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Muhammad Ali dies at 74

Published: Jun. 4, 2016 at 4:23 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 4, 2016 at 3:10 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - "The Greatest" is gone. Three-time heavyweight champion of the world Muhammad Ali has died after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

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Born Cassius Clay in west Louisville, where he was raised in a tiny house on Grand Avenue, Ali became arguably the most recognized sports figure in the world, and it all started at the age of 12 inside a Louisville gym.

Ali told a police officer he would "whup" the boy who stole his bicycle. The officer told him he needed to learn to box first.

Retired LMPD officer Joe Martin started working with Ali, who won his first fight on the WAVE 3 program Tomorrow's Champions.

How prophetic that title was for the boy who turned into the man with the fast feet and quick wit.

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Ali told his classmates at Central High School that he'd win the Olympic gold medal in Rome in 1960, which he did. It was one of many predictions Ali made that came true.

In 1964 at the age of 22, Ali was a 7-1 underdog against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Ali's nickname began there.

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. I am the greatest, and I'm knocking out all bums, and if you get too smart, I'll knock you out," Ali told a reporter before the battle with Liston. "I don't care how small the ring is, I'll fight that chump in a telephone booth."

It was another prediction from the "Louisville Lip" that was spot on.

Special Muhammad Ali Section

Ali stunned the world with his footwork and lightning-speed punches, stopping the champ, who didn't answer the bell for round seven. That match won Ali his first heavyweight title. He won another 55 fights before he left the ring for good.

Shortly after defeating Liston, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, converted to Islam and refused to be conscripted into the Vietnam War.

The U.S. government refused to declare Ali a conscientious objector because he said he would go to war if directed to do so by Allah or his messenger Elijah Muhammad. Ali was convicted of draft evasion, fined $10,000 and stripped of his World Boxing Association title and his license to fight. He didn't box for four years until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971.

Ali came back to win the heavyweight again in 1974 and 1978. He had three epic wars in the ring with Joe Frazier, and stopped the giant George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle," in Zaire. But after beating Frazier in a technical knockout that third time, Ali was not the same.

He called that fight, "the closest thing to dying I know." And his health was declining. He had trouble jumping on one foot but got cleared by doctors to fight Larry Holmes in 1980. His speech somewhat slurred and weakened by thyroid medication, the fight was a disaster.

Actor Sylvester Stallone said it was like watching an autopsy on a man who was still alive. Ali would be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease four years later.

Ali was always a knockout outside the ring. No matter the topic, Ali could tackle it with wit and intellect. He was never afraid to stand strong for his race.

After his fighting days, Ali continued to command a crowd everywhere he went around the globe. He flew to Iraq to talk with Saddam Hussein, trying to convince him to release American prisoners.

In 1996, Ali lit the Olympic flame at the Summer Games in Atlanta.

Three years later, he was named Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated.

He inspired Martin Luther King Jr. to speak against the Vietnam War. Ali said at the time, "Why would they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"

While many despised him for not serving in the military, Ali won the admiration of many around the world because of his physical accomplishment, convictions and comedic talents.

Former heavyweight champion George Foreman may have said it best: "He's the brother I always wanted. Probably the most fun guy I've ever met, Muhammad Ali."

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