Muhammad Ali

 

Portrait of Muhammad AliMuhammad Ali (1942) was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. While a student at DuValle Junior High School and Central High, a young soon-to-be Muhammad Ali was always more interested in boxing rather than keeping his nose in the books. Actually, the theft of his bicycle is what led to his passion for boxing in the first place. Ali reported the theft of his bike to a policeman, who set him up with boxing trainer Fred Stoner.

 

Ali used Stoner's help to become a star boxer in his high school days, where he won 6 Kentucky championships, 2 national Golden Glove championships, and 2 Amateur Athletic Union Championships. Then at the age of 18, Ali went on to become an Olympic Gold medallist in the 1960 Rome Olympics. When he returned to his native Louisville, the light heavyweight champion became a professional boxer.

 

On 25 February 1964 Ali fought Sonny Liston in Miami, defeating Liston to win the Heavyweight Champion of the World. But the hype and attention worthy of the fight was not solely based on Ali's victory, rather his boastful lyrics and witty rhymes both in and out of the ring, even early on in his illustrious career. His ability "to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" garnered Ali attention as a graceful yet powerful boxer, and a confident (to say the least) person.

 

Muhammad Ali boxingNot long after his championship, Ali began to make a difference on both political and racial fronts. He became openly disgusted with the racism towards African Americans in his own country, and displayed this anger by throwing his Olympic gold medal into a river in protest of the racism in America. Then in 1964, he converted to Islam, and was given the name that has gone down in history, Muhammad Ali.

 

"The Beloved of Allah" became a controversial figure outside of the ring not only because he converted to Islam, but also because he refused to be drafted, in protest to America's stance in the Vietnam War.

 

In May 1967, the World Boxing Association took away his boxing license and his title, and he was sentenced to 5 years in prison for violating the Selective Service Act. Finally released from prison on appeal, Ali returned to where he belonged: the boxing ring. There, he fought and defeated Jerry Quarry in 1970, but lost to Joe Frazier (the champion at the time) in 1971, after getting back his license. This would mark Ali's first defeat as a professional boxer.

 

Muhammad Ali, Kofi Annan, Mrs. Annan, 21 September 2004But with defeat comes victory, and Ali used his smarts to outwit and ultimately "outplay" the younger and stronger George Foreman (who had earned the heavyweight champion title from Frazier). The "Rumble in the Jungle" was held in Kinshasa, Zaire, where Ali used the "rope-a-dope" method, consisting of him saving his energy and taking punches until the 8th round, where Ali retaliated with all his pent up energy to regain the title.

 

Then in 1975, Ali fought Joe Frazier in the "Thrilla in Manila", marking a win for Ali (and a chance for him to avenge his former loss against Frazier). Three years later, Ali lost the title to Leon Spinks, and won the title for a third time. Finally, Ali retired on 26 June 1979.

 

But after his retirement, the 38-year old returned to the ring to earn some more money. He fought and lost to Larry Holmes for the World Boxing Council title, and was defeated by Trevor Berbick. Now he was finally retired, with 59 victories and an astonishing total of 5 defeats.

 

Now the real fight was heading his way, as Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1982, which became visible in his sluggish appearance, and especially when he was honoured by lighting the Olympic torch at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta.(See picture above)

 

After his professional career as a boxer, Ali became politically active, with his involvement in Jimmy Carter's campaign in 1980, as well as his work as a diplomat working on the release of four Americans who were kidnapped in Lebanon. He even founded WORLD, the World Organization for Right, Liberty, and Dignity.

 

Muhammad Ali visting a school Kabul, Afghanistan, that is rebuilt with the help of UNICEFDaring to go against political policy to help people in need, Muhammad has made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea; delivered sorely-needed medical supplies to an embargoed Cuba; travelled to Iraq and secured the release of 15 United States hostages during the first Gulf War; and journeyed to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison.

 

He has been instrumental in providing over 232 million meals to the world's hungry. Travelling across continents, he has hand-delivered food and medical supplies to children in Cote d'Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, and Morocco among other countries.

 

In addition to his international efforts, Muhammad is equally devoted to helping charities at home. He has visited countless numbers of soup kitchens and hospitals, and helped such organizations as the Make-A-Wish-Foundation and the Special Olympics. He annually participates in "Fight Night," which generates funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center at Barrow Neurological Institute, in Phoenix, Arizona. At the State Capitol in Michigan, he advocated new laws for protecting children. He is also the namesake of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act (sponsored by Senator John McCain), a law that regulates professional boxing to protect boxers from unscrupulous promoters and poor health and bout conditions. In recent year, Muhammad has testified before the United States Senate several times regarding boxing reform.

 

Superman vs Muhammad AliFor his humanitarian efforts, Muhammad has been the recipient of countless awards. In addition to being honoured by Amnesty International with their Lifetime Achievement Award, the Secretary-General of the United Nations bestowed upon him the citation of United Nations Messenger of Peace. In Germany, he was honoured with the 2005 Otto Hahn Peace Medal for his involvement in the United States civil rights movement and the United Nations. He was also named the International Ambassador of Jubilee 2000, a global organization dedicated to relieving debt in developing nations. In 2005, he received the United States of America's highest civil award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 

In addition to his professional and social achievements, Ali starred as himself in the biography of his life, 1977's The Greatest (not to mention several other films), and has been the subject of several documentaries, most notably the Oscar-winning, When We Were Kings, in 1996.

 

 

Stamp catalogue

 

Austria                                          14 January 2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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last revised: 14 December 2009