Muhammad Ali Dead at 74

"The Greatest" is gone, but will never be forgotten.

"The Greatest" can finally stop fighting.

Muhammad Ali, arguably the world's most popular and influential athlete of all time, died on Friday, June 3. He was 74 years old.

The revered three-time world heavyweight boxing champion was admitted into a Phoenix hospital Thursday due to respiratory issues. Overnight those issues grew more serious and were complicated by his Parkinson's disease. Things then took a turn for the worse Friday afternoon, when reports surfaced that Ali was on life support and in grave condition.

"After a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening," Bob Gunnell, Ali's family spokesman, told NBC News. 

What a indelible legacy "The Greatest" leaves behind.

After retiring from boxing in 1981, Ali began what turned out to being an arduous 32-year, post-retirement bout with Parkinson's disease, which he was first diagnosed with in 1984 at the age of 42. Now, that Ali's fight is over, he can finally rest in peace.

As much as he was known for delivering tongue lashings to his opponents outside of the ring before defeating boxing greats such as Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman in the ring, Ali transcended the sport he dominated for over two decades by making significant socially-conscious moves that were ahead of his time.

He refused to be drafted into the U.S. military to battle in the Vietnam War in 1967, citing his Islamic religious beliefs and notoriously exclaiming, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong."

Standing his ground cost Ali, as he was arrested, had his boxing license suspended and was stripped of his heavyweight title, banned from boxing for three years during his prime years (25 to 28-years-old). Even in recent months, Ali used his fame to make bigger impact, jabbing Donald Trump's stance on Muslims in the United States, while imploring politicians for a greater understanding of lslam.

"We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam," Ali said in a statement last December, as reported by NBC News. "True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody."

He added: "Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people's views on what Islam really is."

Ali will be remembered as much for taking such brave stances as he will for the "Fight of The Century," "Rumble in The Jungle," "Thrilla in Manila" or any of his other notable clashes in the ring.

Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17th, 1942, he turned to boxing when he was only 12-years-old, progressing enough through the years to win the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Clay would turn pro the same year and rapidly rise through the ranks.

By 1964, Clay had earned a shot against feared champion Sonny Liston, shocking him with a seventh-round technical knockout, to become the then-youngest heavyweight champion of all time at 22-years-old in February 1964. Shortly after the bout, Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. More than a year later in May 1965, after a huge buildup to their rematch, Ali left no doubt that he was the superior boxer, knocking Liston out in the first round and standing over the fallen boxer in what became an iconic sports image, hanging on the walls of many homes, offices and gyms to this day.

Ali went on to win his next eight fights, before he was suspended from boxing for refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military. Ali missed more than three years of action, but when he returned to the ring in October 1970, he looked every bit like himself, scoring a convincing third-round TKO over Jerry Quarry.

Two fight later, though, Ali tasted defeat for the first time in his pro career, via a unanimous decision loss to Joe Frazier in what became known as the "The Fight of the Century" at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 8th, 1971. It'd take nearly three years and 13 more fights, including grueling back-to-back wars with Ken Norton in 1973, for Ali to extract revenge, defeating Frazier on January 28th, 1974.

Ali's very next fight — against George Foreman — was billed as "The Rumble in the Jungle," in which "The Greatest" infamously used his rope-a-dope strategy to tire out the bigger Foreman before knocking him out in the eighth round in thunderous fashion in Zaire.

A year later, Ali would also defeat Frazier in their third and final fight. Having retired in 1981 after back-to-back losses to Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick, the abuse Ali endured in the ring paved the way for his Parkinson's disease diagnosis in 1984 — a diasnosis that seemed to reverberate around the world.

Undeterred, Ali became that much more of a beloved global sports icon, memorably lighting the cauldron at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, before a worldwide audience. Touching, unforgettable moment.

Whether it was Michael Jordan, Jim Brown or a long list of presidents, they all had to bow down to "The Greatest."

We'll never have another like Muhammad Ali.

Rest in peace, legend. You can finally stop fighting now.

BET Sports News — Get the latest news and information about African-Americans in sports, including weekly recaps, celebrity news and photos of your favorite Black athletes.

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