Muhammad Ali

Why He Started Boxing and 46 Other Things About Muhammad Ali

Think you know Muhammad Ali? Here are 47 things you might not know about “The Greatest, including why he got into boxing in the first place. Also check out our 5 Essential Movies about Muhammad Ali.


  1. He was the light heavyweight boxing gold medalist, 1960 Olympics. World heavyweight boxing champion, 1964-1967, 1974-1978, 1978-1979. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, 1990.
  2. Ali learned early from the outrageous bad-guy wrestler, Gorgeous George, that it could pay to be hated. Ali said “I saw fifteen thousand people coming to see this man get beat, and his talking did it. I said, this is a goo-o-o-d idea!” Then Ali refined that talking concept to what has been referred to as The Louisville Lip.
  3. He was inducted into the Sport in Society Hall of Fame, 1994.
  4. He suffered from Parkinson’s Syndrome, caused by the numerous blows to the head during his boxing career.
  5. The Muhammad Ali Center, located in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, is not just about his personal history, but is also devoted to tolerance among religions and races. Read more at Melanie Votaw’s wonderful site, Trip Out on Travel.
  6. He lit the torch at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
  7. He took in interest in boxing when his bike was stolen by local hoods.
  8. His bout with massive underdog Chuck Wepner inspired Sylvester Stallone to create Rocky Balboa, while the character Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers) was based on Ali himself.
  9. He has a record of 56-5 with 37 KOs.
  10. His children include: Daughters Rasheeda and Jamilla (twins) and Maryum (by Belinda Boyd); Miya, Khalilah, Hana Ali and Laila Ali (by Verónica Porche Ali). Sons Muhammed, Jr. (by Boyd); Asaad (adopted with Yolonda Williams).
  11. In order to pay his legal fees when he was barred from boxing, Ali hit the college lecture circuit and even starred in the Broadway Musical “Buck White”.
  12. In June, 1967, Ali was convicted of violating the Selective Service Act (knowingly and willfully refusing to report for and submit to induction into the armed forces), and was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $100,000. On appeal, Ali claimed he was denied due process because the ratio of blacks on draft boards did not reflect their ratio in the population. But, the three member Presidential Draft Board, formed by President Lyndon Johnson to prevent such scenarios (and included a black member) ruled his objection was invalid, and that he was not entitled to conscientious objector status as a minister of the Islamic Religion (what he stated as his profession). Moreover, in an April, 1966 letter to his local draft board, Ali protested that two years of military service would cause him serious financial loss in being unable to pursue his livelihood as a boxer, NOT as a minister.
  13. In 1962, Ali signed for Selective Service, but he failed the mental aptitude test, and was classified 1-Y (unfit for service). But, when the US armed forces required more soldiers for the Vietnam War, the pass-percentage marks for the tests were dropped to 15, meaning that Ali (and thousands of other men) was re-classified 1-A, now fit for service.
  14. Contrary to popular belief, he was stripped of his boxing license by the State of New York and his title by the World Boxing Association when he converted to Islam. The World Boxing Council, however, recognized him as champ throughout his battle with the US government over his refusal to be inducted into the Army.
  15. He married second wife Khalilah ‘Belinda’ Ali when she was 17.
  16. He was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1986.
  17. Legend has it that Ali threw his 1960 Olympic gold medal into the river, when in reality he just simply lost it at some point in time.
  18. He recorded an album for Epic Records in 1964 titled “I Am The Greatest.” Sam Cooke produced one of the songs from the LP, “The Gang’s All Here.” A single, his version of “Stand By Me” was released just after his first Liston fight,in 1964, and received some airplay.
  19. He’s referenced in the song “Powder Blue” by the US band Ween.
  20. He was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, 1983 (charter member).
  21. He’s portrayed himself in four different motion pictures.
  22. His maternal great-grandfather was Abe Grady, a native of Ireland.
  23. He had an amateur boxing record of 127 wins and only 5 defeats.
  24. From 1963 to 1966, he successfully defended the heavyweight title 9 times.
  25. He was inactive for 3 and a half years while fighting his draft evasion case in court.
  26. He was voted sports personality of the Century in England.
  27. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush on Nov. 9, 2005. Other recipients were Frank Robinson, Gen. Richard Myers, Paul Rusesabagina, Carol Burnett, Andy Griffith, Aretha Franklin, Vint Cerf and his Internet co-developer Robert Kahn, Jack Nicklaus, Alan Greenspan and former congressman Sonny Montgomery.
  28. As an amateur, Ali was only knocked-out once in over 110 fights, by Kent Green on a 3rd round technical knockout. Green went on to a 14-2 pro boxing record.
  29. In 62 pro boxing matches, Ali was only stopped once; by Larry Holmes on a technical knockout. Ali was never counted out, but was unable to come out for round 11 in their title fight.
  30. When Ali stopped Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight Title, Liston had not lost a fight in over 10 years.
  31. He was the first man to knock down Sonny Liston and George Foreman.
  32. He received the Otto Hahn peace medal for his “life-long engagement in the American civil rights movement and the global cultural emancipation of blacks, as well as his work as a UN Goodwill ambassador”. (December 2005)
  33. He was trained by Joe Martin (1953-1959) as an amateur, Archie Moore (1960-1961) and Angelo Dundee (1961-1980).
  34. His maternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather was of Anglo-Saxon descent, and he is related to – among other notables – US Presidents William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Benjamin Harrison VI, Confedrate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. George C. Marshall’ and Gen. George S. Patton. He is also related to actors Lee Marvin, Glenn Close, Laura Dern and Hilary Duff, journalist Katie Couric and cyclist Lance Armstrong.
  35. He met The Beatles while training to fight Sonny Liston, and posed for photos with them in a boxing ring. He declared afterward that they were the greatest, but he was “still the prettiest”.
  36. He was featured in a “Pizza Hut” boxing commercial alongside David Bortolucci and Ali’s real-life trainer Angelo Dundee, which was meant to air during the 1998 Super Bowl but was pulled at the very last moment for being too violent. It was estimated that the entire campaign cost Pizza Hut tens of millions of dollars.
  37. He wanted the role of “Bilal” in The Message but the film’s director nixed the idea.
  38. He was photographed with American actor David J. Silver during his visit to Arizona. He attended a lavish dinner at the Palms Hotel in Paradise Valley for his famed 2004 Fight Night Celebrity charity at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.
  39. He’s the only fighter to score a KO of George Foreman and Oscar Bonnavena.
  40. He’s only fighter to win a decision over Joe Frazier (their second fight).
  41. Ali was arguably actually a four-time World Heavyweight Champion. In 1965, after signing to fight dethroned champion ‘Sonny Liston’ for a rematch, a fight that was not sanctioned in many areas, Ali was stripped by The World Boxing Association of their recognition of him as Heavyweight Champion. The WBA sanctioned an elimination match between contenders Ernie Terrell and Eddie Machen to determine who the Heavyweight Champion would be. Terrell won by a 15-round decision and was the WBA champion for two years. Most sanctioning bodies and the general public still recognized Ali as the true champion. He regained the WBA Heavyweight Championship and unified the Heavyweight Championship by winning a 15-round decision over Terrell in 1967, only to be stripped of the title again several months later because of his refusal to register the military draft. He later won the title on two more occasions from George Foreman and Leon Spinks, reversing a previous loss to Spinks.
  42. He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Live Theatre at 6801 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, CA.
  43. Ali is the first heavyweight champion in the history of boxing to lose his title to a novice (who had only seven professional fights). This occurred when Ali lost to Leon Spinks on February 15, 1978.
  44. He was the subject of the book, “Muhammad Ali: Unseen Archives” by William Stratmore. (2005), released in Berrien County, Michigan in the town of Berrien Springs, Michigan.
  45. He wrote the book, “Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey,” with his daughter, Hana Ali. (2004)
  46. He was given a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame, but Ali insisted it be installed in the facade of the Kodak Theatre, the new home of the Oscars. (Jan 2002)
  47. The rock group The Verve wrote a song with his name in the title.



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3 responses to “Why He Started Boxing and 46 Other Things About Muhammad Ali”

  1. mvotaw Avatar

    Here’s #48 for you: When I was a kid, my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky renamed a major downtown street “Muhammad Ali Blvd.”

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Neat that you have that connection to him.

      1. mvotaw Avatar

        I suppose everyone in Louisville feels that way a bit. In many ways, he belonged to us.

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