He could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He invented the “rope-a-dope” strategy. He became one of the best-known Americans around the globe. He was Cassius Clay. He was the Louisville Lip. He is The Greatest.
As a boxer, he’s among the best who ever slipped on the gloves. He won the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, held the Heavyweight Title three times, and finished with a record of 56-5.
And because he mattered, boxing mattered. Hard to imagine now, but when Ali fought Joe Frazier in “The Fight of the Century,” George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle,” and Frazier again in “The Thrilla in Manila,” the whole country stopped to watch.
Ali was, of course, controversial as well. Many white Americans were perplexed when he embraced the Nation of Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay. He declared himself a conscientious objector because of his faith, and was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison. His conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court, not on its merits but on procedural grounds.
But over time, public affection for Ali continued to grow. The BBC named him the “Sports Personality of the Century.” And he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 by President George W. Bush. He was a quote machine, and after reviewing them I believe this is my favorite: “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.”