Muhammad Ali: Sports gets poorer with demise of 'The Greatest' boxer

By Suyash Srivastava | Last Updated: Jun 04, 2016, 15:45 PM IST

Not that his death came as a massive shock since he had been battling Parkinson's disease since the last few decades, Muhammad Ali's demise still came as a big setback for all of us.

Boxing is synonymous to Ali. He was the God for the aspiring boxers across the globe and even in a country like India, where it isn't a major sport, youngsters looked up to him for inspiration to do well in future.

Originally known as Cassius Clay, when he wore boxing gloves at the age of 12 to "whup" the person who stole his bicycle, little did his parents and friends would have known that it was the start of an era. An era, which will not only make Clay one of the most feared boxers ever, but as one of the most popular men on the planet as well.

By 18, Clay was a big name in the boxing circuit in the United States and at the age of 22, he upstaged Sonny Liston to win his first heavyweight world title – a bout which is fondly remembered as one of the most stunning upsets ever.

The punches he threw off the field, especially while giving statements, drew him massive praise from the fans. Clay gabbed the attention of the world as he claimed he could "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" and also the fact that he was "The Greatest".

In a move that didn't pan out too well for the white Americans, Ali decided to convert to Islam, soon after his win against Liston in 1964. Ali wanted to get rid of what he called his "slave name" and since then became Muhammad Ali.

While his move led to a massive outrage from white Americans, it was nothing compared to his refusal to join the armed forces in 1967 on the grounds that he was a Muslim minister. Only 25, Ali was not only convicted of draft dodging, but was also stripped of his title.

After resuming boxing in 1970, Ali suffered his first professional defeat, against Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

However, that wasn't the end of his career as he went on to win two more world heavyweight titles against George Foreman - the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" fight - to regain the title taken from him in 1967 as well as against Joe Frazier – the "Thrilla in Manila" - which was an epic 14-round battle. Against Frazier, Ali somehow survived and as he battled tremendous pain, he was heard saying "This must be what dying is like."

Ali retired in 1981 after losing to Trevor Berbick in his 61st career bout.

He ended his decorated career with a record of 56-5 with 37 knockouts and was the first man to win heavyweight titles three times.

In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. It was a result of several blows which he took during his career. His near ones said that and his speech was already starting to slur and his body already starting to slow before his last bout in 1981.

Ali continued not only battle against the disease, but also travelled significantly to spread awareness about it.

The stadiums erupted with joy just with his mere presence at 1996 Atlanta and 2012 London Olympics. However, he was cut a sorry figure as his hands trembled and he barely managed to speak.

The man, who backed his beliefs, inside the ring and even off it, will be remembered as one of the finest athletes across sports. Or as he would have liked it – The Greatest.