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Legendary boxer and human rights activist Muhammad Ali is dead at the age of 74. A family spokesman confirmed that Ali died at Phoenix-area hospital where was being treated for a respiratory issue that was complicated by the Parkinson’s he was diagnosed with in the 1980’s.
The most recognizable sports figure of the last century, known as “The G.O.A.T.”–Greatest Of All Time, was well-known for his catchy phrases and for his willingness to fight for his personal beliefs. Ali called himself the “The Greatest” for his unique fighting style that he described as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He was widely known by that nickname as well.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky (just a couple hours south of Indy) as Cassius Clay Jr in 1942, he changed his name shortly after his stunning upset over Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight championship belt at the age of 22.
Ali joined the Nation of Islam in the sixties and three years later refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War in 1967. Ali said it was against his religious beliefs and won a court battle after he was stripped of his title and boxing license in every state. A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision saved the boxer from being imprisoned.
The three-time world heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist in the 1960 Rome games, the boxer was named “Sportsman of the Century” by “Sports Illustrated” for his epic trilogy with Joe Frazier. The Ali-Frazier first bout was labeled the fight of the century. Frazier won that fight but Ali won the final two, including the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975 where he knocked out Frazier.
Before Ali ended his feud with Frazier the “Rumble in the Jungle” took center stage in Zaire.
Ali was not expected to beat the hard-hitting George Foreman during the fight in Africa, but he leaned on the ropes making Foreman tire himself out. The “Rope-A-Dope” technique helped Ali deliver the knockout blow in the eighth round regaining the championship.
Ali only lost five of his 61 fights, winning 37 of them by K-O. Ali’s last fight was a loss to Trevor Berbick in 1981. Three years later Ali would take on a new opponent when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
In 2005 President George W. Bush honored Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The G.O.A.T. is being mourned worldwide by fans, admirers and a committed family that loved and revered him as its patriarch. Reports earlier in the day said his family rushed to be by his side at the hospital. A family spokesman said Ali will be buried in is hometown. Funeral plans will be made public on Saturday.
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