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Boxing great mourned

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GOAT, Muhammed Ali dies at 74 years.GOAT, Muhammed Ali dies at 74 years.The sports world is mourning the death of boxing icon Muhammad Ali — "The Greatest" — who died late Friday night at the age of 74.

Ali was hospitalized earlier in the week in Phoenix with respiratory issues.

Arguably the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time, Ali’s reach extended far beyond the 6-foot- 8 wingspan he deployed in the ring, making him an icon, or target, even for those who didn’t follow the sport.

RELATED: Muhammad Ali's Greatest Quotes

Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kent., in 1942, Ali began fighting at the age of 12 and went on to win six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union National title and the light heavyweight Gold Medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, going 100-5 in his amateur fights before turning pro.

It didn’t take long for him to find the top of his sport. On Feb. 25, Clay took on a seemingly unbeatable force in Sonny Liston. Liston had mauled former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson twice and joked after an early Clay fight that if Liston fought him, he might get locked up for murder. But Clay, a 7-to- 1 underdog was undeterred, referring to Liston as a “big ugly bear,” and repeatedly poking him with that insult. He also gave his famous quote that he would “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” Once the fight started, he did just that, frustrating Liston with his dancing style until Liston refused to come out for the seventh round, giving Clay a TKO and the heavyweight title. In the post-fight interview, Ali yelled that he “shocked the world,” another of his famous statements.

Their next fight wasn’t nearly as epic. Ali — he changed his name after converting to Islam — knocked Liston down midway through the first round, standing over him and yelling for him to get back up. The image is now among the most famous in sports history. Because Ali did not go back to his corner, the count didn’t start, with Liston getting up after about 20 seconds. But the fight was called soon after.

He defeated Patterson in his next title defense before making headlines in a different fashion as he refused to fight in the Vietnam War, despite a 1-A classification from the Louisville draft board. After owning the unified title, the WVA stripped it after Ali joined the Nation of Islam, and he won four fights off U.S. soil.

After returning and dominating Cleveland Williams, possibly the greatest performance Ali had in his career, he was finally set up with WBA title holder Ernie Terrell. Terrell, who knew Ali when Ali was Clay, repeatedly called Ali by his former name — Ali called it his “slave name” — in an interview. After pulling ahead in the seventh round, Ali tortured Terrell, blistering him with punches and yelling “What’s my name, Uncle Tom,” before stepping back to let Terrell recover. The fight went the full 15 rounds with Ali winning a decision and writer Tex Maule opining “It was a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a barbarous display of cruelty.”

Ali had just more fight — a knockout of Zora Folley on March 3, 1967 — before he was exiled from boxing, and he didn’t return until late 1970, from age 25 and 64 days to age 28 and 282 days. His title stripped because he refused to be drafted, Ali lost what many considered to be his prime, and despite his success after his return, he wasn’t the same fighter.

In a way, that helps display his greatness even more. When he came back, he wasn’t the super-quick, impossible to touch, elusive boxer he was before. Instead, he relied on his grit, toughness, chin and his ability to counter-punch to get through.

He fought was what called beforehand “The Fight of the Century,” in 1971 falling to nemesis Joe Frazier in a unanimous decision. He took the second loss of his professional career in 1973 to Ken Norton, who broke Ali’s jaw early in the fight, though Ali finished the fight. That led to rematches with both Norton and Frazier, both of which Ali won, setting up the “Rumble in the Jungle” against Foreman.

In that fight, in Kinshasa, Zaire, Ali used his now-famous “Rope-A- Dope” technique, tiring out the massive Foreman as he threw hard, but largely ineffective, blows against Ali’s arms. Countering off the ropes, Ali knocked out Foreman in the eighth.

Ali’s next fight was famous for another reason. Ali defeated journeyman Chuck Wepner, though Wepner knocked Ali down in the ninth round — Ali claimed Wepner stepped on his foot. Either way, Wepner’s performance resonated with actor Sylvester Stallone, who created the character “Rocky” based on Wepner.

Apollo Creed, of course, is a thinly veiled caricature of Ali. Late 1975 brought Ali-Frazier III, referred to as the “Thrilla in Manila.” It’s still considered one of the greatest fights of all time, with both fighters raining down punishment on each other until Frazier’s trainer stopped the fight — over Frazier’s pleading to keep fighting — before the 15th round.

In 1978, Ali lost the heavyweight crown he won from Foreman against little-known fighter Leon Spinks in a split decision. Ali fought a rematch against Spinks shortly afterward, winning and making him the first heavyweight ever to win the title three times.

But Ali, who retired and then came out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes (which was later made a ’30 for 30’) was already starting to show signs of the Parkinson’s Syndrome that would affect the rest of his life. An always fluid talker, Ali began stuttering, and his hands began to tremble. Yet he was declared fit to fight by the Mayo Clinic. Stallone, in attendance, said the fight was like watching an autopsy on a man who was still alive. Holmes destroyed Ali before trainer Angelo Dundee stopped the right in the eleventh round, the only time Ali didn’t finish a fight he started.

Ali fought one more fight, losing to Trevor Berbick by decision, before retiring with a 56-5 record.

Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s shortly after his career ended, Ali remained an ambassador for the sport and active in the public eye. Michigan’s Fab Five often said their trash talk was motivated by Ali, and they actually met Ali in the early 1990s. And he served up yet another iconic moment in 1996, when he like the Olympic torch in Atlanta.

ESPN, the Associated Press and Ring Magazine have all named Ali as the greatest heavyweight to ever live.

His style as a fighter — he fought like a lightweight but was 6-foot- 3 and 210 or so pounds — mirrored who he was as a person: brilliant, confident, and not afraid to swim in a different manner to the fish around him. In life, as in the ring, he floated like a butterfly, and at times, stung like a bee.


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