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On February 18, Muhammad Ali is celebrating his 70th birthday at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The room will be filled with A-list actors, GRAMMY Award-winning musicians, all-star athletes and more. Ali's remarkable career has filled with victories and defeats but he will always be known as one of the greatest boxers of all time.
Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, Jr., was inspired to fight at the age of 12 years old, after his bike was stolen. He told police officer Joe Martin that he wanted to beat up the thief. Martin, who also trained young boxers at a local gym, encouraged him to learn how to fight and started working with Clay. At the age of 14, Clay won the Golden Gloves Championship for light heavyweight novices and three years later won the Golden Gloves Tournament and the Amateur Athletic Union's light heavyweight national title. In 1960, the 18-year-old earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team and returned home with the gold medal. This was just the beginning of Clay's historic career. "The Champ" went on to win his first 19 bouts and knocked out Sonny Liston in 1964 to become the heavyweight champion of the world at age 22.
In 1964, Clay decided to change his name to Muhammad Ali as part of a spiritual search. That same year, Ali refused to acknowledge his military service after being drafted, so the boxing association took away his title and suspended him from the sport for three and a half years.
Ali returned to the ring in 1970, winning his first bout against Jerry Quarry. The following year, Ali fought Joe Frazier in what was called the "Fight of the Century." The fight went all 15 rounds and by unanimous decision Frazier retained the title. After a 1973 loss to Ken Norton, Ali claimed victory in a high profile rematch by split decision, which set the stage for Ali-Frazier II, in which Ali won a unanimous 12-round decision.
The historic "Rumble in the Jungle" bout of 1974 put World Heavyweight Champion George Foreman and former world champion and challenger Ali face-to-face. Ali won by knocking out Foreman in the eighth round, regaining his title.
In the early part of 1975, Ali faced boxer Chuck Wepner in a bout that inspired the original motion picture Rocky. Over the next couple of months, Ali fought formidable opponents, but none as exciting and electrifying as Joe Frazier. On October 1, 1975, Ali fought Joe Frazier for the third time in the historic fight known as "The Thrilla in Manila" in the Philippines. The highly anticipated fight lasted 14 grueling rounds. At the start of the 15th round, Frazier's trainer threw in the towel and refused to allow him to continue due to his unstable condition.
Regarded as the greatest upset of all time, boxer Leon Spinks defeated Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas in 1978 for the heavyweight championship - becoming the only person to take the belt from Ali in the ring. Ali's other losses were non-title contests. In a rematch with Spinks just 7 months later, Ali won a unanimous decision becoming the first ever three-time heavyweight champion. Ali fought eight more times before his final defeat against Trevor Berbick in 1981.
Ali's power, speed and grace led him to achieve great success in all facets of his life. In 1984, he announced that he had Parkinson's disease. Despite the disability, Ali devoted much of his time to world travel and humanitarian work. In 2005, the Muhammad Ali Center opened in downtown Louisville. The center focuses on core themes of peace, social responsibility, respect and personal growth. This is just one of his many charitable initiatives.
The "Only Vegas" event on February 18 celebrating Ali's 70th birthday will benefit the Muhammad Ali Center as well as the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which is close to Ali's heart. Tune in to ABC at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST on February 25 to catch all the action inside the celebrity filled event. In the meantime, send Muhammad Ali a personal birthday message by using #Ali70 @Vegas. All wishes are streaming on LasVegas.com.