The Story of Muhammad Ali

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The Story of Muhammad Ali”

The man who was to become one of the greatest boxers of all time was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1942. His name was Cassius Clay, Jr. Even when he was young, he was a fast and funny talker. That’s why he was later called the Louisville Lip.

Cassius was the first child of the family, and his parents treated him very well. His mother still calls him Gee-gee, the first sounds he made when he was a baby. The Clay family was middle class (neither rich nor poor) and claimed to be descended from Henry Clay, a famous white United States senator in the nineteenth century.

When Cassius Clay was twelve, a boy in the neighborhood stole his bicycle. Cassius was angry and went to a policeman to get the boy arrested. The policeman had no proof that the boy had taken it. Instead of arresting the boy, the policeman taught Cassius how to box, so he could fight for himself. That’s how Cassius got started as a boxer.

From the beginning he was a very good boxer, fast and strong and tough. Cassius had lots of energy and was very self-confident. He liked boxing because it gave him a chance to show off and be a big shot around school.

Cassius Clay got advice on boxing from everyone in Louisville, but took only the advice he liked. He always did things his own way. He started boxing in amateur fights and won every fight, all one hundred of them. He went to the Olympics in 1960 as a member of the American team and won the light-heavyweight gold medal.

After the Olympics Cassius became a professional boxer. That means he boxed as a full-time job for money. In his first few years, he had nineteen fights and won all of them. Then he signed up to fight Sonny Liston, the world champion. Everyone thought that Cassius would lose the fight because Liston was so much bigger and stronger. Cassius was so fast and such a good boxer that he won and became world champion.

People all over the world loved Cassius Clay because he was a fast boxer and a fast talker and because he was more interesting than some of the other boxers. It was fun to watch Cassius and fun to listen to him brag before and after fights. He made boxing a more popular sport than it had ever been before.

Cassius was also notable because he was a black man who was outspokenly proud of being black. He became a Black Muslim and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He did it because he wanted a real African name instead of the name that a white slave owner had given his ancestors when they came to America as slaves.

Muhammad Ali also made many people angry. He said that he would not marry a white woman or even live with white people. He made fun of black people who tried to look like whites. When the Army tried to draft Muhammad Ali as a soldier, he refused to join. He said it was against his religion. People called him a phony and a coward. He went to court to defend his right to refuse the draft. Meanwhile his world championship was taken away from him.

During these years in court, Muhammad Ali couldn’t box, and he lost some of the best years of his career. Finally the Supreme Court in Washington decided that he did have the right to refuse to join the Army on religious grounds. Ali had risked going to jail, but now he was vindicated. He went back into the ring and won back his world championship. Several years later he was defeated. Then he became champion a third time. It is the first time in history that a world boxing championship has been won three times by the same person.

Kim Marshall Series, Reading-Book 1 Educators Publishing Service, Inc.

The Story of Muhammad Ali”


1. Who taught Cassius how to box? _____

A. a teacher B. a policeman C. a businessman D. a minister
2. People thought Clay couldn’t beat Liston because Liston was so much _______.

A. smarter B. bigger C. faster D. weaker

3. Why did he refuse to join the army?

A, he was afraid B. he wanted to keep fighting

C. his religion D. he was married
4. In the following sentence what does vindicated mean? _______

“Ali had risked going to jail, but now he was vindicated.”

A. free B. sympathetic C. brave D. justified
5. How many times was Ali world champion? ______

A. one B. two C. three D. four

6. According to the article what made Ali a good fighter and champion? ______

A. He was fast B. He was brave

C. He was courageous D. He was smart
7. What is the author’s tone toward Ali? ______

A. disturbed B. respectful

C. bitter D. concerned

Boxing was an important part of Ali’s life. Yet, he was willing to give it up because of a belief he had. Based on the article write and essay discussing the importance of boxing to Ali and why he had to give it up for awhile. What affect did it seem to have on Ali. What belief do you have that would make you willing to give up something important in your life? Why?

created by Bob Leadbetter

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