As the late, great man often said himself, Muhammad Ali was the finest boxer of his generation. And Ali’s sporting legacy is now living on through one of his grandsons. However, you’re more likely to find Biaggio Ali Walsh on the field than in the ring. Here’s a look at how the teen is becoming a champion in his own right.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1942, Ali first entered the ring at the age of just 12. Then, six years later, he picked up Olympic gold at the Rome Games before turning pro. What’s more, by 1965 the future legend had already been crowned heavyweight champion by the WBA and WBC organizations.
And Ali went on to break numerous records during his career; he’s still the only man to have lifted the lineal heavyweight title three times, for example. As with fellow record holder Joe Louis, Ali defeated 21 opponents while competing for the title of world heavyweight champion. Furthermore, the champ remains the sole boxer to have been hailed as “Fighter of the Year” by The Ring magazine on six separate occasions.
Plus, of course, Ali was also involved in some of the greatest bouts that the sport has ever seen. There were the several key fights against nemesis Joe Frazier, for instance, including the Fight of the Century and the Thrilla in Manila. And then there was the iconic Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 against George Foreman. Later, the 1978 Ali-Spinks II bout went on to draw in an astonishing TV audience of two billion.
But Ali was just as renowned for his trash talking as for his boxing. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee – his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see,” is arguably his most famous riposte in that vein, made before the Rumble in the Jungle. Other zingers include “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am” and “It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila.”
Ali also caused controversy away from the ring, however. After converting to Islam in the mid-1960s, he declared that his religion and political beliefs should prevent him from being conscripted into the American military. He was subsequently convicted of draft evasion and lost his boxing titles as a result. And Ali’s conscientious objection kept him out of the sport for four years until he had the verdict reversed on appeal in 1971.
In addition, Ali was a fervent supporter of the civil rights movement. For a time, he adhered to the Nation of Islam, the provocative movement led by Elijah Muhammad. He then turned to Sufism and followed in the footsteps of his one-time advisor Malcolm X by promoting racial integration.
Ali finally hung up his gloves in 1981 when he was almost 40 years old and chose instead to focus his attentions on various charitable ventures. However, in 1984 it was concluded that the star was suffering from a degenerative condition known as Parkinson’s disease. Doctors believed that head injuries suffered by Ali in the ring were the root cause.
Despite his condition, though, Ali continued with his campaigning work well into the 21st century. And his legend grew further in 2001, when his life story came to the big screen in the Oscar-nominated Ali. Sadly, a day after being taken to hospital with a respiratory illness in June 2016 the star died due to septic shock. He was 74 years old. The actor who had portrayed him in Ali, Will Smith, and former opponent George Foreman were among the pallbearers at his funeral.
Ali had also walked down the aisle four times during his eventful life to – in chronological order – Sonji Roi, Belinda Boyd, Veronica Porché Ali and Yolanda Williams. He also had two sons and seven daughters, including Laila Ali, who competed as a professional boxer herself for almost a decade. And Laila isn’t the only member of Ali’s large family to have followed in his sporting footsteps.
You see, Ali’s grandson Biaggio Ali Walsh is also making a name for himself in the sporting world. The son of Ali’s daughter Rasheda initially tried his luck in the boxing ring, as did his brother Nico. However, the football field turned out to be Biaggio’s real home, and he soon began to excel as a running back for his high school team in Nevada.
Later ranked 11th in 247Sports’ list of America’s best all-purpose backs, Biaggio attracted interest from a number of universities. Indeed, Arizona, Louisville, Colorado and Vanderbilt all offered him scholarships. But the talented youngster decided to accept a place at the University of California, where he showcases his talents with the Golden Bears.
But while Biaggio might be following a different path to his famous grandfather, he’s still immensely proud of his connection to a sporting legend. He has a tattoo of a bee on one arm and a butterfly on the other in honor of Ali’s most famous quote, for instance. And he’s also more than happy to talk about the time he spent with the boxing great.
In a 2017 interview with Sports Illustrated, Biaggio reflected on his childhood memories with Ali. He said, “Every Thanksgiving and every time we got the chance, we’d drive out to Arizona or fly to Michigan and spend time with him. He loved magic tricks, so Nico would bring his magic kit, and we would show him cool tricks.”
Biaggio also revealed that Ali inspired him in other ways. “I want to be looked at like my grandfather was, as a spokesperson, talking about life, what’s right from wrong,” he said. “I want to not just be looked at as an athlete, but as a person too. I want to [highlight] what’s more important in life, not just what [we’re all] caught up in right now.”
In 2017 Biaggio also admitted to W magazine that he sometimes didn’t tell people about his famous relative. “It was a blessing and a curse at the same time,” the football hopeful said. “Growing up, [I always kept it] a secret who my grandfather was because I was always afraid that someone would be my friend just because of that. To have him as a grandfather, that is for sure a blessing.”
Biaggio nonetheless regularly uploads photos of himself and his grandfather to his Instagram account. And following Ali’s death, he posted the following heartfelt tribute. “You are the greatest person to walk the face of the Earth,” Biaggio wrote. “Your dedication and hard work inspired the entire world. My senior football season is dedicated to you, Poppy. You are my idol, and it’s not often that your idol is also your relative.”
Capable of covering 40 yards in 4.41 seconds, Biaggio once told Bleacher Report, “I think the similarities with me and my grandfather on the field would be speed.” But Ali’s grandson’s achievements don’t end at sport. In 2016, for instance, he landed a contract with Wilhelmina Models – an agency that also boasts the likes of Demi Lovato, Shawn Mendes and Nick Jonas as clients.
Biaggio has since appeared in shoots for Vogue Italia and At Large. He told Bleacher Report, “I plan to [model] while I’m in college. I think [the agency is] going to work around my schedule, hopefully, so it’ll make it a lot easier for me. I’m putting football and my education before it, of course.”
But seemingly not content with burgeoning careers in both football and modeling, Biaggio also has his sights set on Hollywood. The youngster, who is majoring in film at the University of California, Berkeley, intends to move to Los Angeles after finishing his degree in order to pursue a career in the industry. He told W magazine, “Since I was about four years old, I’ve always wanted to write, produce and act in my own movies.”