On April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali made headlines for refusing to be drafted into the U.S. Army claiming exemption status as a conscientious objector. It all happened in Houston at the Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station and it would set off a chain of events that would not cease until a 1971 Supreme Court decision overturned his conviction.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was born on January 14, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, but changed his name in 1964 to Muhammad Ali after adopting Islam as his faith. In addition to his being a three-time world heavyweight boxing champion, he garnered a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy. He won his first professional fight on October 29, 1960 with Tunney Husaker, he later defeated Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964 to become the world heavyweight champion.
The 1960s proved to be a turbulent decade for the United States due to its involvement in the Vietnam war coupled with domestic unrest caused by the civil rights movement and protests against the war. Because of his Islamic beliefs as a conscientious objector, Ali refused induction into the armed forces and was convicted of draft evasion on June 20, 1967, famously lamenting “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” Muhammad was sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. While appealing his conviction, he stayed out of prison and was able to return to boxing on October 26, 1970, winning a bout against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, Georgia in the third round. The following year on March 8, 1971, Ali lost to Joe Frazier after 15 rounds in what was billed as the “Fight of the Century,” the first loss of his professional boxing career. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction on June 28, 1971 for his draft refusal.
At Madison Square Garden on January 24, 1974, Muhammad Ali defeated Frazier in a 12-round rematch. Later that year on October 30th, he reclaimed his championship belt by defeating George Foreman in 8-rounds at the now famous “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasha, Zaire. Ali fought Joe Frazier again on October 1, 1975 for a third time at the “Thrilla’ in Manilla” in the Philippines and won after 14 rounds of brutal combat. In another bout on February 15, 1978, Muhammad lost to Leon Spinks in a 15-round split decision, but seven months later on September 15th he reclaimed the heavyweight title one more time. In June, 1979 Ali announced his retirement from boxing, but returned to the ring again October 2, 1980 to fight heavyweight champion Larry Holmes who won by a knockout in the 11th round. In one final encounter with Trevor Berbick whom he fought on December 11, 1981, he met with defeat again and later retired from boxing with a 56-5 record. In the annals of boxing history, Muhammad Ali is the only fighter to win three heavyweight championships. In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but was still able to maintain an active lifestyle. He passed away on June 30, 2016 and is highly-regarded as one of the most celebrated sports figures of the 20th century, as well as one of the greatest boxers of all time. A movie entitled “The Greatest” was released in 1977 depicting his colorful life. One of his many quotes stated: “When you are as great as I am it is hard to be humble.”
– Sheldon T. Nunn