He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, this gifted boxer from Louisville, Kentucky, who electrified the fight game with his skillful footwork and stinging jabs. In addition to his mastery in the ring, Ali won over millions worldwide with his winning personality and fight for social justice.
A three-time world heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali to this day is one of the most celebrated athletes not just in Kentucky, but also around the globe.
Born and raised in the Bluegrass State, and now buried in the commonwealth (as Kentucky officially is called), Ali has always been deeply connected to this place, even after excelling on the world stage.
Now, as we embrace a new chapter in the commonwealth’s sports landscape with the legalization of Kentucky sports betting and Kentucky betting apps, the spirit of “The Greatest” lives on, leaving a lasting impact on the state’s sports culture.
Becoming Ali, The Inspirational Figure
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942, the future champion embarked during his teenage years on a boxing career that ultimately took him from local gyms to rings at major sites such as Madison Square Garden in New York City and Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip.
He left his mark on U.S. cities from Miami, Florida, to Chicago, Illinois, and even on less populated areas, including an 81-acre estate in Berrien Springs, Michigan, on the Indiana border.
The estate was called Rope-a-Dopes, named for Ali’s ring technique of leaning back against the ring ropes while an opponent (the “dope” in that instance) tired himself out by swinging away with minimal impact.
With his charismatic personality and dominant boxing skills, Ali was an inspiration worldwide to those, including children, striving to accomplish life-changing goals despite difficulties.
A mural outside Johnny Tocco’s Ringside Gym in Las Vegas sums up Ali’s motivational motto. The wall painting shows an image of Ali with the message, “Shake up the world!”
After a life at the top of the boxing hierarchy, Ali died in 2016 of septic shock in a Phoenix-area hospital, the New York Times reported. He was 74.
Ali lived with Parkinson’s disease for more than 30 years and had been admitted to the hospital with respiratory problems. During his final years, he and Lonnie, made their home in Scottsdale, Arizona, just east of Phoenix, the state capital.
After his death, the fighter’s journey came full circle. He was returned to Louisville for burial at the Cave Hill Cemetery, where other well-known Kentuckians have been laid to rest, including Col. Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (now called KFC).
Ali’s final resting place is in the city that witnessed his rise from a youngster with a dream to the global boxing legend known and loved by millions.
As a professional boxer and activist, he became perhaps the most recognizable sports figure of the 20th century. His boxing skills, outspoken personality and dedication to social and political causes made him a global icon.
Beyond boxing, his life exemplified the importance of challenging norms, standing up for beliefs and fighting for the common good.
Young Muhammad Ali
At his birth in 1942, while World War II raged across the globe, the future heavyweight champion was named after his father Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. The elder Cassius Clay was named in honor of the 19th century Republican politician and staunch abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay, also from Kentucky.
Muhammad Ali’s Parents
Ali’s father was born Dec. 27, 1912, in rural Kentucky. He worked as a painter and sign maker, creating billboards and signs for local businesses. Clay Sr. was known for his work ethic and discipline, traits he instilled in his son.
The elder Clay also had a passion for amateur boxing and encouraged his son to take up the sport from a young age. While facing racial segregation and discrimination in his own life, Clay Sr. supported his son’s dreams and aspirations, becoming a vital influence in shaping the youngster’s character and determination.
Young Cassius’ mother Odessa O’Grady Clay, was born Jan. 1, 1917. Known for her warm and nurturing nature, Odessa provided emotional support to her son throughout his life, especially during his boxing career when he faced numerous challenges.
According to those who knew her, Odessa helped her son remain grounded and focused on his goals. She also shared her husband’s commitment to civil rights, and together they instilled in the young man a strong sense of pride in his African-American heritage. They also stressed the importance of standing up for what is right.
Muhammad Ali’s Education
Cassius’ young life was marred by racial segregation and the accompanying hardship. His mother recalled an incident when a store denied him a drink of water because of his skin color.
He was also profoundly impacted by the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.
The 14-old-old Till had been visiting Mississippi from Chicago and, according to the New York Times, “was believed to have flirted with a white woman.” The Times reported that Clay, then about the same age as Till, had been haunted by “photographs of the brutalized dead youth.”
Where Did Ali Go To School?
Cassius Clay attended Central High School in Louisville, where, as a student with dyslexia, he had difficulty with reading and writing, according to published accounts. At age 16, already earning a name for himself in the ring, he quit school and dedicated himself to boxing.
His education was not confined to the classroom. He learned significant life lessons in the boxing ring and from oppressive experiences growing up amid racial segregation.
These experiences shaped him into the man he would become — a world heavyweight champion in the ring, a vocal activist outside of it and an inspiration to millions.
When and Why Did Ali Change His Name?
In 1962, he experienced a pivotal moment when he met Malcolm X, a prominent civil rights leader and member of the Nation of Islam.
Their meeting had a profound impact on the you fighter, leading him to convert to Islam and ultimately give up his birth name.
After beating Sonny Liston in Miami Beach, Florida, on Feb. 25, 1964, he “affirmed his rumored membership in the Nation of Islam,” the New York Times reported. He would at first be called Cassius X, but, a few weeks later, became Muhammad Ali. The name meant “worthy of all praise most high,” he said.
The decision to change his name not only reflected his religious beliefs but also “marked his refusal to bear what he considered a ‘slave name,'” the Times reported.
According to the Times, Julian Bond, a civil rights activist and politician, said he remembered when Ali joined the Nation of Islam.
“The act of joining was not something many of us particularly liked,” Bond said. “But the notion he’d do it — that he’d jump out there, join this group that was so despised by mainstream America, and be proud of it — sent a little thrill through you.”
Ali carried this decision as a badge of honor, and it extended to his recognition on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
When awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he requested it be placed on the wall rather than the ground. This decision was rooted in his religious beliefs and desire that his name be treated with respect.
As a devout Muslim, Ali considered his name to be a sacred representation of his faith and identity. Placing the star on the wall was his way of prevent his name from being stepped on. He viewed the wall placement as a form of reverence, according to published reports.
This unique placement became a symbol of Ali’s commitment to his convictions and determination to stand up for what he believed in, even in matters such as the placement of his star.
Muhammad Ali’s Boxing Career
Ali’s boxing career is a tale of triumph, skill and determination. From his early days as an amateur to dominance of the heavyweight division, his fights attracted widespread attention, especially during his prime, when he seemed unstoppable.
How and When Did Ali start Boxing – The Story
At 12 years old, Clay took up boxing after someone stole his new $60 red Schwinn bicycle in downtown Louisville, according to the New York Times. He reported the theft to Joe Martin, a white former police officer who managed of a local boxing gym. Martin told Clay, who wanted revenge, that he would first have to learn to punch effectively.
This advice laid the foundation for the youngster’s boxing career, setting him on a path that would lead him to the top of the boxing ranks.
This early introduction to boxing not only unearthed his natural talent but also instilled in him valuable life lessons such as the importance of perseverance. As he progressed in the sport, Ali grew his passion for boxing and he dreamed of achieving greatness on a global stage.
“In boxing he found boundaries, discipline and stable guidance,” the Times reported.
In time, the young fighter would emerge from Louisville to become the light-heavyweight gold medalist in the 1960 Olympics. He then moved on to a remarkable professional career.
The Road to a Professional Boxer and Facing His Biggest Rivals
That Olympic gold medal announced the arrival of a young amateur whose lightning-fast jab and skilled footwork left opponents baffled.
It was clear from these earliest stages that his agility was a rare attribute. He out-maneuvered opponents by staying on the move (while launching laser-like jabs), leaving the other fighter perplexed, off-balanced and out of steam.
As he turned professional, Ali’s fighting style and brash personality draw attention to the young phenom, even leading some in the media to dub him the Louisville Lip, though he referred to himself as “the greatest” and “the prettiest fighter” who ever lived.
He quickly rose through the ranks, defeating some of the era’s most formidable opponents, including Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier, to claim the world heavyweight championship.
Ali’s boxing career was not just about his physical prowess. It also was characterized by his drive to succeed.
He used mind games and psychological tactics to unsettle opponents even before the opening bell, warning that he would “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” in taking them down.
Beyond these tactics, Ali’s confidence and charisma captivated audiences worldwide.
Despite facing challenges, such as his three-year exile from the sport after he refused to be drafted into the military during the Vietn
am War, Ali returned to the ring with determination and resilience.
In the 1970s, he staged a comeback and secured some of his most memorable victories, cementing his status as one of the greatest heavyweight champions in history.
The Legend’s Late Boxing Career
Ali’s late career was marked by a mix of triumphs and challenges as he continued to fight some of the world’s best boxers.
By the late 1970s, he had already established himself as a dominant figure by regaining the heavyweight title.
This was an era of several high-profile fights, including the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle,” a title victory in Central Africa over then-undefeated heavyweight champion George Foreman, and, in the Philippines, the “Thrilla in Manila,” where Ali defeated Joe Frazier in 1975.
However, as the years went by, a decline in his ring abilities began to hamper his success.
In 1978, Ali lost to U.S. Marine Corps veteran Leon Spinks. Later that year, however, Ali regained the title in a bout against Spinks at the Superdome in New Orleans.
During this time, his longtime ring doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, “urged him to quit, noting the slowing of his reflexes and the slurring of his speech as symptoms of damage,” the New York Times noted.
Even with comebacks like the one against Spinks, however, the champ was not his former self. In the 1981 “Drama in the Bahamas” against Trevor Berbick, Ali, then 39, struggled to maintain his once-dominant form and lost the fight to the Jamaican. This was Ali’s final professional fight.
He closed out his career with a 56-5 professional record, including 37 knockouts.
Four losses came in his last five bouts, from 1978-81. The only five fighters to beat him were Joe Frazier (1971), Ken Norton (1973), Leon Spinks (1978), Larry Holmes (1981) and Trevor Berbick (1981).
That record is especially noteworthy considering it came during an era of exceptional talent in the heavyweight division.
That extraordinary accomplishment has been acknowledged with a number of honors. For instance, Sports Illustrated named him Sportsman of the Century, and Ring magazine named him Fighter of the Year six times, the most by any boxer.
Years later, speaking with a reporter in Las Vegas while recalling his career highlights, Spinks proudly mentioned his victory over Ali, pointing to a photo of himself in the ring with the champion.
For Spinks, beating Ali was a life-defining moment, though Spinks jokingly told the reporter Ali actually wasn’t the toughest person he ever faced. The toughest person he ever faced, Spinks said, was his own mother.
Life Beyond Boxing – Ali Up Close
Beyond his boxing career, Ali made significant contributions as a social activist, humanitarian and cultural icon.
Renowned for his principles, Ali used his fame and highly visible platform to speak out against racial injustice, inequality and the Vietnam War.
His refusal to be drafted into the military during the war cost him the heavyweight title and more than three years of his prime boxing career. While some regarded him harshly as a draft dodger, others viewed his refusal to serve as a symbol of resistance and courage.
The nation’s involvement in the war, especially from 1965-75 during U.S. troop buildup and the final withdrawal, led to political turmoil, with some seeing the war as an effort to halt the spread of communism and others as unnecessary and costly, particularly in terms of lives lost. Pictures of young men burning their draft cards became one of the war’s lasting images.
Declaring himself a conscientious objector during this period, Ali refused induction into the U.S. military, saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”
He added that his conscience wouldn’t let him “shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America.”
“Shoot them for what?” he asked. “How can I shoot them poor people?”
Though sentenced in 1967 to five years on a draft evasion conviction, he stayed out of prison on appeal, returning to the ring in 1970, defeating Jerry Quarry in Atlanta in a third-round knockout, the History Channel reported.
In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the draft evasion conviction, with Ali then fighting for another decade and reinforcing his inspirational message around the globe.
As the New York Times noted at his death, whether he was loved or not, “he remained for 50 years one of the most recognizable people on the planet.”
In 1999, Ali became the first boxer on a Wheaties box, an honor bestowed upon admired athletes regarded as symbols of success.
That same year, Ali rang out the millennium at the New York Stock Exchange, the New York Times noted.
Over time, his life was incorporated into popular culture, including a feature film directed by Michael Mann, starring Will Smith as Ali, though, according to the Times, the film “sanitized his early religious and political viewpoints.”
An Advocate for Civil Rights, A Philanthropist
Muhammad Ali’s activism was a defining aspect of his life, and he used his platform to champion various causes and to advocate for change on a global scale.
Apart from his stance on civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War, Ali was an advocate for peace and understanding among nations. He believed in the power of diplomacy and personal connections in promoting cooperation.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Ali embarked on goodwill tours to countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines.
These trips were not just about promoting his boxing matches. They also served as opportunities for cultural exchanges and a fostering of mutual respect among nations. With his charisma and interest in people transcending borders, he was warmly received by world leaders and ordinary citizens alike.
Throughout a tour of Africa in 1980, he emphasized the importance of African unity and encouraged cooperation among African nations. Ali also met with political leaders and spoke out against apartheid in South Africa, making a powerful statement against racial segregation and discrimination.
Ali’s activism and dedication to humanitarian causes earned him numerous awards and accolades, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. His influence extended beyond his time, inspiring athletes, activists and leaders to use their platforms to create positive change.
In addition to his activism, Ali was a philanthropist. He supported numerous charitable causes, including children’s hospitals, humanitarian organizations and a Parkinson Center named after him.
Despite his own health challenges, Ali remained committed to making an impact on the lives of others.
As a symbol of social change, Ali’s life continues to inspire. In Louisville, for instance, the Muhammad Ali Center offers youth program and educational opportunities, in addition to visual displays and community events.
Ali’s Personal Life
Beyond his achievements inside the ring, Ali’s journey as a husband, father and global ambassador has inspired others, leaving a legacy extending beyond his boxing career.
How Many Times Was Muhammad Ali Married
Ali’s personal life included four marriages. His first marriage, to Sonji Roi, took place in 1964 but ended in divorce after just a year.
He then married Belinda Boyd, who later converted to Islam and took the name Khalilah Ali. Together, they had four children, but their marriage also eventually ended in divorce.
In 1977, he married Veronica Porché, with whom he had two daughters. He and Veronica stayed married until 1986.
In 1986, Ali married his fourth wife, Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams, who would play a crucial role in caring for Ali during his battle with Parkinson’s disease and remained by his side until the end.
To this day, Lonnie, founder of Muhammad Ali Enterprises, is vice chairperson of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. She is a lifetime member of the center’s executive committee.
How Many Children Did Muhammad Ali Have?
Ali had nine children from his marriages and relationships. From his second marriage to Belinda Boyd (later known as Khalilah Ali), he had four children: daughters Maryum, Jamillah, and Rasheda and Muhammad Ali Jr.
During his third marriage to Veronica Porché, he had two daughters, Hana and Laila Ali.
With his fourth wife, Lonnie Williams, he adopted a boy named Asaad Amin.
Additionally, Ali had two children, Miya and Khaliah, from other relationships.
Muhammad Ali Sickness and Late Life – How did Muhammad Ali Die?
When Ali made an appearance in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics, lighting the flame for the symbolic opening of the games, questions arose about his physical condition.
Twelve years earlier, he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome. Although some reports linked the condition to boxing-related injuries, the exact cause remains unclear.
His wife, Lonnie, indicated it had been brought on by his “exposure to pesticides and other toxic chemicals at his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania,” according to the New York Times.
Despite his health struggles, Ali continued to remain active. However, on June 3, 2016, he died in Scottsdale, Arizona.
In a tribute to his legacy, Ali’s final resting place in Louisville has become a place of pilgrimage for fans and admirers.
From Ali’s Legacy To A New Era: The Launch of Sports Betting in Kentucky”
Muhammad Ali’s life and deep ties to Kentucky give occasion to reflect on his enduring influence on the state’s sporting culture.
From his early days in Louisville to his final resting place in the city, Ali’s spirit continues to resonate in the Bluegrass State.
Today, as the commonwealth embraces a new chapter in its sports landscape with the launch of sports betting, the legacy of “The Greatest” lives on.
The introduction of sports betting is expected to revolutionize the sports scene in Kentucky, sparking interest among bettors but also creating jobs and generating state revenue for education and other public services.
For bettors, the advent of sports betting offers a new way to engage with sporting events from boxing to team sports such as football and basketball.
To get started, check out these Kentucky sports betting promos and immerse yourself in the exciting world of sports betting.
In the spirit Muhammad Ali, the commonwealth is continuing to celebrate sports, strive for greatness and embrace the changes ahead.