He’s wrestled with alligators and tussled with a whale. He’s handcuffed lightning and thrown thunder in jail. He’s Muhammad Ali, one of the most famous figures of the 20th century. A three-time heavyweight champion, Ali has taken on boxers, bigots, governments, and Parkinson’s, all the while mocking his foes with freestyle poetry. There are quite a few crazy facts and strange stories about the self-proclaimed “Greatest,” the man who shook up the world.
Before he could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, Muhammad Ali was a 12-year-old boy looking for revenge.
It was October 1954, and Ali (still known as Cassius Clay) was the proud owner of a red Schwinn bicycle. It was a Christmas gift from his dad, and he planned on riding it to a bazaar in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He and a buddy spent the day checking out the stalls and munching on popcorn, but when Ali was ready to go home, he found someone had stolen his prized bike. Tears streaming down his face, Ali headed to a local gym, looking for Joe Martin, a cop who just so happened to be a boxing coach.
He explained his situation to Martin and threatened to “whup” whoever stole his bike. Looking the skinny kid up and down, Martin advised, “You better learn to fight before you start fighting.” After helping Ali fill out a police report, Martin handed him a gym application.
Six weeks later, Ali won his very first fight on local TV, beating a kid named Ronny O’Keefe by a split decision. Martin would go on to teach Ali the basics of boxing, and together they’d win six Kentucky Golden Glove titles, two national Amateur Athletic Union titles, and eventually a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics. Of course, Ali never got his bike back, but if he ever actually met the thief, he’d probably shake his hand.
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