Cassius Clay Jr.(Muhammad Ali) Biography
My name was Cassius Clay Jr. And it all began when somebody stole my bike, and everything took off from there. I was sitting on the steps of the place that would soon become the birthplace of my career. There I was, crying and angry. When a man had told me that a police officer owned a gym in the basement and I should talk to him about my stolen Schwinn. When I went to go and speak of my stolen bike my words were, “If I find the guy who took my bike, I’m gonna whup him.” Joe Martin responded with the very words that sparked my life in boxing, “Do you know how to fight? You should know how to fight if you’re gonna whup somebody.”
Joe Martin operated a boxing gym part-time. I went to the gym the next night and every night after that. It didn’t take me long to start calling myself “The Greatest”. A fellow Louisville boxer, named Jimmy Ellis who wasn’t much older than me had watched me on his tv. A local news station was broadcasting “Tomorrow’s Champions”, and I was fighting Jimmy’s friend, Donnie Hall. After I beat his friend, Jimmy decided to get to the gym and fight me himself. The first time we fought I was victorious, but we fought again and that time he won. After that, a friendship began between us. Since Jimmy had a car he would often take me home from the gym. Sometimes I would get out of the car and run home, punching the wind as I was heading to my house. Thinking about the miraculous future I was going to have.
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Joe Martin used to compare me to Ted Williams because of my hand-eye coordination, it was better than no one else’s. At just 18 years old the people around me realized that I had the chance to go to the Olympics and win gold. I had to fly to San Francisco for the Olympic trials, and I was completely terrified. I was too afraid to get on the plane, I had to go to a store before we left and get a parachute. The flight did not at all help with my fear of flying, the turbulence was so out of control Joe Martin got knocked out of his seat. But I was sitting in the aisle praying, with the parachute on my back. After I qualified it was time to go back. I refused to go back on the plane, so I hitchhiked my way home.
The 1960 Olympics were in Rome, another place I had to fly to. My trainer (Joe Martin) and I went to a park a couple of blocks from the gym. It was there where I told me that I have to fly to Rome or I might never become heavyweight champion of the world. I tried to convince him to take a boat, but that wasn’t possible for me. I flew to Rome a short time later, and I became the light-heavyweight champion of the world, and I even flew all the way back home.
My career went professional shortly after the games. Within three years I already had nineteen wins, and my first title shot was set up against Sonny Liston in 1964. I challenged the man for the WBA world heavyweight title. He didn’t think I deserved a shot at the title. Even though nobody else thought I would win, I knew I would, because I was going to “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” February 25, 1964, was when I truly made my mark on the boxing community, I won the WBA world heavyweight title by technical KO.
I married my first wife Sonji Roi August 14, 1964, the same year I won my first title. I soon converted to Islam and changed my name to Cassius X, but Sonji didn’t like it. She felt that my converting to Islam was a strain on our marriage. We separated for a bit but eventually got back together and trekked through the struggles of me being Islamic, and her not wanting to convert. I soon changed my name to Muhammad Ali, after the prophet.
A mere 15 months passed when Sonny Liston wanted to fight again. I heard predictions for the fight coming from left and right. The polls were in his favor once again. On May 25, 1965, it happened again. I won against Sonny Liston. But this time it wasn’t a technical knockout win. I knocked him out by what people call “The Phantom Punch”, it looked like I didn’t punch him at all. I was in a fight to defend my title, and that’s exactly what I did. Barely a year after Sonji and I were married we got divorced.
It was 1966, and I had just gotten divorced. President Johnson had started to increase the number of troops who were fighting in Vietnam. I was classified as 1-A for joining the Army. But how could I fight for a country if it’s against my religious beliefs?