Today, the world mourns the death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who was an inspiration both as a boxer and as a man. By the time of his death, he was an icon, recognized as one of the greatest ever athletes in his sport, and as someone who stood up for his convictions outside the ring as well. However, as we look back on his life, it's also worth remembering his early days, back when he was still an up-and-coming fighter, breaking into the boxing scene and shaking things up.
Muhammad Ali was born as Cassius Clay, Jr. in Kentucky in 1942, and he began boxing at the age of 12. He started his career as an amateur in 1954 and became a professional in 1960. His talent was recognizable from the beginning, and from very early on in his career, Ali insisted on being taken on his own terms in the press, and he showed a remarkable ability to dictate his own image.
Today, Muhammad Ali's place in history — both as a boxer and as a citizen — are well assured. He's remembered not only for his victories in the ring but for his legal battle to be respected as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, for his membership in the Nation of Islam (and his later conversion to Sunni Islam), for his decades-long battle with Parkinson's, and for efforts to raise money for research into the disease.
As we look back on his life, it's also fascinating to look back at the early days of his career. To that effect, here are eight clips from early in Muhammad Ali's career:
First Professional Match
Muhammad Ali, who was then still known by his birth name of Cassius Clay, fought his first match as a professional in 1960 against Tunney Hunsaker, which he won by knockout. You can see clips from the fight in this video. It's truly the beginning of an era.
Even before his professional debut, Muhamad Ali made an impact at the 1960 Olympics. Here's a video of his qualifying match against Alan Hudson.
Olympic Gold Medal
Ali, who was still known as Cassius Clay at the time, not only took his first Olympics by storm, he walked away with a gold medal.
If you want to see a full fight from Ali's early days, there is perhaps no better match to watch than the one against Doug Jones in 1963. Muhammad Ali, then still called Cassius Clay, fought 19 professional matches between his debut in 1960 and the end of 1963, and he won every single one of them. His fight against the also-undefeated Doug Jones, though, might have been his most difficult. You can see the whole thing above.
Insisting On His Chosen Name
Even in the early days, Ali didn't only catch people's attention for his boxing. In 1964, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali to better reflect his Muslim faith and identity. Reporters, however, were not always quick to respect this decision, often using his former name. Even when it was just an honest mistake, however, Ali was always quick to correct them, as seen above, insisting to be taken on his own terms.
Becoming Heavyweight Champion
Muhammad Ali became heavyweight champion for the first time in 1964 when he defeated the current title holder, Sonny Liston. You can see the weigh-in for the fight above. And you can see the famous knockout punch in slow motion below.
Views On Islam
Even early in his career, Muhammad Ali was outspoken about his religious beliefs. You can see an interview discussing his beliefs and the Nation of Islam above.
Watching him fight and listening to him speak, it's easy to see why the man went on to become a legend.