1. A red-and-white Schwinn bicycle launched his boxing career.
When the 12-year-old Clay’s beloved bicycle was stolen in October 1954, he reported the theft to Louisville, Kentucky, police officer Joe Martin and vowed to pummel the culprit. Martin, who was also a boxing trainer, suggested that the upset youngster first learn how to fight, and he took Clay under his wing. Six weeks later, Clay won his first bout in a split decision.
2. He was originally named in honor of a white abolitionist.
The fighter, like his father, was named for Cassius Marcellus Clay, a 19th-century farmer and anti-slavery crusader who emancipated the 40 slaves he inherited from his father. The abolitionist, a second cousin of Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, edited an anti-slavery newspaper, commanded troops in the Mexican-American War and served as minister to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln. In defying Southern conventions of the time, Clay faced more than death threats. He was beaten, stabbed and shot by political opponents but lived to the age of 92.
3. Before becoming known as Muhammad Ali, he changed his name to Cassius X.
The morning after defeating Liston, the new heavyweight champion confirmed reports that he had become a member of the Nation of Islam. With Malcolm X at his side, the champ told reporters that he had renounced his surname, which he called his “slave name,” and would be known as “Cassius X” until Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad gave the name of Muhammad Ali on March 6, 1964.
4. Ali was banned from boxing for three years.
As the Vietnam War raged in 1967, Ali refused to serve in the U.S. military for religious reasons. The heavyweight champion was arrested, and the New York State Athletic Commission immediately suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to the maximum of five years in prison and fined $10,000, although he remained free while the conviction was appealed. In 1970 the New York State Supreme Court ordered his boxing license reinstated, and he returned to the ring by knocking out Jerry Quarry in October 1970. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction in a unanimous decision.
5. He never turns down an autograph request
As a young boy, Cassius Clay asked his idol, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson for an autograph. Robinson rudely told the boy « I don’t got time. » Young Cassius never forgot how hurt he was by Robinson’s rejection. To this day, he has never once turned down a request for an autograph. He even has a special P.O. box for anyone who wants his autograph
6. Ali helped give us Rocky.
In 1975, Ali fought a little-known boxer named Chuck Wepner (« The Bayonne Bleeder »). Ali was a heavy favorite, and he did win, but it took him the full 15 rounds to get the decision. Wepner’s courage in going the full distance with the famous world champion inspired a young, unknown writer/actor named Sylvester Stallone to write the screenplay for his classic film Rocky. Rocky’s opponent in the film, Apollo Creed, was based on Ali.
7. He recorded an album of spoken verse.
Muhammad Ali recorded an album for Epic Records in 1964 titled « I Am The Greatest. » The track, « The Gang’s All Here » was produced by Sam Cooke.
8. Ali was the first man to knock down Sonny Liston, George Foreman, and Chuck Wepner.
9. Aside from being a boxer and a singer, Ali also starred himself in a four motion pictures in December 1969 which he took the lead in a Broadway called Buck White.
10. The city of Louisville dedicated Muhammad Ali Boulevard in 1978. Shortly thereafter, twelve of the 70 street signs related to it were stolen, presumably by memorabilia collectors.