The extraordinary life and career of Muhammad Ali - from his days as a champion boxer to his legacy as a social activist and cultural icon was full of inspiration, controversy, sadness, and fun. Ali challenged the status quo with confrontation and triumph. All with a voice and charm that was unrivaled. With his rhymes he would mock his upcoming opponents branding them with his quick wit and sharp tongue. It's no wonder he inspired generations of hip hop artists with his champion spirit and bravado. 


Probably the most impactful athlete of the 20th century, from his incredible achievement as a boxer,  three time heavy weight champion of the world and the only boxer to be named Fighter of the year six times by The Ring magazine, named greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, and Sports Personality of the Century by BBC; to his impact in the social landscape of America, all you have to say is Ali and we hail to the King. 

Check out some of the legends of Hip Hop and more playing tribute to Ali by reciting his words in the 2006 ESPN documentary Ali Rap.

Born in Louisville, Kentuky on January 17, 1942, Casius Marcellus Clay Jr. grew up in a segregated south. He remembered at a young age being denied a drink of water at a store, only because of the color of his skin. He started boxing after having his bike stolen and in frustration telling a police officer he was going to "whup the thief" that stole his bike. The office told Clay he better learn how to box.



Clay made his professional debut on October 29, 1960, winning via decision. He went on to a winning record of 19-0 with 15 knockouts. By 1963, he became a contender to Sonny Liston's title. Clay taunted Liston, "you big ugly bear." The outcome of the fight was a major upset and Clay claimed, "I shook up the world!" He became the youngest heavy to take the title from the reigning champion. Soon after the Liston fight, after converting to Islam, Clay changed his name to Cassius X, later to be known as Muhammad Ali.



Not afraid to take on a fight, in March 1966, Ali refused induction into the armed forces. At the time a controversial figure, he fought against the Vietnam War and racial equality. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court where the ruling was in Ali's favor 5-4. He continued to be outspoken against war, religious freedoms, and racial equality. William Rhoden, columnist of The New York Times said, "Ali's actions changed my standard of what constituted an athlete's greatness. Possessing a killer jump shot or the ability to stop on a dime was no longer enough. What were you doing for the liberation of your people? What were you doing to help your country live up to the covenant of its founding principles?" This is why Ali is "The Greatest."