Cassius Clay was born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17th, 1945. He would go on to become one of the most well-recognized and totally badass sports figures to ever live.
Cassius got his start by boxing for his high school, where he won six Kentucky gold glove titles and two U.S. light-heavyweight division gold gloves. Much of his success was attributed to his unorthodox fighting style of keeping his hands to his sides (instead of up in front of his face), his excellent mobility and his exceptional 83" reach. His success at the amateur level would earn him a spot on the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, and he captured the gold medal in the 1960 Summer Games in Rome.
When he returned from Rome, Clay went into the professional boxing circuit where he quickly rose to the top, winning his first twenty fights, including sixteen knockouts. What he was even more well-known for was his mouth. The "Lip from Louisville" was notorious for running his mouth and declaring that he was "the greatest" and how he was going to "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee". Before bouts, he would write poems predicting which round he would knock his opponent out in, which pissed them off and made him awesome at the same time. The buzz surrounding Clay was enough to get him a world heavyweight title shot at superstar Sonny Liston in 1965 despite the fact that he was only the #9 contender for the belt.
Nobody put a whole lot of faith in Clay, who was going up against a guy who was basically what some analysts call "the Mike Tyson of his time", but Clay beat the holy hell out of him and captured the title after a late-round TKO. Cassius would remain awesome after he won the title, defending it seven times in 1966, a record for title defenses in a single year that still stands to this day. He knew he was the best and he wasn't afraid to kick everyone's ass to prove it.
However, he wouldn't be defending his title as Cassius Clay. In 1965 he converted to Malcom X's Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. This caused a tremendous outcry among the American public and many people refused to recognize his Muslim name at first. Ali persevered through the racism and religious intolerance with his trademarked egomania, which is something I totally can respect. When he stepped into the ring with one guy who kept calling him "Cassius", Ali yelled "What's my name?" every time he landed a huge punch on him. That guy didn't last long.
Ali retained his title until 1967, when he was drafted for the Vietnam War. His religious beliefs prevented him from going to war for any reason so he refused to fight, stating that there was a lot more work to be done with our country before we went overseas and got into other peoples' affairs. When he was told that it was his duty to fight the Communists, his reply was, "No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger". Ali was stripped of his title, expelled from boxing and sentenced to five years in prison. He would later get the ruling overturned by the Supreme Court.
Ali returned to boxing in 1970, where he once again made his way up the ranks before being knocked out by heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in 1971. This didn't deter him though, and in 1974 he won his rematch with Frazier and subsequently reclaimed his title by KO'ing then-champion George Foreman in what was one of the greatest boxing matches in history, 1974's "Rumble in the Jungle".
Ali would defend his title in "The Thrilla in Manilla" in 1975, besting Joe Frazier in a late-round TKO. He would retain the title for four years until he was finally defeated by Leon Spinks in 1978. Ali won the rematch in 1979, claimed the title for a record third time, and then retired that same year. He made a couple attempts to return to the ring, but was never very successful. He ended his career at 56-5 with 37 knockouts. Especially impressive considering three of those losses came after his retirement in 1979.
In 1982 Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. This didn't slow him down though, as he continued to preach peace, tolerance and responsibility to anyone who would listen. In 1985 he would attempt to negotiate the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon. In 1985 he also refereed Wrestlemania I. In 1996, he lit the torch at the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics. In 2001 he gave a speech at Ground Zero. Afterwards, a reporter asked him what it was like to be the same religion as the terrorists. Ali responded by asking the reporter what it was like to be the same religion as Hitler.
Muhammad Ali is totally badass. He not only made an entire career out of kicking peoples' asses, but he was also the best to ever do it. He was the world heavyweight champion for portions of ten years. On top of his complete badassitude in the ring, he was cocky and arrogant and was sure to let you know that he was going to kick your ass just before he did it. He didn't make any apologies and he didn't take any prisoners. He was funny, outgoing, brash and infinitely quotable; everything that makes an athlete successful in the media and also Xtreme to the max. On top of it all, he fought for civil rights and equality, and wasn't afraid to stand up for what he believed in, even if it meant he would lose everything he loved. Muhammad Ali was more than just a successful boxer and a guest referee for the Hulk Hogan - Andre the Giant match.
He was The Greatest.