Well before social media helped elevate obscure figures into household names, there was considerable interest in celebrity culture. Muhammad Ali, who remains hospitalized at this writing Friday with respiratory problems, was one athlete who became pop-culture icon decades ago, with his outsized personality and character rivaling his sporting achievements.
In many ways, Ali has outgrown the sport he once dominated. With his larger-than-life personality, the boxing great is still one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world, even after hanging up his gloves in 1981. A look back on his illustrious and often-times controversial career also reveals a superb athlete who was paid quite well during his time in the ring and even more in retirement.
While estimating a public figure's net worth can get complicated, there is a general idea of how much Ali made over his long career. According to The Richest, Ali’s net worth was $80 million as of 2012. CelebrityNetWorth, however, pegs the amount at $50 million.
After claiming Olympic gold at the 1960 Rome Games, Ali’s professional career would span the next 21 years and 61 fights. Claiming the title “The Greatest,” Ali earned the distinction by taking on some of the best fighters of any generation in Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, Floyd Patterson and Leon Spinks.
His biggest payday came on Oct. 10, 1980, in Las Vegas, where Ali fell by technical knockout to Holmes but earned a purse of $8 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. It would be the second-to-last fight of Ali’s career as he started to show wear and tear in the ring.
Prior to that bout, Ali’s three-bout feud with Frazier would define both of their careers and enrich them as well. The two first met in the “Fight of the Century” in 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York, with Frazier coming out on top after Ali showed ring rust after serving a three-year suspension for refusing to serve the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War. They wouldn’t meet again until 1974, when Ali earned a 12-round decision.
The final bout in 1975, famously called the “Thrilla in Manila,” took place in the Philippines and was an especially brutal, hard-punching affair that left both Ali and Frazier emotionally and physically drained. For the fight, Ali would pull down $6 million, which came roughly one year after his $5.45 million payday for defeating Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ali would retire following a brutal 10 rounds, out of a scheduled 15, with Jamaica’s Trevor Berbick. He was never knocked down, but many believe the roots of Ali’s later health problems were a result of the bout.
During his retirement, a bulk of Ali’s fortune would come from his company GOAT LLC, an acronym for his trademark phrase “Greatest of All Time.” At the time, the company was earning between $4 million and $7 million in annual revenue through endorsement deals with top brands like Adidas and Electronic Arts.
Ali and his wife would eventually sell an 80 percent stake, as well as creative control to CKX Inc., in 2006 for $50 million. The deal landed Ali on Forbes’ Top 100 Celebrities list at No. 13, and he retained a 20 percent stake in his commercial rights to his name and image.
CKX, which at the time also owned the estate of Elvis Presley, also bought 19 Entertainment in 2005, which gave it the rights to hit singing competition show “American Idol.” Eventually the company was renamed CORE Media Group and it sold Ali’s rights to Authentic Brands Group in 2013. Before the sale, CORE licensed Ali’s rights to as many as 40 brands, including New Era Cap, H&M and Dolce & Gabbana, according to ESPN.
In February 2015, ABG inked a deal with growing apparel company Under Armor to make a line inspired by Ali.