houston by Lt. Col. J. Edwin McKee, after Ali refused Army induction, April 28, 1967. Ali died at age 74, June 3, 2016.

Three years later, he was criticized for refusing the draft to join the U.S. military during the height of the Vietnam War. Ali said the draft was against his religious beliefs and his opposition to war.

Ali said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”

Ali was convicted of draft evasion and stripped of his title. The conviction kept him from boxing for three years until the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1970.

Just months after returning to boxing, Ali lost to the new heavyweight champ, Smokin' Joe Frazier. But Ali later won his second fight against Frazier.

Classic boxing matches

Ali fought a classic boxing match against George Foreman in 1974. The fight was in a remote part of central Africa then known as Zaire. The match was called the "Rumble in the Jungle."

In this Oct. 30, 1974, file photo, challenger Muhammad Ali watches as defending world champion George Foreman goes down to the canvas in the eighth round of their WBA/WBC championship match in Kinshasa, Zaire.

In this Oct. 30, 1974, file photo, challenger Muhammad Ali watches as defending world champion George Foreman goes down to the canvas in the eighth round of their WBA/WBC championship match in Kinshasa, Zaire.

Ali started the fight with his words, "I have wrestled with an alligator. I have tussled with a whale, handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail.”

Against the younger and bigger George Foreman, Ali acted like he was tired as Foreman kept throwing punches.

The Post's Wise said that “was one of the most amazing [boxing] strategies -- act like you're tired, let the big guy punch himself out -- and then all of a sudden galvanize yourself and find a way to knock him out in the eighth round. That was still probably the most triumphant moment in boxing history."

FILE - Spray flies from the head of challenger Joe Frazier as heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali connects with a right in the ninth round of their title fight in Manila, Philippines, Oct. 1, 1974. Ali has died, his family said, June 3, 2016. He was 74.

FILE - Spray flies from the head of challenger Joe Frazier as heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali connects with a right in the ninth round of their title fight in Manila, Philippines, Oct. 1, 1974. Ali has died, his family said, June 3, 2016. He was 74.

In 1975, Ali fought against Frazier in their third and final match, in the Philippines. It was called "The Thrilla in Manila." Ali won after surviving 14 rounds.

The athlete retired from boxing in 1981 with a 56-5 record, including 37 knockouts.

Ali held the world’s attention again at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The boxer who once "floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee" trembled to light the torch.

FILE - President George W. Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to boxer Muhammad Ali in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 9, 2005.

FILE - President George W. Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to boxer Muhammad Ali in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 9, 2005.

Ali had kept a low profile recently, and had not spoken in public for years. However, he spoke out when presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a ban of all Muslims from entering the United States.

He said in a statement, "We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda."

Don King was a promoter of many of Ali’s fights. With the news of Ali’s death, King said to the Associated Press, “Ali will never die. Like Martin Luther King, his spirit will live on. He stood for the world.”

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Hai Do wrote this story for Learning English based on reporting from VOA News and the Associated Press. Christopher Jones-Cruise was the editor.

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Words in This Story

brag - v. to talk about yourself, your achievements, your family, etc., in a way that shows too much pride

boast - v. to express too much pride in yourself or in something you have, have done, or are connected to in some way

quarrel - n. a reason to disagree with or argue about something

tussle - v. fight

galvanize - v. to cause (a force that is capable of causing change) to become active

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