Boxing Legend Muhammad Ali Dead at 74

Muhammad Ali

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali has died, a family spokesman confirmed late Friday (June 3). He was 74 years old.

The legendary heavyweight champion was hospitalized in a Phoenix area hospital earlier this week with respiratory issues. At the time, reps downplayed the seriousness of the visit, saying "a brief hospital stay is expected."

Despite the statement, there were reports and speculation about his condition.

Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and has battled Parkinson's disease for decades. In recent years, he has been hospitalized on a few occasions, the most recent being in early 2015, due to a severe urinary tract infection initially diagnosed as pneumonia.

Spokesman Bob Gunnell said his funeral will take place in his hometown of Louisville, though further details wouldn't be announced until the weekend.

Born in 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay Junior, he took up boxing at the age of 12, under the tutelage of Joe Martin, a Louisville policeman who became his trainer during his amateur career. Clay would win two national Golden Gloves titles and one AAU championship as an amateur, and eventually earned the light heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

After the Olympics, Clay turned professional and won his first 19 bouts, before getting a shot at the heavyweight title against champion Sonny Liston. Leading up to the contest, Clay famously said he would "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." Despite being a 7-1 underdog, he would become the new heavyweight champion when Liston couldn't answer the bell for the seventh round.

The next day Clay, accompanied by Nation of Islam member Malcolm X, announced at a news conference that he was converting to Islam and changing his name to Cassius X. Then on March 6, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad bestowed him the name Muhammad Ali -- Muhammad meaning one worthy of praise, while Ali was the name of a cousin of the prophet Muhammad.

After defeating Liston in the rematch a year later, via first round knockout, he would defend his title eight more times.

Some of his notable wins included victories over Ken Norton, Leon Spinks and George Foreman, but his trilogy with Joe Frazier was one of the history books. After losing their first meeting via unanimous decision, he earned a decision victory in the second fight and a 14th round TKO in the famous "Thrilla in Manila" bout on Oct. 1, 1975.

Years later, Ali described the fight "as the closest thing to dying."

Ali finished his professional career with a 56-5 record, including 37 knockouts. He was later inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.