Muhammad Ali will forever be known as one of the greatest boxers to have ever walked the earth. The iron-fisted athlete won countless matches during his career, amassing numerous knockouts, victories, and awards. But what was the most notable success of Ali’s professional career? He was the first boxer to win the world heavyweight championship title a whopping three times.

Ali’s early career

From the time that he was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in 1942, Muhammad Ali seemingly had his eyes on greatness. He was a peaceful yet motivated young man, embracing both the mellow values of Islam and the energetic act of boxing. At the meager age of 18, he won his first Olympic gold medal for boxing in Rome. Not bad for a kid, huh? Ali first scored the title of world heavyweight champion in 1964, a mere four years after debuting as a professional boxer. He stripped the title from Sonny Liston, another highly-regarded boxer of his era, in a six-round match. At first, Ali was on top of the world, yet, after refusing to join the troops in Vietnam in 1967, he was banned from his legendary sport for three years. After the long leave of absence, Ali returned to the scene in 1970, eager to get back to boxing.

Winning his way to the top

Unfortunately, in 1971, he faced his first professional loss to Joe Frazier in an iconic, 15-round match. This loss cost him his heavyweight title. However, he wasn’t phased by the setback. He regained his lost honor in a rematch in 1974, during which he defeated a stunned Frazier in Madison Square Garden. Then, he re-earned the title of world heavyweight champion after defeating boxer George Forman in the same year. So how did he lose the belt a third time? He was beaten by Olympic gold medalist Leon Spinks in 1978, who, at the time, was hardly established as a professional boxer in the field. Ali spent the seven months that followed his loss preparing for a rematch, and, when the time arrived, the entire country was on its toes.

Breaking a stunning world record

The stellar event was broadcasted on national television, drawing in a shocking 90 million viewers from around the states. Ali was hyped to win back the title he so rightfully deserved; he gave his match with Spinks everything that he had. He masterfully evaded punches from the fired-up opponent, all while scoring some pretty brutal hits on Spinks. Audiences were drawn to the edges of their seats as Ali danced through all 15 rounds with vivacity and confidence. At the end of the match, judges had no choice but to recognize the skill and perseverance of the motivated boxer. Ultimately, Ali won in a unanimous decision. He earned back his heavyweight belt and became the first boxer to hold the title of heavyweight champion three times in their career.