If I pass this test, I’ll come out stronger
After a neighborhood punk knocked him down and stole his bicycle, Cassius Clay decided he was not going to let anyone else push him around again so he earned how to box. Less than six years later, this eighteen-year-old earned an Olympic gold medal in boxing in the light heavyweight category. After bulking up and switching weight divisions, he decided to make boxing his career. In his first four years of fighting, Clay had amassed a 19-0 record, which included fifteen knockouts. He had crushed boxing greats like Tony Esperti, Doug Jones, Henry Cooper, and Lamar Clark—who had managed to defeat forty of his previous bouts by knockout. He had even managed to trounce Archie Moore, a boxing legend that had previously been one of the young boxer’s trainers. His record was good enough to make him the top contender for the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship title, but no one thought he would win—especially the current titleholder, Sonny Liston. Even legendary sports commentator and Las Vegas odds-maker Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, renowned for his ability to pick the winners, thought that Liston’s win was inevitable with 7 to 1 odds.
Yet on February 25, 1964, Snyder, Liston, and all the other skeptics were proven wrong. Clay defeated Liston after Liston refused to leave his corner for the seventh round. Now at the top, Clay’s problems should have been over, but a new series of battles were just about to begin. The day following the match, Clay announced that he had become a Muslim and wished to be called by a new name: Muhammad Ali. Then, in April 1967, Ali refused to be drafted by the Army to fight in Vietnam because it was against his religion and proved why he is one of the all-time greatest fighters when he fought for his beliefs without using his fists. He was stripped of his heavyweight title—after having successfully defended it nine times—and had his boxing license suspended. He was also sentenced to five years in prison for draft-evasion, but the courts agreed to release him pending an appeal.
Ali never lost hope, saying, “If I pass this test, I’ll come out stronger.” His boxing license was restored in 1970, but not his title. The title would not be restored to him until he managed to defeat the current champion, Joe Frazier, which is exactly what Ali did. He also won another, more-important fight when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his draft-evasion conviction. By the time Ali retired from boxing in 1980, he was the only three-time heavyweight champion and had a professional boxing record of 56-5-0, with 37 knockouts in 61 fights and 19 successful title defenses. In 1999, Ali was named “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated. Six years later, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the prestigious “Otto Hahn peace medal in Gold” of the United Nations Association of Germany for his work with the U.S. civil rights movement and the United Nations.