Muhammad brought an unorthodox fighting style, unprecedented speed, and extraordinary grace to his sport, while his charm and wit forever changed the public’s expectations of a champion. But while his success as a boxer is widely respected, Muhammad’s greatest triumphs have taken place outside the ring–as a leader and champion of life. Through his humanitarian efforts, he has perhaps contributed more than any other athlete to make this world a better place.
Muhammad burst onto the scene as a gold-medal winner at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, and his accomplishments in the ring since then are legendary. There were two fights with Sonny Liston, during which he proclaimed himself “The Greatest” and proved he was; three epic battles with rival Joe Frazier; and one stunning victory over George Forman in the Rumble in the Jungle, which earned him the world heavyweight title for the second time. He had 56 career wins and only five losses, defeating every top heavyweight in the golden age of boxing. Muhammad was named Fighter of the Year by Ring Magazine more times than any other boxer. He is an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Century.
From Jakarta to the Ivory Coast, Muhammad has championed causes of the developing world and hand-delivered food and medical supplies, touching and feeding millions. He has made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea and has lobbied domestically for new children protection laws. He secured the release of 15 U.S. hostages during the first Gulf War and journeyed to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison. Every year he participates in a fundraiser for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center in Phoenix. Even as he struggles with Parkinson’s, Muhammad still commands a presence and remains a magical and influential figure, known and loved around the world. He has been named the United Nations Messenger of Peace, was called “Mr. International Friendship” by former President Jimmy Carter and received the 1997 Arthur Ashe Courage Award. In 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That same year, Muhammad and his wife Lonnie opened the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky. It inspires youth and adults to be as great as they can be in their lives–in areas of personal growth, integrity and respect for others. President Obama, in writing about Muhammad, says we admire the man who has never stopped using his celebrity for good—the man who is a “force for reconciliation and peace around the world.” The quality of Muhammad’s that the President admires the most: “His unique ability to summon extraordinary strength and courage in the face of adversity, to navigate the storm and never lose his way.”