Tuesday January 17th marked the 70th birthday former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali. And, as has always been the case during Aliâ€™s life, the world has stood up and taken notice. â€œEverything that Ali has done and stood for, you can only aspire to be like him,â€ Tris Dixon, editor of Boxing News, told CNN. â€œHe was the king in the biggest and best era of heavyweight champions.â€
Ali first reached the world stage at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division. Then named Cassius Clay, Ali converted to Islam in 1964. And his boxing career is perhaps best remembered for two of his most famous fights against two of his fiercest rivals.
In Zaire in October 1974, Ali upset the odds to reclaim the WBA and WBC world heavyweight titles against George Foreman in a bout dubbed the â€˜Rumble in the Jungle.â€™ A year later, Ali squared off against the late Joe Frazier for the third time in his career. Frazier passed away just last year. The fight in the Philippines, known as the â€˜Thrilla in Manillaâ€™, lasted 14 devastating rounds, with Ali taking glory when Frazier was unable to make the bell at the start of the 15th.
â€œEverything that Ali has done and stood for, you can only aspire to be like him,â€ Tris Dixon told CNN. â€œAgainst Cleveland Williams, that was Ali at his best,â€ he explained. â€œIt was utter poetry. It was just immense … it was punch perfect against a world class opponent,â€ referring to Aliâ€™s knockout of Cleveland Williams for the heavyweight world championship in 1966.
Ali eventually retired in 1981 with a record of 56 wins, 37 by knockout, and five losses in 61 bouts. But only three years later, in 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinsonâ€™s Disease. But the neurological disorder is yet another opponent that Ali has been able to fight off.
In 1996, at the age of 54, Ali provided one of the iconic images of the Atlanta Olympics when he lit the torch to declare the Games open. Ali also received a replacement gold medal for the one he had won 36 years earlier, having thrown the original into the Ohio River after being refused entry to a restaurant.
Despite his advancing years, Dixon claimed the legacy of Ali is still as strong and relevant as it has ever been. â€œThere will never be anyone like Ali,â€ he said. â€œThere will be people like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan who reflect their times, but there will never be someone who means as much to the world and the cultural landscape as much as Ali did.â€
Muhammad Ali was often a lightning rod for controversy, from his conscientious objection to the draft, to his harsh words to his opponents. But he has been recognized as the most famous athlete in the world. And he has galvanized generations with his fighting spirit. So as this icon reaches his eighth decade, it seems such an understatement to call him â€œThe Greatest.â€