Six Incredible Muhammad Ali Facts You Didn't Know
1. Ali was jailed and served up food to shocked death-row inmates
Imagine you're stuck in a prison cell and then Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi - pick your GOAT of choice - casually walks in to deliver you your daily spaghetti.
This basically happened for real in 1967 when Ali, by far the world's most famous athlete, was given a 10-day jail sentence for trumped-up driving offences in Florida. The heavyweight icon was assigned to the prison cafe for work duty and took food to people on death row.
"I'll be goddamned! They got the world heavyweight champion serving me dinner," was the stunned response from one inmate. "The world must be coming to an end!"
2. He saved a suicidal man's life by talking him down off a ledge
Proof that Ali was an IRL superhero. When a close friend phoned him in 1981 to tell Ali that Los Angeles police were in a tense standoff with a distressed man threatening to jump off a building, the boxer rushed to the scene.
Heading straight to the ninth storey, Ali opened a window next to the would-be jumper. "It's really you?!" asked the baffled man.
After 20 minutes of talks, Ali persuaded the 21-year-old to climb down, then gave him a lift to the police station in his Rolls-Royce. "No doubt about it, Ali saved that man's life," said a police spokesperson.
3. He sat on aeroplanes wearing a parachute due to his fear of flying
So you're scared of flying: what's the solution? Therapy, drugs, refusing to travel? Wrong. Going to an army surplus store to buy your own parachute, then sitting on a plane wearing it? Right.
Ali had a lifelong fear of flying - "I'm not afraid of the fight, I'm afraid of the flight," he once said. It nearly cost him his place at the 1960 Rome Olympics, but investing in his own safety measure before travelling just about settled his mind.
Result: Olympic gold medal. Though we're still not sure what the person sat next to him made of this sculpted colossus sitting, terrified, wearing his own 'chute. Next plane please!
4. His whole persona was taken from a useless professional wrestler
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Ali inspired millions around the world, but who was his inspiration? Well, the heavyweight modelled his over-the-top persona on Gorgeous George.
The pro-wrestling star was no good between the ropes but sensational on the microphone. On a live radio show, which also featured the 19-year-old Ali, George began yelling if he lost his next bout: "I'll crawl across the ring and cut my hair off! But that's not gonna happen because I'm the greatest wrestler in the world!"
Off air, he advised the impressed boxer: "A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth." Ali used the lesson to fuel his outrageous pre-fight boasts.
5. He arranged to fight the world's greatest NBA player
Who'd win if Anthony Joshua met LeBron James in a fight? Apparently people in 1971 were so into this kind of thing that Wilt Chamberlain, the dominant basketball star of his era, challenged Ali to a fight.
It was no publicity stunt. 'Wilt the Stilt' - who boasted a 60lb weight and 10 inch height advantage - appeared with Ali on TV to promote the boxing match, with both men set to be paid $5 million apiece.
But after Ali looked up at the 7ft 1in Chamberlain's and cried: "Timberrrrrr!" the LA Lakers star thought better of it, quickly backing out of the contest. Wise move.
6. He got Mike Tyson to avenge his last two defeats in the ring
Ali retired in 1979, having avenged all three of his pro defeats. Sadly, the ex-champ had two ill-advised comeback fights after this, which made for painful viewing.
Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick, the two men who beat him, both went on to face Tyson - and 'Iron Mike' admits that he was driven by a motivation to avenge his idol twice over.
A 14-year-old Tyson watched Holmes beat Ali and was so upset that, the first time he ever spoke to Ali, he promised he'd one day knock out Holmes for him, a prophecy he later fulfilled.
Before Tyson vs Berbick, Ali was actually announced in the ring pre-fight and whispered, "Get him for me" in Mike's ear before the bell. Poor Trevor never stood a chance.
Feature Image Credit: PA