Muhammad Ali (1942–2016), born Cassius Marcellus Clay, is frequently identified as the greatest athlete of the 20th century because of his boxing prowess and social impact. 

As a boxer, Ali relied upon speed and agility, traits uncommon at the heavyweight level. His fights frequently had political and social implications because of his social activism, conversion to Islam, and criticism of U.S. foreign policy. 

Training robe worn by Muhammad Ali at the 5th Street Gym, 1964

Training robe worn by Muhammad Ali at the 5th Street Gym, 1964. 2012.173.1ab

This robe and headgear, worn by Muhammad Ali while training at the 5th Street Gym in Miami, Florida, exemplifies his unwavering dedication to being "The Greatest." Ali’s conversion to Islam occurred during his training time in Miami in the 1960s. It was during this period that he shed his birth name, Cassius Clay, and adopted the name, Muhammad Ali. This terry cloth robe, with Ali’s name sewn on the back in large black letters, both reveals and conceals the fighter’s identity and prowess.

Boxing headgear worn by Muhammad Ali

Boxing headgear worn by Muhammad Ali, ca. 1973. 2010.19.1

While at the pinnacle of his career, Ali was drafted into the military but refused to report for duty because of his consciousness as a Muslim minister and his own personal convictions. Ali was a person who practiced at being great not only while wearing training gear but also while striving for greatness in living a life dedicated to making his world better. Outspoken, and often criticized for what many saw as divisive language, Ali remained true to his principles throughout his life. His legacy continues to inspire everyone, from athletes to school children, to find their own greatness. His training headgear is a reminder that being great at something doesn’t come without practice, perseverance and willpower.

Corner stool from Dundee's 5th St. Gym
Ringside bell from Dundee's 5th St. Gym
Document with biographical sketch of Cassius Clay
Training boxing gloves used and signed by Cassius Clay
Training robe worn by Muhammad Ali at the 5th Street Gym
Boxing headgear worn by Muhammad Ali

I’m always going to be one black one who got big on your white televisions and 100% stayed with representing my people. That was my purpose and I’m showing the world that you can be here and still free and stay yourself and get respect from the world.

Muhammad Ali
World Champion Boxer

Browse Objects Relating to Muhammad Ali in the NMAAHC Collection

Written by Katie Knowles, cataloger
Published on June 7, 2016; updated January 28, 2019

Resources

Biography of Muhammad Ali

NPR articles and podcasts on Ali

The Full Story Of Muhammad Ali by World Documentary Films (2016). 

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