Good­bye to The Great­est

World pays trib­ute to box­ing icon Muham­mad Ali

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Adrian Back @aidy­back

In­spi­ra­tional, funny, iconic or sim­ply just The Great­est; the world paid trib­ute to Muham­mad Ali yes­ter­day af­ter the for­mer world heavy­weight box­ing cham­pion and one of sport’s most in­flu­en­tial in­di­vid­u­als died at the age of 74.

The three-time heavy­weight cham­pion, who had bat­tled Parkin­son’s dis­ease for 32 years, had been ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal ear­lier in the week with a res­pi­ra­tory con­di­tion.

The news of his pass­ing led to an out­pour­ing of emo­tion from across the globe, with Ali hav­ing in­spired many with his ac­tions both in­side and out­side the ring.

Whether touched by his sub­lime box­ing abil­ity, cap­ti­vated by his skills on a mi­cro­phone or moved by his bat­tle for civil rights; the reach of Ali went be­yond his sport.

“Muham­mad Ali shook up the world. And the world is bet­ter for it,” US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said.

Ge­orge Fore­man, who fa­mously lost to Ali in the Rum­ble in the Jun­gle, said: “Beauty is how you would de­scribe him. For­get about box­ing, he was one of the great­est men to ap­pear in the me­dia. The man was the great­est.”

Some chose to re­mem­ber his clas­sic bat­tles, while oth­ers re­cited his melodic phrases. Ali tran­scended sport un­like any other and few will dis­pute his moniker as ‘The Great­est’.

He was fast of fist and foot - lip, too - a heavy­weight cham­pion who promised to shock the world and did. He floated. He stung. Mostly he thrilled, even af­ter the punches had taken their toll and his voice barely rose above a whis­per. He was The Great­est. Muham­mad Ali died yes­ter­day at age 74 af­ter be­ing hos­pi­talised with res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems - and the world paid its trib­ute.

“It’s a sad day for life, man. I loved Muham­mad Ali, he was my friend. Ali will never die,” said Don King, who pro­moted some of Ali’s big­gest fights.

“Like Martin Luther King his spirit will live on, he stood for the world.”

With a wit as sharp as his punches, Ali dom­i­nated sport for two decades be­fore time and Parkin­son’s dis­ease, trig­gered by thou­sands of blows to the head, rav­aged his mag­nif­i­cent body, muted his ma­jes­tic voice and ended his sto­ried ca­reer in 1981.

He won and de­fended the heavy­weight cham­pi­onship in epic fights in ex­otic lo­ca­tions, spoke loudly on be­half of the black com­mu­nity, and fa­mously re­fused to be drafted into the US Army dur­ing the Viet­nam War be­cause of his Mus­lim be­liefs.

De­spite his de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness, he trav­elled the world to rap­tur­ous re­cep­tions even af­ter his once-bel­low­ing voice was qui­eted and he was left to com­mu­ni­cate with just a wink or a weak smile.

“He was the great­est fighter of all time but his box­ing ca­reer is se­condary to his con­tri­bu­tion to the world,” said pro­moter Bob Arum. “He’s the most trans­form­ing fig­ure of my time cer­tainly.”

Revered by millions world­wide and re­viled by millions more, Ali cut quite a fig­ure, 6ft 3in and 95kg in his prime. “Float like a but­ter­fly, st­ing like a bee,” his cor­ner­men ex­horted, and he did just that in a way no heavy­weight had ever fought be­fore.

He fought in three dif­fer­ent decades, fin­ished with a record of 56-5 with 37 knock­outs - 26 of those bouts pro­moted by Arum - and was the first man to win heavy­weight ti­tles three times.

He beat the fear­some Sonny Lis­ton twice, top­pled the mighty Ge­orge Fore­man in Zaire, and nearly fought to the death with Joe Fra­zier in the Philip­pines. Through it all, he was trailed by a colour­ful en­tourage who merely added to his grow­ing leg­end.

“Rum­ble, young man, rum­ble,” cor­ner­man Bun­dini Brown would yell to him.

And rum­ble Ali did. He fought any­one who meant any­thing and made millions of dol­lars with his light­ning-quick jab. His fights were so mem­o­rable that they had names - “Rum­ble in the Jun­gle” and “Thrilla in Manila”.

But it was as much his an­tics - and his mouth - out­side the ring that trans­formed the man born Cas­sius Clay in 1942 into a house­hold name as Muham­mad Ali.

“I am the great­est,” Ali thun­dered again and again. Few would dis­agree.

Ali spurned white Amer­ica when he joined the Black Mus­lims and changed his name. He de­fied the draft at the height of the Viet­nam war - “I ain’t got no quar­rel with them Viet Cong” - and lost three-and-a-half years from the prime of his ca­reer. He en­ter­tained world lead­ers, once telling Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Fer­di­nand Mar­cos: “I saw your wife. You’re not as dumb as you look.”

THE BEST: Muham­mad Ali is held back by ref­eree Joe Wal­cott, left, af­ter knock­ing out chal­lenger Sonny Lis­ton in the first round of their ti­tle fight in Lewis­ton in 1965

THE GREAT­EST: Ali con­nects with Joe Fra­zier in the Thrilla in Manila; (be­low) Ali with Dr Martin Luther King

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