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On Muhammad Ali's death anniversary, here are 10 lesser-known facts about 'The Greatest'

Muhammad Ali breathed his last on 3 June 2016. Today marks the fifth death anniversary of the three-time world heavyweight boxing champion. Let us take a look at 10 facts you may not know.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali


Md Imtiaz

Updated: 4 Jun 2021 3:35 AM GMT

Muhammad Ali breathed his last on 3 June 2016. Today marks the fifth death anniversary of the three-time world heavyweight boxing champion. His death caused the entire boxing world to stop and reflect upon the far-reaching legacy of a man who was, in many respects, truly bigger than the sports. Without a doubt, Muhammad Ali still stands as one of the most influential and famous athletes in the entire history of world sports. The fact that he had been the one of most iconic personalities of the 20th century evokes through him being dubbed as 'The Greatest. There has never been, and likely never will be, an athlete like Muhammad Ali.

On his death anniversary, let us look at 10 facts you may not know about the human who float like a butterfly, sting like a bee:

Muhammad Ali was dyslexic

Muhammad Ali barely graduated high school due to his struggle with reading. Ali was diagnosed with dyslexia. Ali was not aware of the fact that he had dyslexia, either, which led to a lack of confidence in his ability as a student. Having dyslexia did not mean that Ali was not intelligent; his fans certainly knew that he was extremely talented well beyond the boxing ring. It just meant that he learned differently, in a way that had to be addressed separately from his peers. He understood the pain caused by being unable to perform well in school because of reading difficulties, and wanted to help others experiencing the same issues. Ali worked with his wife, Lonnie, and book publisher, Scholastic, to create a new series of books that would help improve the literacy of young readers who struggle. The series is known as Go the Distance.

Ali started boxing for a stolen bicycle

At the age of 12, a curious incident set young Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, on a new path. On an October afternoon, he rode his new bike to the Columbia Auditorium. Later, when he went back to get it, it had been stolen. Someone told him there was a police officer in the basement, so Clay went down there. The basement turned out to be a boxing gym—the officer, Joe Martin, was a boxing enthusiast with his own gym. After listening to his volley of threats against whoever stole the bike, Martin invited him to come around to his gym and learn something about boxing. Six weeks after he started training with Joe Martin, Clay fought and won his first bout.

Ali's gold medal was replaced

At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Ali won the gold medal for boxing in the light heavyweight division. But, as he wrote in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story (edited by Toni Morrison!), he supposedly threw his medal into the Ohio River in frustration over the racism he still experienced in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Some historians dispute this story and suggest that Ali just lost the medal. Either way, he was given a replacement when he lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Ali freed hostages of Saddam Hussain

Muhammad Ali played a significant role in bringing back 15 Americans who were being held hostage in Iraq by the then-President Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Gulf War. The meeting between Hussain and Ali took place on November 29, 1990. Hussain, during the meeting, showered praises on himself, saying that the hostages were being treated well. Ali, in the course of the meeting, promised that he would bring America "an honest account" of Iraq. In response, Saddam said: "I'm not going to let Muhammad Ali return to the US without having a number of the American citizens accompanying him." In the end, Ali had all 15 released. They would later take turns to thank the greatest boxer in his hotel room in Baghdad.

Ali honed his speed by dodging rocks

Ali had quoted on his official Twitter account as saying 'I used to ask my brother Rudy to throw rocks at me. I'd dodge every one. That's how I learned how to bob and weave: ducking rocks.'

A book on him weighs 75 pound

TASCHEN published a book entitled GOAT: A Tribute To Muhammad Ali, which weighs a whooping 75 pounds and comprises of 762 pages, with 600,000 words and 3,000 images. The collector's editions come in pink leather, the color of the Cadillac Ali purchased for his parents following his first professional fight in 1960. The leather itself is produced by the official bindery for the Vatican, and each edition is presented in a silk-covered box. The limited collector's editions sell for between $6,000 and $15,000.

Ali fought Superman in a comic book

In 1978, DC Comics published Superman vs. Muhammad Ali—an oversize comic in which Muhammad Ali defeats Superman and saves the world. In real life, Ali did save a man from suicide. In 1981, a man threatened to jump from the ninth story of a building in L.A.'s Miracle Mile neighborhood. Ali's friend Howard Bingham witnessed the unfolding drama and called the boxer, who lived nearby. Ali rushed into the building and successfully talked the man down from the ledge.

Ali acted in a Broadway musical

In 1969, having been barred from boxing due to his refusal to be drafted in the US armed forces, Ali performed in Buck White, a musical adaptation of the play Big Time Buck White. The production, directed by Oscar Brown Jr., saw Ali play the role of a black militant lecturer. Though the musical lasted only seven shows, Ali received mostly positive reviews in publications including the New York Times.

Ali fought in MMA

In his first and only MMA fight ever, Ali fought a Japanese wrestler named Antonio Inoki. Thinking the fight would be staged, Ali agreed, but when they realised it was a real fight, Ali's team banned almost every wrestling move except a slide kick. During the fight, Inoki kicked Ali in the legs so many times that eventually, Ali developed two clots and almost had to have his leg amputated. His footwork was never the same.

Ali was named after a white abolitionist

Although mostly remembered as Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer wasn't born with that name. He was originally named after his father, who was named after a prominent southern white abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay. Clay had inherited 40 slaves from his father, but he decided to emancipate all, as he was strongly anti-slavery. He would go on to found the Republican Party in Kentucky and work alongside Abraham Lincoln in the struggle towards the abolition of slavery.

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