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Ten Things You Probably Didn't Know About Muhammad Ali

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.

 Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) was the greatest boxer ever to lift a glove. Heavyweight boxing, without his amazing presence, is nowadays dull and almost completely uninteresting. Can anyone name the current heavyweight champion of the world? Ali turns 71 today, and in his honor, here are ten facts about "The Greatest."

1. He never turns down an autograph request.

As a young boy, Cassius Clay asked his idol, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson for an autograph. Robinson rudely told the boy "I don't got time." Young Cassius never forgot how hurt he was by Robinson's rejection. To this day, he has never once turned down a request for an autograph. He even has a special P.O. box for anyone who wants his autograph.

2. He used to race the school bus.

As a kid growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius didn't ride the bus to school like other kids. Instead of riding, Cassius would literally race the bus to school every morning.

3. A stolen bicycle started his boxing career.

Why did Cassius Clay become a boxer? As a 12-year-old boy, he was given a beautiful new bicycle as a gift. The bicycle was stolen, and when Cassius went to the local police department to report the theft, he met officer Joe Martin. Martin introduced Cassius to the world of boxing, and this was the beginning of his boxing career. Also Cassius vowed that he was "going to whip whoever stole his bike," but the stolen bicycle never turned up.

4. He only wore Elvis' robe once.

Elvis Presley gave Ali a boxing robe as a gift, with the words "The People's Champion" inscribed on the back. Ali wore it to his next fight, but he lost. He never wore the robe to fight again, thinking it was bad luck.

5. He threw away his gold medal.

Young Cassius Clay won a gold medal as a light heavyweight at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Later, upon returning to the United States, Clay was refused service at a small diner because of his race. Clay walked out of the diner and threw his gold medal (which he wore all the time) off a bridge and into the Ohio River. He claimed he didn't want to wear a medal in a country where he couldn't be served.

6. He rode in the Tournament of Roses Parade.

In 1988, Ali rode on a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade. The float commemorated the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.

7. He record a record album and a single.

In 1963, the 21-year-old Clay recorded a record of Ben E. King's song "Stand By Me." The record was released in early 1964 and hit #102 on the charts. The single was from the Columbia album he recorded that year called I Am The Greatest. I Am The Greatest was mostly a spoken-word album, with the sound of a bell separating each individual sequence.

8. He was KOed by Kent Green.

Want a good bar bet? In over 110 amateur fights, Cassius Clay was only knocked out once. Who KOed Clay? Kent Green is the only boxer to knock out Cassius Clay, defeating him in the third round on a technical knockout. Green's record as a pro boxer was 14 and 2.

9. Ali helped give us Rocky.

In 1975, Ali fought a little-known boxer named Chuck Wepner ("The Bayonne Bleeder"). Ali was a heavy favorite, and he did win, but it took him the full 15 rounds to get the decision. Wepner's courage in going the full distance with the famous world champion inspired a young, unknown writer/actor named Sylvester Stallone to write the screenplay for his classic film Rocky. Rocky's opponent in the film, Apollo Creed, was based on Ali.  

10. Ali has quite a show business resume.

Ali has starred as himself in four motion pictures. In December of 1969, he had the lead in a Broadway show called Buck White. A 21-year-old Cassius Clay was actually interviewed by Jerry Lewis on the biggest flop of Lewis' career, the ill-fated talk show The Jerry Lewis Show in 1963. The Lewis-Clay interview is a fairly solemn, unfunny affair, especially considering the two such colorful personalities. The Jerry Lewis Show was cancelled after a handful of episodes shortly after Clay's appearance.

"The Story Of Muhammad Ali" by Udi Verma & Paul Lane
(YouTube link)

I saw him in person in the early 80's. It was late at night, my stepfather and I were at the McDonald's on Santa Monica Blvd near Century City. A big limo pulls up, and he was in the back with the window down. We didn't want to bother him, so we stayed in our car, eating our Big Macs (maybe 15 feet away), but several fans approached his car, and he was very gracious.
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YenLee, that FAQ is just referring to objects mailed to that company... saying "I won't sign everything people send in the mail" is quite different from refusing autographs requested in person... Especially in an age where most people are asking for autographs to create something to sell on eBay, rather than for personal reasons...
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Eddie, you captured so many interesting facets of Clay/Ali's life. He was such a great champion. Indeed, "the Greatest.". How sad that such a strong and vital man should be strickened by Parkinson's disease.
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I saw Ali in person 3 times myself. His presence was electrifying, great charisma. He also had the biggest feet I ever saw. Like a true idiot (I was so overwhelmed to see him!!) I said "You're still the champ!" He was just bigger than life. Incredible presence.
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Eddie, I have a story for you...

I was sitting in a restaurant, waiting for a table when I looked over and there were all these "boxers" eating dinner. The press was there interviewing them - when all of a sudden, the front door opened and Dean Martin walked in. Dean walked up to the desk, and the hostess quickly escorted Dean into a private banquet room across from me.

As I sat there, I heard Ali say that the was going to say "hi" to Dean, so he got up from his table, crossed in front of me and went into the banquet room and closed the sliding door. A moment later, a loud crashing noise came from behind the door. A second later, the door slid open and Dean had stuck his head out and said, "That's alright... Ali started some trouble, but I took care of him!".

You could have heard a pin drop. The reporters in the main room all started writing down notes in their notebooks when a couple minutes later, the Burbank Fire Department and Rescue Squad came though the front door and went immediately into the banquet room, sliding the door behind them.
Another couple minutes later, Dean slid the door back open, came out, looked at me and said, "That will teach him to mess with me!", winked, and walked into the bar area - a room away from the reporters.

I could only imagine what the papers had said the following morning. What really happened was that someone in the banquet room had fainted and the paramedics were called, but Dean really played it up like he had knocked Ali out!
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Ali is the only true Champion in my generation. He is still referred to as "Champ" when people address him and it's well deserved and he's earned it. My favorite Ali story is the Ernie Terrell one where Terrell refused to acknowledge Ali by his Muslim name and kept calling him Cassius Clay. When the two finally met in the ring, Ali came out and started landing punch after punch and yelling to him "What's my name? Say it. Ali. What's my name?" Terrell refused and took the punishment. At one point, Terrell appeared to be going down but Ali went over and lifted him up by the underarms and told him "You're not going down till you say my name. What's my name?" Finally in round 12, Terrell had enough and said the word "Ali. Your name is Ali". The referee immediately stopped the fight. True story. Great post Eddie. Great topic!! Ali is definitely one man I would like to meet.
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