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- Me, Myself, and I
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Who would’ve thought that a stolen bike was the key to the beginning of the Muhammad Ali story? But it was. In 1954 in Louisville, Kentucky, 12-year-old Cassius Marcellus Clay’s bike was stolen while he and a friend were at the Columbia Auditorium.
Young Cassius found a cop in a gym, Joe Martin, and boiling with youthful rage, told Martin he was going to "whup" whoever stole his bike. Martin admonished, "You better learn to box first." Within weeks, 89-pound Cassius had his first bout---his first win.
Young Cassius Clay showed the first signs of his talent at the 1960 Olympics
Head and shoulders above: Cassius Clay received the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics
For the next 27 years, Cassius would be in that ring. Even in his youth, he had dreams of being heavyweight champion of the world. But his life would take turns that no seer could’ve predicted.
Young Cassius dedicated himself to boxing with fervor unmatched by other young boxers. Indeed, it was his only activity. As a teenager, he never worked. He boxed and trained. He had 108 amateur bouts. According to Joe Martin, Clay set himself apart from the other boys by two things: He was "sassy," and he outworked all the other boys. The work paid off: 6 Kentucky Golden Gloves championships; two National Golden Gloves championships; two National AAU titles before he was 18 years old. And the son of Odessa, whom he lovingly referred to as "Bird," and Cassius senior, "Cash," to everyone, won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1960 in Rome months after his 18th birthday.
Although Cassius returned home to a parade, Louisville was still, in 1960 part of the segregated South. Even with a medal around his neck, Cassius was refused service at a local restaurant.
At the time, Cassius has managed by the Louisville Sponsoring Group, a consortium of wealthy local white businessmen. The LSG, as it became known, put young Cassius with veteran trainer, Angelo Dundee, after failed attempts to with the Mongoose, Archie Moore, and a turn down by Ali’s boxing idol, Sugar Ray Robinson.
With Dundee in his corner, from his Miami base, Cassius blazed a trail through the heavyweight division with his unorthodox style that defied boxing logic. He was a "headhunter." He never threw body shots (he adopted this style in his youth because he had reach and because he didn’t want to get close enough to get hit). And he "danced." Because of Clay’s powerful legs—maybe the strongest in the history of boxing—he literally floated in the ring. He invented the "Ali Shuffle;" a foot maneuver where he would elevate himself, shuffle his feet in a dazzling blur, and sometimes deliver a blow while dancing.
The third element that Clay brought to boxing was his mouth. He never shut up. He became known as, "The Louisville Lip." It was more than banter; it was a constant harangue. In a time when boxers never talked to the media---their managers always spoke for them---Clay did all his own talking. He even went so far as to predict the round. "To prove I’m great he will fall in eight!"
While training for his title bout against the fearsome heavyweight champion, Sonny Liston, Clay met Cap’n Sam, a Nation of Islam minister of the local Miami mosque. Cap’n Sam introduced Cassius to NOI spokesman, Malcolm X. Malcolm and young Cassius bonded on a deep level. Malcolm brought Cassius into the Nation of Islam.
Despite the 7-1 odds, Clay upset Sonny Liston in Miami and became heavyweight champion of the world in 1964. The next day, Clay announced to the world that he was a member of the Nation of Islam and that his name was Cassius X. The X reflecting the unknown name that was taken from him by the slave owners centuries before.
The national response was immediate, negative and intense. Cassius X, soon to be given the name Muhammad Ali, by NOI founder, "The Messenger," the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, chose to disassociate himself from h
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