On this date in 1964, February 25,  56 years ago today, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in a major upset at age 22, in Miami Beach, Florida.  

Following the win, a triumphant Clay rushed to the edge of the ring and shouted “I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.” 

Over ​the years of his storied career he was known for his quips such as as this one which is probably his most well known:  “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.  

In 1966, Ali refused to be drafted into the military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War.  He was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion, and stripped of his boxing titles. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, but he had not fought for nearly four years and lost a period of peak performance as an athlete.  

As a result, he did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970—from ages 25 to almost 29—as his case worked its way through the appeals process before his conviction was overturned in 1971. During this time of inactivity, as opposition to the Vietnam War began to grow and Ali’s stance gained sympathy, he spoke at colleges across the nation, criticizing the Vietnam War and advocating African-American pride and racial justice.

Outside the ring, Ali attained success as a musician, where he received two Grammy nominations He also featured as an actor and writer, releasing two autobiographies. Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and focused on religion and charity. In 1984, he made public his diagnosis of Parkinson’s syndrome, which some reports attribute to boxing-related injuries, though he and his specialist physicians disputed this.He remained an active public figure globally, but in his later years made increasingly limited public appearances as his condition worsened, and he was cared for by his family. Ali died on June 3, 2016.

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