Cassius Clay was born in Louisville in 1942. After his bicycle was stolen at age 12, he vowed to "whoop" the theif. A policeman who also coached boxing suggested he take up the Sweet Science first.
As an amateur, his record was 100-5, including 2 national Gold Gloves and a National AAU title. At the tender age of 18, he went to Rome as a Light Heavyweight, where he became the youngest Olympic boxing champion ever at the time and proclaimed that he was the "greatest", an appelation many today would not argue.
Shortly after the Olympics, he turned pro as a Heavyweight. He won his first 19 fights, 15 by KO, setting up a chance to fight World Cham Sonny Liston for the crown. He TKO'd Liston in 7 rounds and won the rematch in the first round. At 22, he became the youngest World champion.
Afterwards he converted to Islam and changed his name. He came out early against the Vietnam War and refused to enter the draft. Convicted of draft evasion, he was stripped of his title and suspended for 2 years.
Upon his return to the ring, he lost his first fight in a 15 round classic at Madison Square Garden to Joe Frazier, another Olympic champion. Eventually he regained his title and held it 3 different times. He finally retired for good after losing toTrevor Berbick in 1981. He only lost 5 fights in his entire career.
His many fights finally caught up to him in 1984, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.
When the games came to Atlanta in 1996, there was much speculation as to who would light the flame. The last torchbearer in the Stadium was track star Edwin Moses, who ran the final lap of the track and headed up the stairs to the flameholder. As the gate opened, the answer appeared. Despite the fact his Disease had taken its toll and he looked much older than his 54 years, Clay was the choice. I always felt that the organizers could not have made a better choice than one of the greatest ambassadors Sports has ever had, despite the fact I hated to see him in that condition.
Six American Olympic boxing champions have gone on to be World Heavyweight Champion. These include Floyd Patterson, Frazier, George Foreman, and Leon and Michael Spinks.
But it is the sixth that stands out above the rest. In a paraphrase of a famous quote of his-
He floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.
He was the greatest-Mohammed Ali.