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Happy Birthday to the Champ: Muhammad Ali

(Photo by George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

(Photo by George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

The Greatest. The Champ. The Louisville Lip. Whatever you want to call him, Muhammad Ali was special – and he always will be.

Ali was born in the west end of Louisville on January 17, 1942, as Cassius Clay. He began boxing at the age of 12 after his bike was stolen and he told Louisville police officer Joe Martin that he wanted to “beat up” the thief. Martin invited Clay to come participate at a local gym where he trained young boxers, sparking the beginning of an incredible career by an even more incredible man.

We know Ali best for his accomplishments in the ring and his charisma outside of it. As an underdog, he stared Sonny Liston in the face and called him a “big ugly bear” before their 1964 heavyweight title clash. And for all the smack he talked, he backed it up too.

He shook up the world when he knocked Liston out in the seventh round.

(Bettmann | Bettmann Archive)

But Muhammad Ali was much more than an athletic young man with a contagious smile and a quick wit. He was one of the first athletes to use his platform for more than the money and fame – and he paid a price. Standing firm in his opposition to the Vietnam War, he was stripped of his heavyweight title, barred from boxing and faced prison time.

We all know nothing can stop a determined Kentuckian, though. Ali appealed his case and won 8-0 at the Supreme Court, signaling a huge decision for religious freedom. He would then resume his boxing career where he would go on to beat Leon Spinks in 1978 to win his third heavyweight boxing title, making him the first boxer to ever do so.

Ali died on June 2, 2016. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and could barely speak in his final years, but he remained a giant in the Louisville community. His memorial was held in his hometown and attracted around 100,000 mourners.

So whether you loved him for his skill or charisma or devotion to his beliefs – or even if you disliked him for any of those things – I think we can all agree on one thing: there will never be another Ali.

Happy birthday, Champ.

Article written by Kassidy Stumbo

Follow me on Twitter @kass_stumbo