- Title: VARIOUS: BOXING - Boxing legend Mohammad Ali reaches 65
- Date: 17th January 2007
- Summary: KINSHASA, PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OFCONGO (DECEMBER 2006) CONGOLESE SPORTS JOURNALIST EUGENE KABALA WALKING ON PITCH OF TATA RAPHAEL STADIUM, WHERE ALI/FORMAN FIGHT TOOK PLACE. (SOUNDBITE) (French) EUGENE KABALA SAYS : "GEORGE FOREMAN WAS THE FIRST ONE TO ENTER IN THE STADIUM. HE WAS A BIT SHY BUT STILL HE TRIED TO MOBILISE THE PUBLIC. "
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- Story Text: STORY : He called himself The Greatest and few who saw him box in his prime will dispute it. Muhammad Ali, arguably the most famous sports personality of all time, celebrates his 65th birthday on Wednesday (January 17).
The first man to win the world heavyweight title three times, the person who defied the might of the U.S. establishment by refusing to fight in Vietnam is now cruelly shackled by a degenerative disease. He may be looking increasingly fragile, but at the height of his fame he could plausibly claim to have been the best known man on the planet.
Ali was a heavyweight boxer of breathtaking skill and speed whose feats in the ring, and outspoken support for black rights out of it, made him the most influential sportsman of the 20th century.
In a 21-year ring career, the self-proclaimed "Greatest" achieved what no heavyweight had done before by regaining the world title more than 10 years after he first held it. He was also the first man to win one of sport's greatest trophies three times.
However, his impact and influence transcended boxing after his refusal to serve in the United States Army led to him being banned from boxing.
For millions of black people and those oppressed, in the U.S. and around the globe, the man who rejected his "white" name of Cassius Clay came to symbolise their struggle and refusal to knuckle under to authority.
He boasted "I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" and his skill allowed him to beat larger, more powerful opponents such as Joe Frazier and Foreman in ferocious fights that captivated the world and made Ali millions of dollars.
However Ali, whose entourage helped him to spend several fortunes, refused to leave the sport even when it was apparent that age had sapped his talents and his boxing reputation suffered.
His later years have been clouded by Parkinson's Syndrome, which he refused to blame on his boxing career. Ali developed tremors and walked haltingly. In the cruellest twist of all, the one-time motormouth often had trouble speaking at all.
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics opening ceremony, the world watched as Ali, his hands shaking uncontrollably because of his illness, lit the Olympic flame. At the same Games he was presented with a gold medal to replace the one he had won at the 1960 Rome Olympics and later thrown in the Ohio River in disgust after being turned away from an all-white restaurant and chased by a gang of whites.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay on January 17 1942 in Louisville Kentucky, he decided to learn to box after his prized boyhood possession, a bicycle, was stolen.
He fought six years as an amateur until the Rome Olympics where he won gold as a light heavyweight.
Ali's professional reign began when, as Cassius Clay, he beat the hulking Sonny Liston in February 1964.
Hardly anyone had given him a chance, yet his speed made the ponderous Liston so ineffectual that he quit in his corner, refusing to get off his stool for the seventh round. "I shook up the world," proclaimed Ali.
Three months later, Clay, who changed his name to Muhammad Ali because of his Muslim beliefs, beat Liston again.
More than a decade later -- after being stripped of his crown for refusing to fight in the Vietnam war because of his religious beliefs -- Ali climaxed an astonishing comeback by demolishing champion Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle".
Then, in an even more gruelling contest, Ali's strength, skill and courage enabled him to overcome Frazier, the one man over whom he had been unable to establish clear superiority. Frazier, badly battered, was forced to retire at the end of the 14th round of their "Thrilla in Manila" on October 1, 1975.
Ali himself was so weary he had to be helped on to his stool and he described this fight experience as the next thing to death.
Ali's self-confidence was almost as big an asset as his fists, right from his early professional days when he successfully predicted in rhyme the round in which his opponents would fall.
Outside the ring, Ali was as controversial as any boxer who ever lived -- for his lifestyle, his close identification with America's militant Black Muslims, his contempt for much of the white establishment and above all for his refusal to serve in the Vietnam, saying: "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong".
That stance cost him more than three years of his boxing career when he was convicted of failing to join up in the Army.
Though he remained free while appealing against his conviction, boxing officials stripped him of his world title and took away his licence to fight. The federal government made it impossible for him to leave the country to fight anywhere else.
Many conservative Americans never forgave Ali. For others, his stand made him more than just a boxing hero. Here was a black champion who refused to say and do what white authority wanted.
Ali won an appeal against his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court on religious grounds and came back to stop Jerry Quarry in the third round in October 1970.
In March 1971, Ali fought Frazier in the first of their three fights. Frazier retained his heavyweight title in a 15-round decision, ending Ali's string of 31 victories. For only the third time in his career Ali was dumped on the canvas, by a left hook from Frazier in the final round.
Early in 1973 Ali was beaten and had his jaw broken by a relatively unknown Californian heavyweight, Ken Norton. His defeat on points by Norton over 12 rounds in San Diego stunned the boxing world and many experts believed the humiliation and the injury would end his career.
But Ali countered quickly and took revenge by outpointing Norton six months later in Las Vegas, Nevada.
This set the scene for the long-awaited rematch with Frazier, who had by then lost the title to Foreman.
Billed as "Super Fight II" and set in the same Madison Square ring as their first fight, the second Ali-Frazier meeting was played out before a screaming sell-out crowd on January 28 1974, with hundreds of millions of boxing fans around the world watching on television.
After training harder than ever before in his life, Ali, at the age of 32, outfought the bull-like Frazier, two years his junior, over 12 rounds to score a unanimous points decision.
He fought for the world title again in October 1974 when he knocked out Foreman in the eighth round. The giant Foreman had won the title by stopping Frazier in the second round the previous year.
Ali's victory in Zaire was almost as big an upset as his defeat of Liston to win the title for the first time more than 10 years earlier.
Foreman had a 40-0 record including 37 knockouts and he was widely viewed as the heaviest puncher in history. Ali, who stunned his opponent by taking blow after vicious blow, knocked out Foreman in the 10-million-dollar bout under an African full moon.
"A couple of times he shook me bad, especially with his right hand," Ali said later. "But I blocked and dodged most of what he threw and each round his punches got slower and hurt less when they landed.
"Then I started talking to him - 'hit harder, show me something, George. That don't hurt, I thought you were supposed to be bad'."
That victory was the climax of Ali's career. The only other man to win back the crown had been Floyd Patterson, who was humiliatingly defeated by Liston.
After defeating Frazier in Manila, Ali went on to win three title fights in 1976 in as many months, and two in the following year despite a clear diminution of his boxing abilities.
Still denying the effects of age, he continued to fight but on February 15, 1978, he lost his title to Leon Spinks in a 15-round decision. Seven months later, to the relief of the boxing world which considered him too old for the sport, Ali announced his retirement.
He came out of retirement in 1980 to fight Larry Holmes, his former sparring partner and the World Boxing Council's heavyweight champion, and lost in a lopsided fight that was stopped after 10 rounds.
A year later, Ali lost to journeyman Trevor Berbick in a 10-round fight in the Bahamas. Asked after the fight about his reflexes, Ali responded: "They have gone. Not may have gone: they have gone. I could tell I was
In the years following his retirement Ali's speech has become increasingly slurred and his gait unsteady, which some said was the probable result of his long career as a fighter. In September 1984, he was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's disease, an affliction characterised by a loss of motor control. While it was uncertain whether Ali's condition is a direct result of his boxing career, it caused considerable debate over whether boxing was safe. Despite the difficulties he has remained an iconic figure on the world stage. Although lighting the Olympic flame was an undoubted highlight, his decision to fly to Iraq to call for the release of US hostages before the invasion of Kuwait was seen by many as an important act.
He spends a considerable amount of his time supporting charitable work including that undertaken at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky which houses his boxing memorabilia as well as promoting personal growth and peace.
1942: Jan 17 - Born in Louisville, Kentucky and named Cassius Marcellus Clay. 1960: Sept 5 - Clay, representing the United States at the Rome Olympics, wins the light-heavyweight gold medal by defeating Zbigniew Pietrzykowski in the final Oct 29 - In his first professional fight, beats Tunney Hunsaker in six rounds in Louisville. 1963: June 18 - Defeats Henry Cooper after the Briton floors him with a left hook. 1964: Feb 24 - Defeats world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at Miami Beach, Florida, to win the title. Later he tells the world that he has joined the Nation of Islam and has renamed himself as Muhammad Ali. 1965: May 25 - In a rematch with Liston, he knocks the former champion out in two minutes in Lewiston, Maine. 1967: April 28 - Refuses to join the U.S. Army and serve in Vietnam and subsequently charged with violating the Selective Service Act. Two days later stripped of his title and boxing licence. June 20 - Convicted for draft-dodging and sentenced to five years in prison with a $10,000 fine. He appealed. 1970: Sept - Given back his boxing licence. Oct 26 - Fights for the first time since March 1967 beating Jerry Quarry in the third round in Atlanta, Georgia. 1971: March 8 - Loses the "Fight of the Century" against World
Boxing Association heavyweight champion Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in New York in the first of their three bouts. Ali is floored in the final round and Frazier retains his title. June 28 - U.S Supreme Court overturns his conviction. 1974: Jan 28 - Wins rematch against Frazier. Oct 30 - Regains the world heavyweight title, knocking out George Foreman in eight rounds in the "Rumble in the Jungle" bout held at Kinshasa, Zaire. 1975: Sept 30 - Defeats Joe Frazier for the third and final time after 14 rounds in the "Thrilla in Manila". 1978: Feb 15 - Loses title on points to Leon Spinks in Las Vegas. Sept 15 - Becomes the first boxer to win the WBA title three times after defeating Spinks in a rematch in New Orleans. 1980: Oct 2 - Loses title to former sparring partner Larry Holmes in Las Vegas. 1981: Dec 11 - Loses final fight to Trevor Berbick in Nassau. First symptoms of Parkinson's syndromed begin to show themselves affecting both his speech and movement. 1982: Diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome. 1996: July 22 - Lights torch at the Atlanta Olympic Games. 2001: June - Ali's daughter Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier (daughter of former champion Joe) fight eight rounds in New York State. Laila wins points decision. 2002: Jan 11 - Has star embedded on the wall of a theatre complex rather than Hollywood's Walk of Fame.
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