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Mohammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers of all time. His record of 61 fights, 56 wins, 37 by knockout prove this beyond any doubt. The majority of his losses were points decisions, showing the lion-hearted character of the great man.

Born Cassius Clay in 1942, he was introduced to boxing at the age of 12, after being persuaded by a policeman. He enjoyed great success as an amateur boxer, winning the Golden Gloves championship in 1959 and 1960 and the National AAU in 1960. It was in this year that Cassius Clay turned professional, shortly after winning an Olympic gold medal in Rome in the light heavyweight division. In his sixth pro fight he took the unusual step of predicting when he would beat his opponent, and it came true with a second round knockout. This was to become a trademark of the brash young fighter, even if occasionally he would turn out to be wrong.

In 1964, because of his unbeaten record, Cassius Clay was offered the chance of a World Title fight against Sonny Liston. It was to be the first of his truly great fights. Clay was given little chance by the boxing fraternity against an older, tougher, dominant Liston. Before the fight Clay confidently told the press that he was going to stop Liston in the eighth. When the fight began, it was Cassius Clay who made early progress, dancing away from Liston, taunting him. It was soon obvious that the older fighter had prepared poorly for the fight. He was given some hope in the fifth however, when Clay seemed to be blinded by a substance from his opponent’s gloves. He managed to evade the oncoming punches though, and in the next round was heavily on top again. His prediction came true with Liston retiring at the start of the eighth. Cassius Clay was champion of the world.

Two days after his triumph, Clay announced that he was to become a Black Muslim and would like to be known as Mohammad Ali. Ali defended his title eight times up until 1967, including a rematch against Liston who was despatched in the first round with the infamous phantom punch. It was in this year that he was called up for National Service for the war in Vietnam. He refused and was sentenced to five years in jail and fined ten thousand dollars. This sentence was overturned, but he was stripped of his World Title and had his boxing license revoked.

Mohammad Ali announced his retirement early in 1970, but later that year was drawn back by the temptations of the ring. In 1971 he fought Joe Frazier, who had become World Champion after Ali had been stripped of the title. Each fighter was paid a then massive two and a half million dollars each for the fight. Ali ridiculed Frazier with various derogatory rhymes before the match, and again people said he was over confident especially only two fights back after a three and a half year lay off. The fight was an even battle, but Ali was obviously losing on points going into the last. He was then knocked down by Frazier, and although he got back up, lost the fight.

Subsequently, Frazier lost his World crown to a ferocious George Foreman, and the next time Ali and Frazier met, neither held the World Title. It was another great fight with Ali edging out his opponent.

The attention of Mohammad Ali was then turned to Foreman. The fight was arranged to take place in Zaire in 1974. This location was chosen because the President of the country put up a huge fight purse. Once in Kinshasa, Ali readily interacted with the locals, whereas Foreman remained a recluse, and it was soon obvious that Ali was a firm favourite with the people. A postponement of the fight, due to Foreman sustaining a cut in training, served only to give Ali more time to mercilessly taunt his opponent. When the fight, which was to become known as ‘The Rumble In The Jungle’ finally took place, the man previously known as Cassius Clay seemed to adopt some strange boxing tactics. He was constantly on the ropes, taking everything that Foreman could throw at him. But this was Ali’s boxing brain working at it’s best. Soon Foreman had punched himself out and Ali pounced in the eighth Knocking his opponent out, the first time it had happened to Foreman.

In 1975 came the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ where Mohammad Ali faced up to Frazier for the third time. Again it was an excellent boxing match. Ali outboxed Frazier in the early rounds, but was regularly against the ropes in the middle stages. He came through in the later rounds though, causing swelling to Frazier’s eyes and knocking his gum shield out at one stage. Frazier’s corner threw in the towel in the 14th, but Ali admitted it had been one of his hardest fights.

Mohammad Ali made a further ten defences of his title, all relatively easy fights. He then lost to Leon Spinks after preparing poorly, but regained his title for a record third time in the same year off him (1978). He then went on to lose to Larry Holmes and then Trevor Berbick. He had lost the pace of the young Cassius Clay and the brilliant boxing brain of a younger Ali. After the Berbick fight he announced his retirement.