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Muhammad Ali: The Greatest. Aired 7:30-8p ET

Aired June 4, 2016 - 19:30   ET



MARYUM ALI: He made me think I could walk on water.

CARROLL: And a role model.

MUHAMMAD ALI: Under no conditions did we take part in riots that take lives of other humans.

MARYUM ALI: I remember in every conversation which is amazing, he always taught me make sure you exercise your soul and your spirit. That's what my father fought for.

CARROLL: A fighter till the end. Tonight, boxing legend, Muhammad Ali.

The opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look who gets it next.

CARROLL: A surprise guest expected on stage.

MARYUM ALI: Actually they kept that a big secret from everyone. The children didn't even know.

CARROLL: Muhammad ali's daughter, Maryum.

MARYUM ALI: I got a call and I was told your dad's going to light the torch, call all your siblings. I'm like, what?

It was just a beautiful moment.


CARROLL: The crowd roared when they see the champ on stage.


CARROLL: And the world held its breath as Ali, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a decade earlier, struggled to control the torch.

JERRY IZENBERG, SPORTSWRITER: He burned himself trying to keep his hand from shaking. Nobody knew it. That's Ali. I don't want anybody to know I can't light that torch. That was Ali.

CARROLL: When Ali lit the Olympic flame, it was an indelible moment in sports history.

MARYUM ALI: He needed that. He needed to see the people still cared for him, you know, even with Parkinson's disease.

CARROLL (on camera): I've always wondered what it would be like, he's your father, but he's also this world-renowned figure.

MARYUM ALI: Yes. He always fought for freedom and he wanted this country to be accountable for treating all human beings equal. He was, like, really more than just a boxer.

CARROLL (voice-over): He was really just the kid next door, born Cassius Clay Jr. in 1942 in heavily segregated Louisville, Kentucky. The older of two boys to mom, Odessa, a housekeeper and dad, Cassius, a billboard painter. He grew up here.

ROBERT COLEMAN: Cassius going to be the greatest athlete when he was a kid, I don't think he could play softball and baseball with us.

CARROLL: Robert Coleman lived down the street.

COLEMAN: We used to all attend a camp (inaudible) through the YMCA. I remember Ali punched me in the chest one day, said we can't play no more. At 12 years old, Cassius discovered the power of his punch through an odd twist of fate when his bike was stolen. He told a police officer he wanted to beat up the thief. That cop, Joe Martin, was also a trainer and encouraged him to try that aggression out in the ring.

He was a natural. Years later, Martin and Ali were reunited on TV's "This is your Life."

JOE MARTIN: He taught me the jabs and the (inaudible) and both of them together made me what I am today.

CARROLL: Cassius was hooked and dead serious about learning the ropes. He trained at two gyms, hitting the streets before school.

RUDOLPH DAVIDSON, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: You could tell he was going to be different. We ride the bus to Madison Junior High and he would be running behind it, still training. We'd love at him, you're just crazy.

CARROLL: Crazy, fast and driven.

And by the age of 14, he had six Kentucky golden glove titles, and two national titles under his belt. By 18, Cassius Clay was an Olympic champ winning the gold medal in the 1960 summer games in Rome. Ali's longtime business manager, Gene Kilroy.

GENE KILROY, ALI'S BUSINESS MANAGER: I met him in the Olympics. If they could have taken a mirror in the Olympic village in Rome, everybody loved him, he wore his gold medal around.

CARROLL (on camera): Where do you think the confidence comes from?

KILROY: He just believed in himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cassius Clay of Chicago challenges Gary Joyce.

CARROLL (voice-over): That confidence combined powerfully with his size, fast speed and stinging jabs, he was a dancer in the ring. Clay turned pro in the '60s winning most matches by knockouts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While the crowd and the cameramen, why, of course, Cassius has just hit town.

CARROLL: As his star power grew, so did his voice.

ALI: Floyd Patterson's a sissy. He ain't nothing but a chump.

CARROLL: Clay crave the spotlight and became as famous for his rants -

ALI: This will be no contest. This will be a total annihilation.

CARROLL: -- and rhymes.

ALI: He's going around claiming to be the real heavyweight champ but after I'm finished he'll just be a tramp.

CARROLL: As he did for his boxing.

BOB SHERIDAN, BOXING ANNOUNCER: Any fight that involved him was a circus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now that you have your cool about you --

CARROLL: Boxing announcer, Bob Sheridan.


SHERIDAN: Athletes at that time prior to Cassius Clay were not brash and outspoken. They wanted those people in the seats to go and see him. He was a promoter's dream.

ALI: I'm the biggest fighter in the ring today.

IZENBERG: There's a fine line between confidence and regedosio. And I had no idea (inaudible).

CARROLL: Sportswriter Jerry Izenberg covered most of Ali's fights including his first heavyweight bout against the ferocious Sonny Liston.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here they come. Clay and Liston. Liston misses a long left (inaudible) to start it off, lands a left jab one on the nose. Clay is backing away. Clay move to his left as they said he would do.

CARROLl (on camera): Ali was in the ring but with his hands down and was moving around like this.

IZENBERG: He was the only fighter that I ever knew who could punch moving backwards.

He wasn't a big banger no matter what - his knockouts came after he hit you and he hit you and he hit you and finally you fell down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jabbing with the left. Jabbing with the left. Another left by Clay.

CARROLL (voice-over): The big bear, Sonny Liston, couldn't withstand Clay's jabs. He was a beaten man by the sixth round and didn't answer the bell in the seventh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sonny Liston is not coming out. The winner and the new heavyweight champion of the world is Cassius Clay.

CARROLL: It was one of the biggest upsets in boxing history and Cassius Clay at 22 years old became the youngest boxer to beat a heavyweight champ for the title.

ALI: I'm the greatest thing that ever lived.

CARROLL: Ali's biggest fight came outside of the ring.

ALI: Under no conditions do we take part in wars that take lives of other humans.


ALI: I shook up the world. I shook up the world. I just upset Sonny Listen. And I just turned 22 years old. I must be the greatest.

CARROLL: Almost as quickly as Cassius Clay arrived, he vanished.

IZENBERG: His life changed the next morning.


CARROLL: In 1964, after he stunned the nation by winning the heavyweight title, he joined the black separatist nation of Islam and became Muhammad Ali.

CARROLL (on camera): Did you two of you ever talked about why it was important for him to change his name?

IZENBERG: It was important to him because he did believe he had a slave name. He wanted a new identity.


ALI: You know my new name. Why you keep calling me that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will your next fight be billed as Cassius Clay or as Muhammad Ali?

ALI: Muhammad Ali.

DAVID REMNIK, AUTHOR "KING OF THE WORLD": The fact that he made this conversion from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali helped make him a figure in the Arab world, in Africa, that may not have been paying any attention whatsoever to American boxing champions. He basically was the sporting reflection of what would become the black power movement.

ALI: If I'm going to die, I'm going to die now right here fighting you. You my enemy. My enemy is the -

CARROLL: Ali, famous worldwide, was a radical voice at home. He criticized U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war and refused to serve in the army, as a Muslim and a conscientious objector.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me, champ, would you have been prepared to go into the army if it hadn't been for the Vietnam war?

ALI: No. Under no conditions do we take part in wars that take lives of other humans.

CARROLL: In an instant, Ali for many turned from sports hero to villain.

(on camera): When he made that decision, a number of people in this country turned against him.

IZENBERG: Well, first of all, a number of people didn't like him to begin with because he was what they called a bragger. Then when the army came up, it alienated a whole other section of the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heavyweight champion Cassius Clay at a federal court in Houston is found guilty of violating the U.S. selective service laws.

CARROLL (voice-over): Ali faced five years in prison and in 1967 was stripped of his heavyweight title. Banned from the sport at the prime boxing age of 25.

IZENBERG: I loaned him $20 in front of the Americana.

CARROLL (on camera): So he was broke?

IZENBERG: He didn't have any money and didn't have any income.

CARROLL (voice-over): But his gift for gab helped him earn money lecturing at universities. Ali easily held his own.

ALI: You are fools when I want justice. You my fools for equality. You won't stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs, an you want me to go somewhere and fight but you won't even stand up here for me at home.

REMNICK: In a war in which young black men mainly without any money and little education were dying in disproportionate numbers, this young black man, outspoken, stands up and says no.

CARROLL: Exiled from boxing for more than three years, Ali even gave acting a shot taking a part in the Broadway musical, "Buck White."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's the world famous heavyweight champion.

CARROLL: He performed on the "Ed Sullivan Show."

ALI: We came in chains, we came in misery.

CARROLL: His music career, not surprisingly, fizzled.

In 1967, he got hitched to Belinda Boyd. They had four children.

MARYUM ALI: He wanted all his kids to be with him during the summertime. He got himself a pool. It's Laila here, Hana, the twins, Muhammad.

CARROLL: Ali dotted on all his children, seen here from a home video from the film, "I am Ali."

ALI: Daddy's going to fight. You want to go with him? Can you fight?

CARROLL: He called them from road with fatherly advice.

MARYUM ALI: I remember every conversation, which is amazing.

CARROLL: Many of those conversations were recorded.

ALI: If everybody's born for a purpose. What do you think you were born for?

MARYUM ALI: To make people feel better, to fix people up.

ALI: That's good. That's good, Maryum.

MARYUM ALI: I remember when I tell my dad he's too old to fight.

ALI: OK. To go look at another place like Deer Lake.

MARYUM ALI: You are?

ALI: Yes.

It might be possible that if I like it, I might fight again.

MARYUM ALI: No. Don't fight again, please.

But just for a man to ask me, an 11-year-old, to get my take on it, that was pretty amazing.

MAYA ALI: He would ask about boys. He would ask about school.

CARROLL: While married to Boyd, Ali had daughter, Miya, with another woman.

MIYA ALI, DAUGHTER: I remember growing up, used to play box in the street. It would start with one person and then there would be hundreds of people surrounding him. He never lost me, thank god.

He really was the glue that held a lot together with all his nine children.

MARYUM ALI: You know, my dad, if he makes mistakes, nine children, four wives, a couple of mistresses. What I love the most is that he doesn't pretend to be perfect. Never has. That's why he's always taught me, make sure you exercise your soul and your spirit.

CARROLL: Ali's spirit, his convictions about the war, never wavered. He stood his ground and eventually the nation came around.


In 1971, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. He returned to the ring and got a chance to win back his title. Billed as the fight of the century, the match pitted Ali against current champ "Smokin'" Joe Frazier.

JOE FRAZIER: I predict the fight won't go the distance.

ALI: Stop me.

IZENBERG: They were the two best fighters in the world. Bing, pop, bing, pop. And Frazier's plotting, plotting, plotting. He's got that left hook. You could make a comic strip about his left hook. It had a life of its own. When it went, you went down.

CARROLL: The slugfest went the full 15 rounds. Ali was losing but tried hard to psych out Frazier.

IZENBERG: He's screaming, fool, god says I'm the champion. When that happens, he slips a jab, steps inside, throws that left hook right on the ear. Ali goes down.

CARROLL: It was Ali's first ever professional loss. But he and "Smokin'" Joe were far from finished.

ALI: Joe Frazier is in trouble because of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier is going to meet is going to be a better Muhammad Ali he met three years ago.

CARROLL: When we return, the greatest comeback ever.

GEORGE FOREMAN, FMR. HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION: I thought he was just going to fall. This was going to be a long night.


ALI: Too fast.

CARROLL: It was 1974. 32-year-old Muhammad Ali was on a mission.

ALI: I'm going to retire the heavyweight champion of the world. (inaudible) Wait until I kick Foreman's behind.

CARROLL: Big George Foreman was boxing's most revered fighter, destroying Joe Frazier in two rounds. FOREMAN: I was sitting on the throne. I thought I was doing a

charitable contribution to Muhammad Ali by allowing him to fight for my title.


CARROLL: The match was called "Tumble in the Jungle."

FOREMAN: I was being offered 5 million to fight Muhammad Ali. I went to Africa to get my money and beat up someone and go home.

ALI: You want to be like me, I 'm getting ready to go hoop George Foreman.

CARROLL: But the locals fell hard for Ali, and Ali, seen here in "While we were Kings" loved every minute of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He loved people. And I think that's why they loved him so much.

CARROLL: 18-year-old Veronica Pores was hired as a girl to promote the fight.

VERONICA PORES: We were told at the very last moment that we could go.

CARROLL (on camera): When did you start getting the butterflies?

PORES: It was when we use to walk by the Zaire River in the evening, and that was probably during those times.

CARROLL (voice-over): They would marry, eventually. But first the fight that captured the world.

FOREMAN: I hit him with all kinds of punches, and the one thing about a power punch is, every time you throw one big right-hand, left hook, wide and wild, it's about 10 miles of roadwork that's gone away from you, and you'll never get it back.

IZENBERG: Ali has the gloves up here. (inaudible) So he's hitting gloves. Boom, boom.

CARROLL (on camera): He's going to wear him out.

IZENBERG: He's going to make him wear himself out.

FOREMAN: Somewhere about the sixth round, I hit him and he folded, and I thought, I got him now. He just fell over and whispered, is that all you got, George? That's when I realized this was going to be a long night.

CARROLL: Round 8, Ali leaned back on the ropes, purposely absorbing punch after punch until he was ready to attack.

IZENBERG: I never saw a fighter fall so quick. It was like his ankles hit the ground, his knees hit the ground, his chest hit the ground and then he hit the ground.

CARROLL: Against all odds, Ali made one of the greatest comebacks in history.

ALI: I told ya! All of my critics! I told you all that I was the greatest of all time!

KILROY: Ali lost a title and then came back 10 years later and won the title. Won the title, won the title. That's unheard of.

FOREMAN: I was a good fighter, very good fighter. Muhammad Ali was better than me.

CARROLL: A year later Ali got his revenge against Smoking Joe Frazier in their final brutal fight called "Thrilla in Manila."

IZENBERG: Frazier is standing there with his legs the consistency of wet spaghetti. All Ali has to do is walk three feet and push him.

Ali couldn't walk those three feet. Neither one was ever the same again. They took everything they had at each other.

CARROLL: Frazier's trainer stopped the fight after the 14th round. Ali won with a TKO, ending one of the biggest boxing rivalries of all time.

Friends and family begged Ali to hang up his gloves and go out on top.

IZENBERG: Ali came up the aisle and he said, this is the closest you fellows will ever see to death.

KILROY: I pleaded with him to retire, retire after this fight. Retire, retire.

CARROLL: ABC sports announcer Howard Cosell covered Ali for most of his career even tried to talk the champ down.

HOWARD COSELL, ABC SPORTS ANNOUNCER: He told me three and a half weeks ago, one more fight, (inaudible), one big fight, a lot of money and that was it. Now there are more fights in the offing. Why?

ALI: Well, because I changed my mind. I felt I can go another few years. The fans want to see it.

COSSELL: And that's our show today. Ali still the heavyweight champion of the world. Knock it off!

MARYUM ALI: They loved each other, they really did. They were like brothers, they really were.

CARROLL: Over the next six years, there were 10 more fights, two more marriages and three more children. Including daughter Laila who followed in her father's footsteps.

LAILA ALI: Just being Muhammad Ali's daughter, people are always going to want to test you. I've always been the one to take it on and not want to back down.

CARROLL: Then Muhammad Ali would take on his toughest opponent.

MARYUM ALI: We saw the slurred speech, the little slowness.

CARROLL (on camera): How did you find out your father had Parkinson's?

MARYUM ALI: The diagnosis came years after he actually had it. That was the time when even the top researchers did not know that young people can get Parkinson's.


CARROLL (voice-over): He was 38 years old.

In 1982, after three decades of redefining boxing with a lifetime record of 56 wins and only five defeats, Ali retired for good.

LONNIE ALI, WIFE: The disease had a very slow progression for him, and it hasn't stopped him from doing anything that he wants to do.

CARROLL: Like that moment in 1996 that brought the world to its feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the most dynamic figure in sports?

MARYUM ALI: That was a very positive highlight for him, and it was massive. I mean, millions of people saw that.

CARROLL: Millions of fans all over the world continued to worship the champ.

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: When you say the greatest of all time is in the room, everyone knows who you mean.

CARROLL: And in 2005, the one-time objector of conscience, received the country's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

CNN's last visit with Ali was at his home, the champ moving slower, his voice barely a whisper.

His spirits unshaken until the end.

FOREMAN: I still look at the guy and see the greatest. Muhammad Ali had no fear.

MARYUM ALI: He always fought for freedom and love.

MIYA ALI: That was his mission in life, was to help people.

FOREMAN: (inaudible)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Muhammad was bigger than boxing. But to say a great boxer, give that to some boxer. The guy was one of the greatest human beings I have ever met in my life. ALI: I am the greatest!