What colorful prizefighter is self-proclaimed as “The Greatest”?

The first black prizefight to gross more than a five-million-dollar gate was the bout at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on September 15, 1978. Muhammad Ali (1942–) won in a thirteen-round unanimous decision over Leon Spinks and became the first to win the heavyweight title three times. He held the title from 1964 to 1967, 1974 to 1978, and 1978 to 1979. Almost all of Ali’s fights became events with enormous popular appeal. Ali was born Marcellus Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky. He changed his name in 1963 when he became a Muslim. When he burst upon the boxing scene, he was articulate, outspoken, and given to writing poetry, sometimes in rhyme, sometimes in blank verse. Ali won an Olympic gold medal in Italy in 1960, six Kentucky Golden Gloves championships, and one National Golden Gloves title. He has, however, suffered both highs and lows in terms of public opinion. His lows became evident after he refused to serve in Vietnam because, as a Muslim, he was a conscientious objector. In 1967 the New York State Athletic Commission and the World Boxing Association suspended Ali’s boxing license, and the heavyweight title was taken from him. He was sentenced to prison but released on appeal. His conviction was overturned three years later. Ali returned to winning boxing matches in November 1970, and after losing the championship to Joe Frazier in Manila in 197l, he won it back in their 1974 rematch. Personal health became a problem for Ali in 1980 when he was misdiagnosed as having a thyroid condition. He fought his sixty-first and last fight in a losing effort in 1981. In 1982 he began to be treated for Parkinson disease. As he neared the end of his boxing career, he became more active in politics, supporting Jimmy Carter for the presidency in 1980. In 1985 he worked unsuccessfully with his advisors to secure freedom for four Americans in Lebanon who had been kidnapped. Toward the end of the 1990s he seemed to become a beloved figure once more. He was chosen to light the Olympic torch in Atlanta in 1996. The young Ali became known as “The Greatest.” His autobiography, The Greatest—My Own Story, was published in 1975.


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