After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died on Friday June 3 at a Phoenix-area hospital, where he had spent the past few days being treated for respiratory complications. Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. The older of two boys, he was named by his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., who himself was named in honor of the 19th century abolitionist and politician of the same name. He had a sister and four brothers. His father painted billboards and signs, and his mother, Odessa O’Grady Clay, was a housewife.

He was first directed toward boxing by Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin, who encountered the 12-year-old fuming over a thief taking his bicycle. He told the officer he was going to “whup” the thief. The officer told him he better learn how to box first. For the last four years of Clay’s amateur career he was trained by boxing coach Chuck Bodak.

Clay made his amateur boxing debut in 1954, and he won six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union National Title, and the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Clay’s amateur record was 100 wins with five losses. Ali claimed in his 1975 autobiography that shortly after his return from the Rome Olympics he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River after he and a friend were refused service at a “whites-only” restaurant and fought with a white gang. The story has since been disputed and several of Ali’s friends.

Clay made his professional debut on October 29, 1960, winning a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker. From then until the end of 1963, Clay amassed a record of 19–0 with 15 wins by knockout. He defeated boxers including Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, Alonzo Johnson, George Logan, Willi Besmanoff, Lamar Clark, Doug Jones and Henry Cooper. Clay also beat his former trainer and veteran boxer Archie Moore in a 1962 match.

By late 1963, Clay had become the top contender for Sonny Liston’s title. The fight was set for February 25, 1964, in Miami. Liston was an intimidating personality, a dominating fighter with a criminal past. Based on Clay’s uninspired performance against Jones and Cooper in his previous two fights, and Liston’s destruction of former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in two first-round knock outs, Clay was a 7–1 underdog. Despite this, Clay taunted Liston during the pre-fight buildup, dubbing him “the big ugly bear”. “Liston even smells like a bear,” Clay said. “After I beat him I’m going to donate him to the zoo.” Clay turned the pre-fight weigh-in into a circus, shouting at Liston that “someone is going to die at ringside tonight”. Clay’s pulse rate was measured at 120, more than double his normal 54. Many of those in attendance thought Clay’s behaviour stemmed from fear, and some commentators wondered if he would show up for the bout. The outcome of the fight was a major upset. At the opening bell, Liston rushed at Clay, seemingly angry and looking for a quick knockout. But Clay’s superior speed and mobility enabled him to elude Liston, making the champion miss and look awkward. At the end of the first round Clay opened up his attack and hit Liston repeatedly with jabs. Liston fought better in round two, but at the beginning of the third round Clay hit Liston with a combination that buckled his knees and opened a cut under his left eye. This was the first time Liston had ever been cut. Despite Liston’s attempts to knock out Clay, Clay was able to survive the fifth round until sweat and tears rinsed the irritation from his eyes. In the sixth, Clay dominated, hitting Liston repeatedly. Liston did not answer the bell for the seventh round, and Clay was declared the winner by TKO (Technical Knock Out). Liston stated that the reason he quit was an injured shoulder. Following the win triumphant Clay rushed to the edge of the ring and, pointing to the ringside press, shouted: “Eat your words!” He added, “I am the greatest. I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”

Ali fought Henry Cooper a British boxer on June 18, 1963 in Landon. British spectators were expecting Ali’s defeat but it was not to be. All Britons were dismayed and so was Mr. Andrew Ashmore who was serving in a five-star Hotel in Saudi Arabia at that time. I have especially referred to Mr Ashmore beause currently he is serving Hashwani Hotels in Pakistan.

Soon after the Liston fight, Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali upon converting to Islam and affiliating with the Nation of Islam. Ali then faced a rematch with Liston scheduled for May 1965 in Lewiston, Maine. It had been scheduled for Boston the previous November, but was postponed for six months due to Ali’s emergency surgery for a hernia three days before. The fight was controversial. Midway through the first round, Liston was knocked down by a difficult-to-see blow the press dubbed a “phantom punch”. Ali refused to retreat to a neutral corner, and referee Jersey Joe Walcott did not begin the count. Liston rose after he had been down about 20 seconds, and the fight momentarily continued. But a few seconds later Walcott stopped the match, declaring Ali the winner by knockout. The entire fight lasted less than two minutes.

Ali decided to join the Black Muslim group of the Nation of Islam in 1964. At first he called himself “Cassius X” before settling on the name Muhammad Ali . The boxer eventually converted to orthodox Islam during the 1970s.

Ali later started a different kind of fight with his outspoken views against the Vietnam War. Drafted into the military in April 1967, he refused to serve on the grounds that he was a practicing Muslim minister with religious beliefs that prevented him from fighting. He was arrested for committing a felony and almost immediately stripped of his world title and boxing license.

The U.S. Department of Justice pursued a legal case against Ali, denying his claim for conscientious objector status. He was found guilty of violating Selective Service laws and sentenced to five years in prison in June 1967, but remained free while appealing his conviction. Unable to compete professionally in the meantime, Ali missed more than three prime years of his athletic career. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the conviction in June 1971.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, Ali returned to the ring in 1970 with a win over Jerry Quarry. Another legendary fight against undefeated heavyweight champion George Foreman, took place in 1974. Billed as the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the bout was organised by promoter Don King and held in Kinshasa, Zaire.

In his retirement, Ali devoted much of his time to philanthropy. He announced that he had Parkinson’s disease in 1984, a degenerative neurological condition, and was involved in raising funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the years, Ali also supported the Special Olympics and the Make-a-Wish Foundation, among other organisations. In 1998, he was chosen to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace because of his work in developing nations.

In 2005, Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. He also opened the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, that same year. Despite the progression of his disease, Ali remained active in public life. He was on hand to celebrate the inauguration of the first African-American president in January 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn into office. Soon after the inauguration, Ali received the President’s Award from the NAACP for his public service efforts.

Things began taking a turn for the worse within a few years. In early 2015, Ali was hospitalised for a severe urinary tract infection after having battled pneumonia. He was hospitalised again in early June 2016 for what was reportedly a respiratory issue. The revered athlete passed away on the evening of June 3, 2016, at a Phoenix, Arizona Medical facility.

Universally regarded as one of the greatest boxers in history, Ali’s stature as a legend continued to grow even as his physical state diminished. He continues to be celebrated not only for his remarkable athletic skills but for his willingness to speak his mind and his courage to challenge the status quo.