Happy Birthday to "The Greatest"

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January 17, 2007

WWE.com wishes a happy 65th birthday to a man who is truly "The Greatest" — boxing's living legend, Muhammad Ali. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942, the three-time World Heavyweight Boxing Champion and Olympic gold medalist was regarded by both opponents and the media as a brash, self-promoting pugilist who could "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee." WWE fans, however, remember Ali on this day for his other contributions within the squared circle — specifically, those of the sports-entertainment variety — as well as outside accomplishments that made him an inspiration to millions of people around the world.

Ali's first WWE foray occurred in the spring of 1976, weeks before his upcoming Boxer vs. Wrestler exhibition in Japan against Antonio Inoki. He had interrupted a contest between WWE Hall of Famers Baron Mikel Scicluna and the late Gorilla Monsoon, who responded to "The Greatest's" taunts by hoisting him into an Airplane Spin, then slamming him to the mat. Weeks later, Ali's match with Inoki would result in a 15-round draw that disappointed spectators attending the Budokan in Tokyo, as well as the 32,000 watching the contest on closed-circuit television in Queens, N.Y.'s Shea Stadium. Nevertheless, both sides gained worldwide attention from the event, which welcomed new fans everywhere to each profession.

By 1985, despite being four years retired from the sport of boxing (he hung up his gloves with a career 56-5 record, with 37 knockouts), Ali was still making sports-entertainment history — this time in the very arena where he suffered his first professional loss to Joe Frazier (March 1971's "Fight of the Century"). He returned to New York City's Madison Square Garden as the guest official for the inaugural WrestleMania's main event between Hulk Hogan & Mr. T and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper & "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. The sold-out venue treated Ali as he so richly deserved, with standing ovations and cheers that forever acknowledged him in their hearts as "The Greatest."

Books and film have already documented Ali's legendary boxing career (most notably, October 1974's "Rumble in the Jungle" in Kinshasa, Zaire, with then-champion George Foreman), his personal struggles (his outspoken Muslim beliefs, plus refusing to serve in the United States Army during the Vietnam War), his ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease, and his worldwide humanitarian endeavors ad infinitum. Today WWE.com simply wishes to extend its thanks to a tireless advocate in the ways of peace, education and respect for one's fellow man, and many happy returns.

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