As Cassius Clay, Ali travelled to the 1960 Rome Games to compete in the light heavyweight division. Despite being only 18, he won all four of his fights easily. In the final he defeated three-time European champion Zbigniew Pietrzykowski to win the gold medal.
Clay turned professional and won the heavyweight World Championship for the first time in 1964, beating Sonny Liston in a legendary fight. Over the next four years he defended his title nine times, converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. However, he was stripped of his title in 1967, when he refused to be drafted into the US army, citing religious and personal beliefs. He did not fight again for three and a half years.
Ali regained his title in 1974 by knocking out George Foreman in a fight staged in the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo, (formerly Zaire) known as “the Rumble in the Jungle”. In 1975 he beat Joe Frazier in “the Thriller in Manila”. He eventually retired from boxing in 1981 with a professional record of 56 wins and 5 losses.
In 1996, Ali was chosen to light the flame during the Opening Ceremony of the Atlanta Olympic Games. He has devoted much of his life to humanitarian affairs. In 1998 Ali was honoured with the United Nations Messenger of Peace award.