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Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight - Archival Slideshow

Muhammad and cop

Born Cassius Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942, Muhammad Ali rose to boxing prominence as an Olympic gold medalist in 1960. His fame was amplified by a winning streak through the heavyweight division in the 1960s, including his knockout victory over Sonny Liston in 1964, which earned him the title of heavyweight champion of world.

Muhammad speaking before mics

Outside of the ring, Ali was known for his dynamic personality and love of the spotlight. He frequently mocked his opponents and boasted of his own skills  which only added to his celebrity. Many consider Ali to be the first athlete to transcend the realm of the sport into superstardom.

Muhammad and Malcolm X

In 1964, Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. The civil rights activist Malcolm X (pictured here) served as a mentor. Ali claimed conscientious objector status as a result of his faith and refused to fight in Vietnam. He was subsequently stripped of his world title belt and denied a license to fight.

Supreme Court judges portrait

Ali's claim of conscientious objector status was denied. The U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted and found him guilty of refusing military induction. Ali appealed and the case worked its way up to the Supreme Court in 1971. First row: John M. Harlan II, Hugo L. Black, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, William O. Douglas, William Joseph Brennan, Jr. Second row: Associate Justices Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Byron R. White and Harry A. Blackmun.

John Harlan

Justice John Marshall Harlan II retired from the Supreme Court on September 23, 1971, four months after Clay v. United States was decided in favor of Ali. He died three months later. Harlan's Supreme Court career followed in the footsteps of his namesake and grandfather, who served as an Associate Justice from 1877 to 1911. Harlan wore the same gold watch and used the same furniture in his chambers as his grandfather did.

Warren E. Burger

Warren Burger continued as Chief Justice until his retirement in 1986, marking the longest tenure for a Chief Justice in the 20th century. Despite his conservative views, Burger is remembered for his majority vote in the landmark case Roe v. Wade, which recognized a women's constitutional right to receive an abortion.

Potter Stewart

Justice Potter Stewart served on the Supreme Court for over 20 years. He is perhaps best remembered for his statement that hard-core pornography is hard to define, "but I know it when I see it."

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall recused himself from Clay v. United States because he was the U.S. Solicitor General when Ali was initially charged. Prior to that, Marshall was a civil rights lawyer who won the case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which ended racial segregation in public schools. He was the first African American justice of the Supreme Court and served for 24 years.

William Joseph Brennan Jr.

Justice William Joseph Brennan, Jr. is remembered as a champion of liberal views. He voted in support of abortion and affirmative action and in opposition to the death penalty.

Ali fighting Joe Frazier

While his case was being appealed, Ali returned to boxing in earnest. In 1971, he was pitted against Joe Frazier in the "Fight of the Century" at Madison Square Garden. After 15 rounds, Frazier won a unanimous decision, handing Ali his first professional loss.

Ali v. Frazier Rumble in the Jungle

Ali would later win two rematches against Frazier. He also regained his title as heavyweight champion by defeating George Foreman in 1974's "Rumble in the Jungle."

Ali lighting torch 1996 Olympics

Today, Ali is a beloved symbol of overcoming adversity. After receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease in 1984, he remained a public figure and champion of human rights. Pictured here, in 1996, he lit the Olympic flame at the summer games in Atlanta, Georgia.

Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight

HBO Films

Looks at Muhammad Alis historic Supreme Court battle from behind closed doors.