Muhammad Ali lived one of the most inspirational lives of modern times. Not only did he fight - and beat - some of the greatest boxers of all time, including George Foreman and Joe Frazier, he also fought racism and bigotry his entire life. Thanks to his unrivaled talent and charisma, Ali was rarely out of the limelight. From lighting the Olympic torch and winning gold, to his iconic stance on the Vietnam war, the great boxer transcended his sport, becoming one of the greatest athletic and cultural icons in history. These are some interesting facts you probably didn't know about 'The Greatest'.
1. He Was Arrested For Refusing To Enlist For The Vietnam War
In 1966, Muhammad Ali refused to enlist in the military, citing his opposition to the Vietnam War and his religious beliefs, famously declaring "my conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor, hungry people in the mud." Ali paid a huge professional price, serving a four-year suspension from the ring during his mid-twenties, his prime years, while his case went through the Supreme Court. During this period Ali became unpopular with the majority of the American public, who saw his refusal to serve as an unpatriotic decision. However, as the US army's involvement in Vietnam began to lose public support, his steadfast opposition to military service became more acceptable, eventually winning back the hearts of the American people.
2. He Personally Selected Will Smith For The Role Of 'Ali'
When it was announced that a movie was to be made about Muhammad Ali's life, the boxer personally requested that Will Smith play the role. The Fresh Prince star was hesitant however, refusing for eight long years and citing the reason as not feeling intellectually capable of portraying the great boxer. Smith was finally convinced after sitting down with the film's director, Michael Mann, who persuaded him that the role was for him.
3. A Bike Theft Inspired Him To Box
In 1954, a 12-year-old Cassius Clay Jr. had his bicycle stolen from him. The officer Clay reported the theft to happened to be Joe Martin, a Kentucky policeman and part-time boxing trainer. Martin suggested that Clay take up boxing in order to learn to fight properly after Clay declared that he intended to "pummel the culprit". Joe Martin took on the young Clay Jr. as his prodigy, coaching him the fundamentals of boxing and leading him to his first fight victory just weeks later.
4. His Name At Birth Was Cassius Clay Jr.
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay Jr. on 17 January 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. The man we know as Ali fought under his birth name for much of his career, winning the light heavyweight Olympic gold medal in 1960 and defeating Sonny Liston in 1964 to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. After establishing himself as the greatest boxer in the world, Clay Jr. converted to Islam and dispensed of his given name - his "slave name". Following a brief period as Cassius X, Muhammad Ali was born.