By Clive Bernath: Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest boxer of all time, celebrates his 70th birthday today and the former three time world heavyweight champ has been honoured for all his incredible achievements in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
Ali, who was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr on January 17, 1942, was first introduced to boxing as a 12 year-old by Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E Martin, who encountered the young Clay screaming at him over a thief taking his bicycle. The young Clay told the officer he was going to "whup" the thief, at which point Martin told him he ‘had better learn how to fight‘.
After winning six Kentucky Golden Gloves and two national Golden Gloves titles the young Clay was chosen to represent the United States at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy where he won the Gold medal at light-heavyweight. After compiling more than 100 wins and just 5 loses as an amateur Clay turned professional in October 1960 Clay’s incredible hand speed and fancy footwork quickly attracted the interest of boxing fans from around the world. The aforementioned plus the trash talking and the way in which the young Clay predicted the round in which his opponents would fall, also contributed to his ever increasing fan base and popularity in equal measure.
After 19 straight wins the charismatic Clay was on his way but what really cleared his path to greatness was his sixth round retirement victory over the seemingly invincible Sonny Liston in February 1964 to win the world heavyweight crown for the first time. If the truth be known even Clay’s own team had reservations about the much smaller and younger 22 year-old defeating such a ferocious and intimidating figure such as Liston. But defeat him he did and to celebrate Clay immediately converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. 13 months later Ali fought Liston again and this time he knocked him out inside a round with what ringside observers and boxing experts called the ‘Phantom Punch’ because no matter how matter how many times the video footage was viewed and slowed down it was still difficult to see the knockout punch landing.
After winning the title Ali, as he was now known, fought and won a further eight times to bring his unbeaten record to 29-0. But Ali’s career stalled in 1967 after he refused to serve in the US army in Vietnam.
Ali publicly considered himself a Conscientious Objector stating, "War is against the teachings of the Holy Quran. I’m not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers." Ali famously said in 1966: "I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong ... They never called me nigger"
Below is a short explanation from the free Encyclopaedia website Wikipedia regarding Ali’s refusal and subsequent punishment after refusing to enlist into the US Army.
Appearing shortly thereafter for his scheduled induction into the U.S. Armed Forces on April 28, 1967 in Houston, he(Ali) refused three times to step forward at the call of his name. An officer warned him he was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Once more, Ali refused to budge when his name was called. As a result, he was arrested and on the same day the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title(world). Other boxing commissions followed suit.
At the trial on June 20, 1967, after only 21 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Ali guilty. After a Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. During this time, the public began turning against the war and support for Ali began to grow. Ali supported himself by speaking at colleges and universities across the country, where opposition to the war was especially strong. On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court reversed his conviction for refusing induction by unanimous decision in Clay vs United States The decision was not based on, nor did it address, the merits of Clay’s/Ali’s claims per se; rather, the Government’s failure to specify which claims were rejected and which were sustained, constituted the grounds upon which the Court reversed the conviction.