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Muhammad Ali dead at 74

TIM DAHLBERG

AP Boxing Writer

 

Muhammad Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died. He was 74.

Ali suffered for years from Parkinson’s disease, which ravaged his body but could never dim his larger-than-life presence. A towering figure in his prime, he still traveled and made appearances in his later years despite being muted by the thousands of hits he took during his remarkable career.

He was hospitalized in Phoenix with respiratory problems earlier this week, and his family gathered around him. He died Friday night, according to a statement from the family.

Ali was a giant of his time — a furious and loud fighter whose influence was felt far beyond the ring. He engaged in some of the world’s most iconic fights even though his career was interrupted for more than three years when he refused to be drafted for military service during the Vietnam War.

He beat the invincible Sonny Liston, fought a string of thrilling fights with Joe Frazier and stopped George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire. But he paid a terrible price for the estimated 29,000 punches he took to his head during a career that made him perhaps the most recognized person on earth.

“I am the greatest,” Ali thundered again and again.

Few would disagree.

Despite his debilitating illness, he traveled the world to rapturous receptions even as the once-bellowing voice was reduced to a whisper and he was left to communicate with a wink or a weak smile.

Revered — and reviled — by millions, Ali cut quite a figure in his prime, indeed, complete with an entourage nearly as colorful as he was urging him to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He finished with a record of 56-5 with 37 knockouts and was the first man to win heavyweight titles three times.

But his life outside the ring was as fascinating — and controversial — as his life inside the ropes.

Ali spurned white America when he joined the Black Muslims and changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. He defied the draft at the height of the Vietnam war — “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong” — and lost 3 1/2 years from the prime of his career. He entertained world leaders, once telling Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos: “I saw your wife. You’re not as dumb as you look.”

The quiet of Ali’s later life was in contrast to the roar of a career that had breathtaking highs as well as terrible lows. He exploded on the public scene in the 1960s with a series of nationally televised fights that gave the public an exciting new champion and entertained millions as he sparred verbally with the likes of bombastic sportscaster Howard Cosell in interviews.

Ali once estimated he had made $57 million in his pro career, but the effect of the punches lingered long after most of the money was gone. That didn’t stop him from traveling tirelessly to promote Islam, meet with world leaders and champion legislation dubbed the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, meant to protect fighters from being exploited by managers and promoters. While slowed in recent years, he still was able to make numerous appearances, including a trip to Ireland in 2009.

Despised by some for his outspoken beliefs and refusal to serve in the U.S. Army in the 1960s, an aging Ali became a poignant figure whose attendance at a sporting event would draw long standing ovations.

With his face nearly frozen from the disease and his hands trembling, he lit the Olympic torch for the 1996 Atlanta Games in a performance as riveting as some of his fights —namely, the “Rumble in the Jungle” and the “Thrilla in Manila.”

A few years after that, he sat mute in a committee room in Washington, his mere presence enough to persuade lawmakers to pass the boxing reform bill that bore his name.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay on Jan. 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali began boxing at age 12 after his new bicycle was stolen and he vowed to policeman Joe Martin that he would “whup” the person who took it.

He was only 89 pounds at the time, but Martin began training him at his boxing gym, the beginning of a six-year amateur career that ended with the light heavyweight Olympic gold medal in 1960.

Ali promised to shock the world by beating the fearsome Liston in 1964 and he did just that to become heavyweight champion for the first time. He dominated the heavyweight ranks until he was stripped of his right to fight for a living when he refused to be inducted for the draft in 1967.

By the time Ali was able to return to the ring following his enforced layoff, he was bigger than ever. Soon he was in the ring for his first of three epic fights against Frazier, with each fighter guaranteed $2.5 million in boxing’s first megabucks match.

Before the fight, Ali called Frazier an “Uncle Tom” and said he was “too ugly to be the champ.” His gamesmanship could have a cruel edge, especially when it was directed toward Frazier.

In the first fight, though, Frazier had the upper hand. He relentlessly wore Ali down, knocking him down in the 12th round and winning a decision.

It was the first defeat for Ali, but the boxing world had not seen the last of him and Frazier in the ring. Ali won a second fight, and then came the “Thrilla in Manila” on Oct. 1, 1975, in the Philippines, a brutal bout that Ali said afterward was “the closest thing to dying” he had experienced.

Ali won that third fight but took a terrific beating from the relentless Frazier before trainer Eddie Futch kept Frazier from answering the bell for the 15th round. It was, most in boxing agreed, Ali’s last great performance, though he would come back to win the heavyweight title from Leon Spinks to make history by winning the heavyweight title for the third time.

Muhammad Ali’s Record

W—56, L—5, KO—37

1960

Oct 29 Tunney Hunsaker, Lousville W 6

Dec 27 Herb Siler, Miami TKO 4

1961

Jan 17 Tony Esperti, Miami TKO 3

Feb 7 Jim Robinson, Miami TKO 1

Feb 21 Donnie Fleeman, Miami TKO 7

Apr 19 Lamar Clark, Louisville KO 2

Jun 26 Duke Sabedong, Las Vegas W 10

Jul 22 Alono Johnson, Louisville W 10

Oct 7 Alex Miteff, Louisville TKO 6

Nov 29 Willi Besmanoff, Louisville TKO 7

1962

Feb 10 Sonny Banks, New York TKO 4

Feb 28 Don Warner, Miami TKO 4

Apr 23 George Logan, Los Angeles TKO 6

May 19 Billy Daniels, New York TKO 7

Jul 20 Alejandro Lavorante, Los Angeles KO 5

Nov 5 Archie Moore, Los Angeles TKO 4

1963

Jan 24 Charlie Powell, Pittsburgh KO 3

Mar 13 Doug Jones, New York W 10

Jun 18 Henry Cooper, London TKO 5

1964

Feb 25 Sonny Liston, Miami TKO 7

(Won World Heavyweight Title)

1965

May 25 Sonny Liston, Lewiston, Maine KO 1

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Jul 31 Jimmy Ellis, San Juan exhibition 3

Jul 31 Cody Jones, San Juan exhibition 3

Aug 16 Cody Jones, Gothenburg, Sweden exhibition 2

Aug 16 Jimmy Ellis, Gothenburg, Sweden exhibition 2

Aug 20 Jimmy Ellis, London exhibition 4

Aug 20 Cody Jones, London exhibition 4

Aug 22 Floyd Patterson, Las Vegas TKO 12

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

1966

Mar 29 George Chuvalo, Toronto, Canada W 15

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

May 21 Henry Cooper, London TKO 6

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Aug 6 Brian London, London TKO 3

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Sep 10 Karl Mildenberger, Frankfurt, Germany, TKO 12

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Nov 14 Cleveland Williams, Houston TKO 3

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

1967

Feb 6 Ernest Terrell, Houston W 15

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Mar 22 Zora Folley, New York TKO 7

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

1968-1969

(Inactive)

1970

Feb 3 Announced retirement

Oct 26 Jerry Quarry, Atlanta TKO 3

Dec 7 Oscar Bonavena, New York TKO 15

1971

Mar 8 Joe Frazier, New York L 15

(For World Heavyweight Title)

Jul 26 Jimmy Ellis, Houston TKO 12

(Won Vacant NABF Heavyweight Title)

Nov 17 Buster Mathis, Houston W 12

(Retained NABF Heavyweight Title)

Dec 26 Jurgen Blin, Zurich, Switzerland KO 7

1972

Apr 1 McArthur Foster, Tokyo W 12

May 1 George Chuvalo, Vancouver, Canada W 12

(Retained NABF Heavyweight Title)

Jun 29 Jerry Quarry, Las Vegas TKO 7

(Retained NABF Heavyweight Title)

Jul 19 Alvin Lewis, Dublin, Ireland TKO 11

Sep 20 Floyd Patterson, New York TKO 7

(Retained NABF Heavyweight Title)

Nov 21 Bob Foster, Stateline, Nev. KO 8

(Retained NABF Heavyweight Title)

1973

Feb 14 Joe Bugner, Las Vegas W 12

Mar 31 Ken Norton, San Diego L 12

(Lost NABF Heavyweight Title)

Sep 10 Ken Norton, Los Angeles W 12

(Regained NABF Heavyweight Title)

Oct 20 Rudi Lubbers, Jakarta, Indonesia W 12

1974

Jan 28 Joe Frazier, New York W 12

(Retained NABF Heavyweight Title)

Oct 30 George Foreman, Kinashasa, Zaire KO 8

(Regained World Heavyweight Title)

1975

Mar 24 Chuck Wepner, Cleveland TKO 15

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

May 16 Ron Lyle, Las Vegas TKO 11

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Jul 1 Joe Bugner, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia W 15

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Oct 1 Joe Frazier, Quezon City, Philippines TKO 14

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

1976

Feb 20 Jean Pierre Coopman, San Juan, P.R. KO 5

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Apr 30 Jimmy Young, Landover, Md. W 15

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

May 24 Richard Dunn, Munich, Germany TKO 5

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Jun 25 Antonio Inoki, Tokyo exhibition D 15

Sep 28 Ken Norton, New York W 15

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

1977

May 21 Alfredo Evangelista, Landover, Md. W 15

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Sep 29 Earnie Shavers, New York W 15

(Retained World Heavyweight Title)

Dec 2 Scott LeDoux, Chicago exhibition TKO 5

1978

Feb 15 Leon Spinks, Las Vegas L 15

(Lost World Heavyweight Title)

Sep 15 Leon Spinks, New Orleans W 15

(Regained World Heavyweight Title)

1979

Announced retirement

1980

Oct 2 Larry Holmes, Las Vegas TKO by 11

(For vacant World Heavyweight Title)

1981

Dec 11 Trevor Berbick, Nassau, Bahamas L 10