Muhammad Ali standing in a boxing ring in front of another boxer with his back to the camera

Hometown Hero to Global Icon

The life and times of The Greatest of All Time: a timeline of Muhammad Ali.
float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

Born Cassius Clay, Jr.

Cassius Clay, Jr. is born to Odessa and Cassius Clay, Sr. at the Louisville General Hospital in South Louisville. Two years later, brother Rudy (later Rahaman Ali) is born, and soon the family moves into the Parkland neighborhood.

Black and white photo of baby Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay, Jr.) in white outfit
Family Photo

Red Bike Moment

Enters Central High School

Cassius struggles academically (he was later diagnosed with dyslexia) but becomes a school celebrity for his dedication to training, including running to school every day alongside the bus. He would visit the school as a hero after the Rome Olympic Games and his legacy remains a point of Central pride.

Black and white photo of Muhammad Ali with group at Central High School
Courier Journal

Signs with Louisville Sponsoring Group

Meets Malcolm X

Black and white photo of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X
Howard Bingham

Announces Conversion to Islam, Name Change

The day after winning his first heavyweight belt, the fighter announces he is a proud Muslim. He goes by the name Cassius X for nine days, then receives the new name of Muhammad Ali from Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad.

First Visit To Africa

Visiting Ghana, Nigeria, and Egypt, Ali inspires as a symbol of anti-colonialism. Welcomed in Ghana as a son of Africa and a hero, Ali reclaims his roots by saying “I am an African.” At the pyramids in Cairo, the BBC reports he “fuse[s] politics and religion” when giving the Black power salute and shouting ‘God is great’ in Arabic.

Historical photo of a Muhammad Ali as a young man in Nigeria with a group of boys and young men
Howard Bingham

Refuses Military Draft in Houston

"No, I will not go 10,000 miles from home to help murder and kill another poor people simply to continue the domination of white slave masters."

Muhammad Ali

Rallies with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Louisville

Ali joins Martin Luther King, Jr. in Louisville at a rally for fair housing practices. The open housing demonstrations had protesters calling for a boycott of the Kentucky Derby on the same day, where members of the Ku Klux Klan offered to help keep order. City police and Churchill Downs refused.
The two men fought for civil rights but shared different ideals, with King declining the views of the Nation of Islam on integration.

Cleveland Summit

Football star Jim Brown organizes a summit of 12 leading Black athletes, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell, to meet with Ali and discuss his position on the draft. Most were veterans themselves, and several arrived intending to change Ali’s mind. However, the group emerged expressing support for Ali’s position.

Black and white photo of Muhammad Ali at Cleveland Summit alongside Jim Brown and other athletes
Howard Bingham

Ali Vs. Jerry Quarry: First Post-Exile Fight

This fight was not approved by Georgia governor Lester Maddox, a segregationist who declared a “day of mourning” over it. However, only Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell’s approval was necessary, secured through the efforts of State Senator Leroy Johnson. Ali previewed the fight in a drawing to Leroy Nieman, where Maddox is drawn running down the back right aisle, yelling "Stop that fight!"
Win - Technical Knockout in 3 rounds [Atlanta, Georgia]

Action photo of Muhammad Ali after punching Jerry Quarry in their Oct. 26 fight
Photo by Ken Regan © 2023 MAE LLC

Ali Vs. Joe Frazier (I)

In a chance to reclaim his title, Ali’s first heavyweight fight with Frazier matched two undefeated fighters. However, Ali’s three years away from the ring made the difference in a grueling 15 rounds. It is Ali’s first defeat and the start of the greatest rivalry in boxing history.
Loss - Unanimous Decision in 15 rounds [New York City]

Action photo of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier during boxing match
Photo by Ken Regan © 2023 MAE LLC

Supreme Court Decision

In a unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court overturns Ali’s conviction for draft evasion, saying the Appeals Court had not properly established their grounds against Ali’s conscientious objector status. His passport is returned, and he is officially a free man.

Makes First Pilgrimage to Mecca - Hajj

Establishes Deer Lake Training Camp

Ali buys several acres in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania and builds a remote training camp called Fighter’s Heaven, where the Champ held training sessions, opening it to the public. Fighter’s Heaven was reopened and restored in 2016 and named a historical destination.

Ali Vs. Joe Frazier (II) - Super Fight II

Although Joe Frazier no longer held the title of Heavyweight Champion, Muhammad Ali wanted to face him again to prove he was indeed “the Greatest.” Billed as “Super Fight II,” the match went the distance of 12 rounds and ultimately led to a unanimous decision in favor of Ali.
Win - Unanimous Decision in 12 rounds [New York City]

Black and white photo of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier inside boxing ring
Photo by Ken Regan © 2023 MAE LLC

Makes First White House Visit

Ali met seven presidents throughout his lifetime, beginning with Gerald Ford. President Ford invited Ali and later said in part “I wanted to meet Muhammad, not only because of my interest in sports, but because it was part of my overall effort to heal the wounds of racial division, Vietnam, and Watergate.”

Black and white photo of Muhammad Ali meeting with President Gerald Ford in the Oval Office

Elijah Muhammad Dies

Leads Trenton Rally for “Hurricane” Carter

Ali is a prominent public advocate for the release and exoneration of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a former boxer arrested along with John Artis for a 1966 triple homicide with dubious evidence. Carter was released under habeas corpus after nearly 20 years in jail.

Black and white photo of Muhammad Ali speaking at event for release of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter
Photo by Ken Regan © 2023 MAE LLC

Campaigns against Apartheid

Ali appears at the United Nations for a press conference with the Chairman of the UN Special Committee against Apartheid. He addresses the committee with a message of peace and spirituality.

Prevents young man’s suicide in L.A.

Ali hears of a distressed man threatening to jump from a ninth-floor window and races his car to the scene. He talks the man down from the ledge by saying, “You’re my brother. I love you.” Checking the man into a local hospital, Ali returns later to check on his progress.

Black and white photo of Muhammad Ali and a man two windows apart
Getty Images

Ali Vs. Trevor Berbick – Drama in Bahama

In the 61st and final fight of his career, Muhammad Ali begins the bout trying to look like his former self, but by the sixth round, he began to tire. After Berbick was declared winner, Ali officially retired.
Loss - Unanimous Decision in 10 rounds [Nassau, Bahamas]

Action photo of Muhammad Ali throwing punch toward Trevor Berbick in the ring
Photo by Ken Regan © 2023 MAE LLC

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease

Since retiring, Ali's health had intensely deteriorated. After checking himself into New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, Ali is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness, difficulty walking, and loss of balance and coordination.

Marries Yolanda "Lonnie" Williams

Black and white photo of Muhammad Ali and Lonnie standing next to each other
Howard Bingham

Meets Nelson Mandela

Ali travels to South Africa for two weeks to support the development of boxing. The visit includes his first meeting with Nelson Mandela—who was a boxer as a young man.

Color photo of Nelson Mandela posing with a fake punch towards Muhammad Ali
MAC File

Named U.N. Messenger of Peace

Ali’s 1978 address to the Special Committee against Apartheid, along with his own belief in sport’s power to create unity, inspires Secretary-General Kofi Annan to name Ali as one of his first messengers of peace.

Photo of Muhammad Ali receiving UN Messenger of Peace pin from Secretary-General Kofi Annan
MAC File

Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

President George W. Bush awards Ali with the highest civilian honor in the United States: “Across the world, billions of people know Muhammad Ali as a brave, compassionate and charming man, and the American people are proud to call Muhammad Ali one of our own.”

Muhammad Ali receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Pres. George W. Bush
Library of Congress

Muhammad Ali Center Opens

Inaugural Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards

These annual awards honor and celebrate individuals who, like Muhammad Ali, have devoted their lives to peace and social justice, inspiring others to do great things in their communities. Inaugural honorees include President Jimmy Carter and Christina Aguilera.

Muhammad Ali Passes Away

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