PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Gold medalist, professional boxer, social activist, and humanitarian Muhammad Ali has died at the age of 74.
Ali was idolized and vilified but was remembered as always being unique and always authentic. Now the valley and world mourn the death of a champ.
He was known as "The Greatest" a nickname he created, he then went on to earn it. He had a life filled with hardship, triumph, failure, and fame. Each chapter seemed to be more amazing than the one before.
Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942 as Cassius Clay and changed his name to Muhammad Ali when he joined the Nation of Islam at the age of 22. Ali learned how to box as a child so he could give a whooping to the thief who stole his bike and he was a natural.
He won a spot on the US Olympic Team at the age of 18. His personality lit up the Olympic Village; his skill knocked down the world's best boxers. His speed, power, and charisma couldn't be contained. He won the Gold medal and brought it home. Ali started training for his professional boxing career and went undefeated in four short years. The world began to see Ali's personality grow bigger than the sport.
"I'm young, I'm handsome, I'm pretty, and I can't possible be beaten," said Ali.
His famous bravado was always on display. With the upset of Sonny Liston still being talked about he shocked, even more, people when he joined the Nation of Islam.
"I'm a fighter not a politician. They act like I'm the president or something I'm just a boxer," said Ali.
He changed his name at the risk of alienating fans.
"Cassius Clay is my slave name, and I'm no longer a slave," he said.
At the same time, Ali refused military service. During the Vietnam War, his famous line was "I ain't got no quarrel with the VietCong." Ali articulated to a generation of Americans his reason for opposing the war. "Whatever the punishment, whatever the persecution is for standing up for my religious beliefs, even if it means facing machine gun fire…I will face it before denouncing Mohammed and the religion of Islam. I'm ready to die."
He was arrested and found guilty of draft evasion. It took four years but Ali appealed that conviction to the Supreme Court, and he won. No one could give him the prime years he spent banned from the sport of boxing, though, stripped of his title.
When Ali returned to the ring, Joe Frazier delivered him a knock out after 15 brutal rounds. Ali rebuilt his career, shocking the world again as he got off the ropes to reclaim the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World, in his Rumble in the Jungle fight against George Foreman. The Thrilla in Manila, Ali defeated Frazier with his famous "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" fighting style and his "rope a dope" technique.
"I've been blessed by Almighty God Allah to be successful in my boxing; I don't think you could find no one in this country. I challenge you black, white, even the President, who is more popular worldwide than I am," said Ali.
Ali became the most famous athlete in the world. Famous for his pre-match antics and hype and for trash talking his opponents.
After a tough loss in 1981, Ali retired from boxing.
"I'm happy to be getting out, I mean it's been hell," he said.
Three years later, Ali announced he had Parkinson's Disease, which robbed him of his physical grace and the amazing gift of communication. In true champ style, nothing kept him down. He continued working as a humanitarian around the world. He raised more awareness and money for Parkinson's research through his Fight Night Celebrity Charity than anyone. Much of that money went to the Barrow Neurological Institute where the Parkinson's Center bears his name. And where he resided with his wife, Lonnie.
In 1996, the effects of his disease were evident. Ali became part of one of the most iconic moments in Olympic history by lighting the flame at the games in Atlanta. Sports Illustrated named him "Sportsman of the Century" and he was given the highest civilian honor in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Ali has cemented his place in history.
Muhammad Ali is the most famous boxer to ever step into the ring, but as the greatest, he left an even bigger mark on the world.
Ali's family said that the legendary boxer will be buried in Louisville.