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Boxing Great Muhammad Ali Cheered at 70th Birthday Bash

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This is the second of several covers Esquire did to protest the stripping of Ali's title. It's modeled on the patron saint of athletes, St. Sebastian, who was shot with arrows for his religious beliefs.

“We’re like family,” Dundee told The Courier-Journal of Louisville. “We’ve always been family and we’re always going to be family. He’ll say, ‘Angie, I want to come and train. That’s what I miss the most. Being in the gym. Working up a sweat.’”

“I’ll say, ‘Me, too, kid. Me, too. We can’t do that. But what I can do is make sure you know that I love you.’ “

Ali turns 70 on Tuesday, and the party in his hometown is the first of five planned in the next few months. Not long after Ali’s dramatic appearance on the balcony, the crowd began filing into a banquet hall for the party, which was closed to the public and reporters.

The self-proclaimed “Greatest of All Time” remains one of the world’s most recognizable figures, even though he’s been largely absent from the public eye recently as he fights Parkinson’s disease.

Lonnie Ali said Friday that her husband has mixed feelings about the landmark birthday.

“He’s glad he’s here to turn 70, but he wants to be reassured he doesn’t look 70,” she said.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942, Ali took up boxing at age 12, when his bike was stolen and he wanted to find and whip the culprit. The boy was introduced to Joe Martin, a police officer who coached boxing at a local gym.

Ali’s brother, 68-year-old Rahaman Ali, recalled on Saturday night that the champ was cheerful and happy as a youngster.

“As a little boy he (said) he would be the world’s greatest fighter and be a great man,” he said.

Ali flourished in the ring, becoming a top amateur and Olympic gold medalist. He made his professional debut in Louisville and arranged for a local children’s hospital to receive proceeds from the fight.

Lewis said Ali ranks as the greatest of heavyweights, and he said he was inspired by Ali’s fights.

“I used to get mad if I didn’t see the Ali shuffle,” Lewis said. “So I was always watching him, expecting some type of antic.”

Ali won the heavyweight title in 1964, defeating the heavily favored Sonny Liston. Soon after, Ali who was raised in a Baptist family announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name.

While in his prime, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight crown in 1967 for refusing to be drafted for military service during the Vietnam War. He cited his religious beliefs as the reason for his refusal.

His decision alienated Ali from many across the U.S. and resulted in a draft-evasion conviction. Ali found himself embroiled in a long legal fight that ended in 1971, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

Ali lost his first bid to regain the heavyweight crown when Frazier knocked him down and took a decision in the “Fight of the Century” at Madison Square Garden in 1971.

Ali regained the heavyweight title in 1974, defeating Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle.” A year later, he outlasted Frazier in the epic “Thrilla in Manila” bout.

Last year, a frail Ali rose from his seat and clapped for his deceased rival at Frazier’s funeral.

Ali’s last title came in 1978 when he defeated Leon Spinks.

Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and devoted himself to social causes. He traveled the world on humanitarian missions, mingling with the masses and rubbing elbows with world leaders. Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.

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First two photos, AP/Mark Humphrey, Third photo ESQUIRE April 1968 COVER

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42 comments

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3:58PM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Happy bday Ali!

12:47PM PST on Jan 17, 2012

Happy Birthday Ali, and many more. Thank you for showing your contined courage!

11:27AM PST on Jan 16, 2012

hAPPY BIRTHDAY ALI!

6:10AM PST on Jan 16, 2012

He's still my favorite boxer and one of my favorite humanitarians.

I don't think anyone has ever fought in the ring with the same passion since.

3:17AM PST on Jan 16, 2012

Happy belated birthday Ali.

2:35AM PST on Jan 16, 2012

Happy Birthday To An American Hero!

8:52PM PST on Jan 15, 2012

Thanks for the article.

8:48PM PST on Jan 15, 2012

Certainly Ali should be honored as the great athlete he was. However I could never respect anyone as a person who was a member of the Nation of Islam - especially someone like Ali who joined in the 1960's, when its racist agenda (and sometimes truly lunatic beliefs) were so much more openly displayed.

8:10PM PST on Jan 15, 2012

Thanks for this - my invitation to the party must have gotten lost in the mail.

6:47PM PST on Jan 15, 2012

A national hero. I had the pleasure of waiting on him many times at a health food deli ,many years ago. He was always very sweet. A really nice man. And corageous in so many ways!

Happy Birthday! Many more! Your excellence at boxing is the least of what you have accomplished.

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