[Biographie] Mohammed Ali

  • Mohammed Ali

    Mohamed Ali, multiple world heavyweight champion, figure of opposition to the Vietnam War and of the battle for recognition of equal rights for black Americans, has been elected by the BBC: Sports Personality of the 20th Century.

    Born in 1942, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr began his career as an amateur boxer, winning the National Golden Gloves in the light-heavyweight category in 1959, then the gold medal at the Rome Olympic Games in the same category in 1960. Turning professional, he cut his teeth in Louisville, then in New York and Los Angeles until 1964. A formidable fighter, he won the right to fight world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in 1965. To everyone's surprise, he easily dominated him in two successive fights, retaining his title until 1967.

    In 1965, he converted to Islam and joined the Nation of Islam, which earned him some enmity, as did his closeness to Malcolm X. In 1967, he refused to go to Vietnam to fight the Viet Cong, and was sentenced on June 20 to a heavy penalty, including the loss of his boxing license. He didn't get it back until 1970, and was acquitted by the Supreme Court in 1971.

    His return was marked by a defeat by Joe Frazier, who retained the world title, and another defeat by Ken Norton. Between autumn 1973 and autumn 1974, he defeated Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, then the invincible George Foreman, in The Rumble in the jungle, in Kinshasa, considered one of the greatest fights of all time. His rivalry with Frazier reached a climax in Manila the following year, but Muhammad Ali, now a Sunni Muslim, retained his title until 1979, despite a brief interlude when he relinquished it to Leon Spinks in 1976.

    Stricken by Parkinson's disease in 1984, Mohammed Ali returned to Frazier in the late 80s, and his worldwide fame earned him a role as negotiator with Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. He took part in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996 and London in 2012. His daughter, Laila Ali, has also embraced a boxing career. In 2001, the great director Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, Collateral) dedicated the biopic Ali to him, with Will Smith in the title role.

    On June 3, 2016, Muhammad Ali died in Phoenix, at the age of 74.


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