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Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston and taunts him to get up. Ali famously knocked Liston out in one minute during the first round of their fight at the Central Maine Youth Center.
May 25, 1965. Lewiston, Maine.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Winners of the 1960 Olympic medals for light heavyweight boxing: Cassius Clay with the gold (center); Zbigniew Pietrzykowski with the silver (right); and Giulio Saraudi and Anthony Madigan with joint bronze medals (left).
September 5, 1960. Rome, Italy.Central Press/Getty Images
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Then-Cassius Clay playfully hits The Beatles during a photo-op while at a training camp.
February 18, 1964.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali both land a punch against each other. Ali ultimately won the match, and retained his heavyweight champion title.
November 22, 1965. Bettmann/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali knocks some balls back at his Hancock Park home before his last fight with Larry Holmes.
1980. Los Angeles, California.
Paul Harris/Online USA, Inc/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali raises his arms in celebration after knocking down Sonny Liston as referee Jersey Joe Walcott gives count in the first round of the World Heavyweight Title bout at St. Dominic's Hall.
This was Cassius Clay's first fight after changing his name to Muhammad Ali.
May 25, 1965. Lewiston, Maine.Focus on Sport/Getty Images
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Stevie Wonder serenades Ali and his party guests at the boxer's birthday.
Circa 1980s. Chicago, Illinois.Adger Cowans/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali with his daughters Laila and Hanna at Grosvenor House.
December 19, 1978. Frank Tewkesbury/Evening Standard/Getty Images
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Ali dodges a punch by Joe Frazier during their heavyweight title fight at Madison Square Garden. Frazier ultimately won the fight and became heavyweight champion.
March 8, 1971. New York, New York.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Ali jumps rope while watching himself in a mirror to motivate himself.
1971.John Shearer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Ali retained his heavyweight world champion title when he beat British boxer Brian London — in London — during the third round.
August 6, 1966. London, England.Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
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Ali and his trainers cheekily pose for a photo with a book about psychological warfare. Ali was notorious for his showmanship and intimidation of opponents prior to a fight. In this case, he was preparing for his heavyweight championship bout against Sonny Liston.Bettmann/Getty Images
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George Foreman and Muhammad Ali duking it out in the world-famous "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire.
October 30, 1974. Kinshasa, Zaire.Ken Regan/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images
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Sonny Liston is knocked out in the first round of his return title fight.
May 25, 1965. Lewiston, Maine.Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X slap hands.
February 1964. Miami, Florida. YouTube/Sons of Malcolm TV
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Muhammad Ali is escorted from the Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station after formally refusing the Vietnam War draft.
April 1967. Houston, Texas.Library of Congress/New York World-Telegram & Sun
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Muhammad Ali holds up a sign that reads "Stop World War III Now," joining an anti-war protest outside of President Lyndon B. Johnson's hotel.
June 23, 1967. Los Angeles, California.Bettmann/Getty Images
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After years of legal battles, Muhammad Ali won his freedom and the right to fight again.
Here, he walks through the streets of New York with members of the Black Panther Party soon after he was allowed to go back to boxing.
September 1970. New York, New York.David Fenton/Getty Images
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A suicidal man stands poised to jump off the ninth floor of a building. Muhammad Ali calls out to him, begging him not to jump.
January 1981. Los Angeles, California.YouTube
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Muhammad Ali talks the suicidal man down from the ledge of a window.
January 1981. Los Angeles, California.Los Angeles Public Library
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While 15 Americans were held hostage in Iraq, Muhammad Ali flew to meet with Saddam Hussein — without permission from the U.S. government — and to negotiate the release of the hostages.
Here, Ali walks through Amman International Airport with some of the hostages just after their release.
December 1990. Zizya, Jordan. RABIH MOGHRABI/AFP/Getty Images
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Here, after touching back down on American soil again, Muhammad Ali is embraced by one of the former hostages he saved in Iraq.
December 1990. JFK Airport, New York.MARIA BASTONE/AFP/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali, accompanied by Malcolm X, signs autographs outside of a movie theater.
1964. New York, New York.Library of Congress/New York World-Telegram & Sun
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Muhammad Ali watches Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, speak.
The Nation of Islam was initially slow to accept Ali. But with the boxer's growing celebrity and the support of Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad began to publicly embrace Ali as a member.
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Muhammad Ali, shortly after finding out that he will be drafted into the Vietnam War, tries on army boots.
February 1966.Library of Congress/New York World-Telegram & Sun
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Muhammad Ali takes to the podium and speaks to an audience of Black Muslims.
February 1968. Chicago, Illinois.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Ali surrounded by supporters protesting both the draft and the Vietnam War.
1967. San Diego, California.Los Angeles Public Library
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Muhammad Ali finds out that his upcoming fight with Floyd Patterson has been canceled. With all the controversy surrounding Ali's draft refusal, no city is willing to host the fight.
April 1967. Los Angeles, California.Los Angeles Public Library
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Muhammad Ali hugs an injured child, a refugee from war-torn Liberia hiding out in the Ivory Coast. Ali was on hand, helping provide $250,000 worth of relief materials to the refugee camp there.
August 1997. Ivory Coast.JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali sits behind Elijah Muhammad at an event for Black Muslims.
February 1968. Chicago, Illinois.Library of Congress/New York World-Telegram & Sun
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Muhammad Ali steps out of the Armed Forces building and finds himself greeted by thousands of supporters rallying behind his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War.
April 1967. Houston, Texas.Library of Congress/New York World-Telegram & Sun
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After his match with Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali poses for a photograph with Malcolm X.
Muhammad Ali had just revealed that he was involved with the Nation of Islam. His friendship with Malcolm X and his association with the Nation of Islam nearly got his fight with Sonny Liston canceled.
February 1964. Miami, Florida. Wikimedia Commons
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A group of famous African American athletes (seated, from left: Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) gather together to speak out in support of Ali's decision to refuse the draft.
June 1967. Cleveland, Ohio. Tony Tomsic/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali speaks about civil rights at a rally.
April 1968. San Francisco, California.FPG/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali points to a newspaper to show that he is not the only one opposing the Vietnam War draft.
March 1966. Toronto, Canada.Library of Congress/New York World-Telegram & Sun
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Athletes from Muhammad Ali's amateur sports club lead a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Ali pushed to boycott the Moscow Olympics in protest of the invasion.
February 1980. Los Angeles, California.Los Angeles Public Library
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For his refusal to join the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title. Here, he speaks before the Illinois Boxing Commission and states that he will not apologize for making so-called "unpatriotic remarks."
February 1966. Chicago, Illinois.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali visits the Hussein Mosque in Cairo and joins other Muslims in prayer.
1964. Cairo, Egypt.Express/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali autographs draft cards for his fellow conscientious objectors.
1967. San Diego, California.Los Angeles Public Library
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Muhammad Ali sits next to Elijah Muhammad during a meeting for Black Muslims at the Olympic Auditorium.
August 1964. Los Angeles, California.Los Angeles Public Library
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Muhammad Ali and his attorney, Hayden Covington, file a petition to keep him from being drafted into the Vietnam War. For avoiding the draft, Ali was sentenced to five years in prison.
While Ali was ultimately able to avoid jail, he missed out on a few years of valuable time in the ring since he had to bring his case to the Supreme Court in order to get his boxing rights back.
1967.Library of Congress/New York World-Telegram & Sun
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President Bill Clinton hugs Ali at the National Italian American Foundation 25th Anniversary Awards Gala Dinner. There, the boxer and his trainer Angelo Dundee were honored with the NIAF One America award.
October 28, 2000. Washington, D.C.MANNY CENETA/AFP/Getty Images
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Muhammad Ali joins a crowd of protesters fighting against the sentence of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who was convicted of murdering three people, despite some of the key witnesses recanting their testimonies. He was later exonerated.
October 1975. New Jersey.Bettmann/Getty Images
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As brothers in arms in their fight against Parkinson's disease, Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali jokingly pretend to spar before giving their testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.
May 22, 2002. Washington, D.C.Mark Wilson/Getty Images
“I Am America”: 44 Stirring Photos Of Muhammad Ali’s Heroism Inside And Outside The Ring
Muhammad Ali was a legendary boxing champion, but he was just as famous for his battles that took place outside of the ring. These iconic pictures of Muhammad Ali are all the proof you need.
Most of the world first learned who Ali was after he won the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston in 1964. But that was just the beginning of a breathtaking career that would ultimately transcend sports.
He was, among other things, a Black Muslim, a friend to Malcolm X, and a civil rights activist. He dubbed himself "The Greatest," fought tirelessly for the downtrodden, and never hesitated to speak his mind.
From his conversion to Islam to his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War, Ali was emblematic of fighting for one's beliefs. He did so until the very end — when he died at age 74 after his final battle with Parkinson's disease.
After his tragic death in 2016, his daughter Rasheda described him as "my best friend and hero," and said he was "the greatest man that ever lived."
Some may argue that describing him as the greatest is an exaggeration, or, at least, an extremely subjective claim. But the Muhammad Ali pictures in the gallery above certainly make a powerful case for his famous nickname.
How Cassius Clay Became Muhammad Ali
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali started boxing at 12 years old. He earned several titles before he won a gold medal as a light heavyweight during the Olympics in Rome in 1960.
At the time, he was 18 years old.
He became a professional soon after, with his showmanship earning him the nickname "Louisville Lip." After he moved to Miami, he showed dismissive onlookers that he was a fighter to reckon with — and not just in the ring.
Wikimedia CommonsMuhammad Ali and Zbigniew Pietrzykowski at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
After he was refused service at a soda fountain counter due to his race, Ali famously threw his Olympic gold medal into a river. Fed up with American racism, he avoided opportunistic agents who refused to acknowledge civil rights issues. Around the same time, he found solace in the Nation of Islam.
With guidance from Malcolm X, he converted to Islam in 1963. The man formerly known as Cassius Clay soon stripped himself of his "slave name" and adopted a new one: Muhammad Ali. He was 22 years old.
The next year, he would become the heavyweight champion. His famous fight with Sonny Liston introduced the world to his showmanship in the run-up to the bout, and his legendary skills inside the ring.
Muhammad Ali's Activism Of The 1960s
Although Muhammad Ali successfully defended his title six times, the ensuing years were full of strife and controversy for him — especially after he received a draft notice calling him to fight in the Vietnam War in 1967.
Not only did Ali vehemently refuse, but he also called the U.S. government hypocritical for asking Black Americans — who were still fighting for equal rights at home — to go and fight for their country overseas.
"I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong," Ali famously said. "Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"
His objection to serving would nearly cost him everything.
Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title, barred from boxing matches, and sentenced to five years in prison. Though he managed to avoid time behind bars, it took him a few years to get back to work as a professional boxer. So in the meantime, he used his platform to speak out against the war.
Wikimedia CommonsOne of the most famous pictures of Muhammad Ali, taken in 1967.
"My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America, and shoot them for what?" Ali said in an interview. "They never called me n***er. They never lynched me. They didn't put no dogs on me."
Ali took his case all the way to the Supreme Court in 1971 amid revelations that the FBI had been spying on him. And he wasn't the only one with a target on his back. Other famous civil rights activists had also been surveilled — and in some cases callously threatened — by the FBI.
After the Supreme Court gave Ali his right to box back, he quickly returned to work — eager to make up for the lost time. After fighting Joe Frazier in 1974, he once again became the lead challenger for the heavyweight title.
He won that title in the "Rumble in the Jungle" against George Foreman that year, and once again beat Frazier in the 1975 fight "Thrilla in Manila." He continued to defend his crown until 1978 when he lost against Leon Spinks.
Through it all, he never stopped fighting for the voiceless outside of the ring. Keeping his eye on conflicts in the Middle East, Ali would garner a unique role to play as a Muslim, a Black American, and a public figure. He retired from boxing in 1981 and dedicated the rest of his life to activism.
The Final Chapter Of "The Greatest"
Just a few years after he retired, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's — a battle that he would fight for more than 30 years until the end of his life.
"I'm in no pain," Ali said of his symptoms. "A slight slurring of my speech, a little tremor. Nothing critical. If I was in perfect health — if I had won my last two fights — if I had no problem, people would be afraid of me. Now they feel sorry for me. They thought I was Superman."
"Now they can go, 'He's human, like us. He has problems.'"
But just because he had health issues didn't mean that he had given up on his activism. In fact, he was more devoted than ever.
Wikimedia Commons Muhammad Ali with his wife Lonnie at a benefit in Washington, D.C. in 2001.
The 1980s and '90s saw Ali engage in a slew of humanitarian acts, like traveling to Iraq in 1990 during the run-up to the Gulf War. At the time, Saddam Hussein had taken 15 Americans hostage.
Muhammad Ali flew to Baghdad — without permission from the U.S. government — and negotiated the freedom of the hostages with Hussein. It worked, and Ali brought the Americans back home safely.
Despite Ali's worsening health, he famously lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta in 1996. But after his appearance at the Olympics, he became increasingly feeble because of his Parkinson's disease. Tragically, this was one fight that he wouldn't be able to win or overcome. Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016 — but not before helping change the face of America forever.
Ali showed the world what he meant when he said: "I am America. I am the part you won't recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me."
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff has also published work at outlets including People, VICE, and Complex, covering everything from film to finance to technology. He holds dual bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a master's degree from New York University.