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Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston and taunts him to get up. Ali knocked Liston out in one minute, during the first round, in 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 (left) and Anthony Madigan (left), with joint bronze medals.
Then-Cassius Clay playfully hits The Beatles during a photo-op while at his training camp.
Feb. 18, 1964.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali both land a punch against the other. Ali won, however, and retained heavyweight champion title.
Nov. 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. It 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 serenaded Ali's guests at the boxer's birthday.
Muhammad Ali with his daughters Laila (9 months) and Hanna (2 years and 5 months) at Grosvenor House.
Dec. 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 won the fight and became heavyweight champion of the world by winning a unanimous 15-round decision.
March 8, 1971. New York, New York.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Ali jumps rope while watching himself in mirror to motivate himself, during training for his fight against Joe Frazier.
1971.John Shearer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Ali retained his heavyweight world champion title when he beating British boxer Brian London — in London — in the third round.
Aug. 6, 1966. London, England.Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
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Ali and his trainers cheekily pose for a self-deprecating photo in which a book on psychological warfare is glaringly prominent. 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.
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George Foreman and Muhammad Ali duking it out in the world-famous "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire.
Oct. 30, 1974. Kinshasa, Zaire.Ken Regan/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images
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Sonny Liston is knocked out after being KO'd 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 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 with members of the Black Panther Party soon after he was allowed to fight again.
September 1970. New York, New York.David Fenton/Getty Images
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A suicidal veteran of the Vietnam War stands poised to jump off the ninth floor of a building. Muhammad Ali calls to him, begging him not to jump.
January 1981. Los Angeles, California.YouTube
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Here, after touching back down on American soil again, Muhammad Ali is embraced by one of the hostages he saved.
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 Black Muslims, speak.
The Black Muslims were slow to accept Ali, but with his growing celebrity and the support of Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad started 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 fight with Floyd Patterson has been cancelled. 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 talks the suicidal man down from the ledge of a window.
January 1981. 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 a Black Muslims event.
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 be drafted into 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 come out to the world as a member of the Black Muslims. His friendship with Malcolm X and his association with the Black Muslims nearly got his fight with Sonny Liston cancelled.
February 1964. Miami, Florida. Wikimedia Commons
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A group of famous African-American athletes (seated, from left: Bill Russell, Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) gather together to speak out in support of Muhammad 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 before a civil rights 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 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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While 15 Americans were held hostage in Iraq, Muhammad Ali, without permission from the American government, flew to meet with Saddam Hussein and to negotiate their release.
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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For his refusal to join the Army, 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 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 Black Muslim meeting 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 would be sentenced to five years in prison. He would have to take his fight up to the Supreme Court and spend nearly four years outside of the ring to overturn it.
1967.Library of Congress/New York World-Telegram & Sun
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President Bill Clinton lovingly hugs Ali at the National Italian American Foundation 25th Anniversary Awards Gala Dinner where the boxer and his trainer Angelo Dundee were honored with the NIAF One America award.
Muhammad Ali joins a crowd of protesters fighting against the sentence of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, convicted (and ultimately exonerated) of murdering three people despite some of the key witnesses recanting their testimonies.
October 1975. New Jersey.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Brothers in arms against their fight against Parkinson's, Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali 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 Outside The Ring
Muhammad Ali was a heavyweight boxing champion, but he was just as famous for his battles outside of the ring. The world first found out who the man they knew as Cassius Clay was after he won the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston in 1964.
He was, among other things, a Black Muslim, a friend to Malcolm X, and an American who wouldn't hesitate to speak his mind. The civil rights champion, who dubbed himself "The Greatest," transcended sports.
From his conversion to Islam to his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War, he was emblematic of fighting for one's beliefs. According to NBC News, his death at 74 in 2016 came after his final battle — with Parkinson's disease.
His daughter Rasheda described him as "daddy, my best friend and hero," and said he was "the greatest man that ever lived."
Some would argue that latter claim to be exaggerated, or at least, subjective. A look at the man's life through the 44 images above, however, certainly makes a powerful case for that statement.
Cassius Clay, The Heavyweight Champion
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay on Jan. 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 in the Olympics in Rome in 1960.
He was 18 years old.
Wikimedia CommonsZbigniew Pietrzykowski And Muhammad Ali at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Ali won the gold at age 18.
He became a professional soon after, with his confidence and showmanship earning him the nickname "the Louisville lip." It was his move to Miami that showed dismissive onlookers that he was a fighter to reckon with.
Fed up with American racism, Ali threw his Olympic gold medal into a river after being refused service at a soda fountain counter. He garnered an aversion to opportunistic agents and promoters, and found solace in the Nation of Islam.
With guidance from Malcom X, he converted in 1963. The man once known to locals and boxing enthusiasts as Cassius Clay 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 fight with Sonny Liston introduced the world to his legendary showmanship in the run-up to the bout, and his skill inside the ring.
Muhammad Ali's Activism Of The 1960s
Over the ensuing years, Muhammad Ali's life would be full of strife and controversy. He defended his title six times, but received a draft notice calling him to fight in the Vietnam War in 1967.
Ali vehemently refused, and called the government hypocrites for asking African-Americans who were still fighting for their rights at home to instead go and fight for supposed freedom 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 serve would cost him everything.
Muhammad Ali discusses racial integration in the United States on a BBC talk show.
Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title, was barred from fighting in the ring, and was 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 he used his platform to speak out against the war in the meantime.
"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 nigger. They never lynched me. They didn't put no dogs on me."
Ali had to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court in 1971 amid revelations that the FBI had been spying on him. Other historical civil rights figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. had been surveilled — and callously threatened — as well.
After the Supreme Court gave Ali his freedom and right to box back, he didn't stop fighting for the voiceless outside the ring. After fighting Joe Frazier in 1974, he once again became lead challenger for the heavyweight title.
He won that title in the world-famous "Rumble in the Jungle" against George Foreman that year, and 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.
With various conflicts in the Middle East continuing to bubble over, Ali — as an American, a Muslim, and a celebrated public figure — would garner a unique role to play. He retired for good in 1981, and focused his life on activism and anti-war messaging.
Muhammad Ali's Final Chapter
The year 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," he said. "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 was having health issues didn't mean that he was about to stop his work as an activist.
Wikimedia Commons Muhammad Ali with his wife Lonnie at a benefit in Washington, D.C. in 2001.
The 1980s and 1990s saw Ali engaged in a slew of humanitarian acts, like traveling to Lebanon in 1985 and Iraq in 1990 during the run-up to the Gulf War. The army had taken 15 Americans hostage.
Muhammad Ali – without permission from the United States government – flew there and negotiated their freedom with Saddam Hussein himself. It worked, and Ali brought the Americans back home safely.
After lighting the Olympic flame in Atlanta in 1996, he became more feeble and embattled by his disease. This, tragically, was one fight he ultimately couldn't win or overcome.
Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016 – but not before helping change the face of America forever, throughout his entire life.
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."