Muhammad Ali: Barack Obama says boxing’s ‘Greatest’ shook up world
US President Barack Obama and boxing great George Foreman have led worldwide tributes to Muhammad Ali, who has died at the age of 74.
“Ali shook up the world – and the world is better for it,” Obama said.
Foreman, who was beaten by Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974, said: “Muhammad Ali made you love him.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, musician Sir Paul McCartney, boxers Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather and golfer Tiger Woods also paid tribute.
Ali was admitted to a hospital in the US city of Phoenix, Arizona on Thursday suffering from a respiratory illness, a condition that was complicated by Parkinson’s disease.
The three-time world champion died from septic shock caused by “unspecified natural causes”, his spokesman Bob Gunnell said.
Ali’s funeral will take place in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky at 19:00 BST on Friday, 10 June, where flags have been flying at half-mast since his death was announced.
Former US president Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal will deliver eulogies at the service, which will be open to the public. A procession will also be held in Louisville on the same day.
In a lengthy statement, Obama said both he and wife Michelle “pray that the greatest fighter of them all finally rests in peace”.
“Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing,” he said. “But we’re also grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time.”
Ali’s quick wit and vocal indignation over racial discrimination made him a compelling character away from the ring. He also refused to be drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War because of his religious beliefs, resulting in him losing his licence and world title.
“He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing,” Obama added.
“It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognise today.
“He wasn’t perfect, of course. For all his magic in the ring, he could be careless with his words, and full of contradictions as his faith evolved. But his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes – maybe because in him, we hoped to see something of ourselves.
‘Something greater than a boxer’
two-time world champion Foreman said: “Muhammad Ali was what I call beautiful. He has been something special.
“The man was the greatest. Forget about boxing, he was one of the greatest men to appear on television, in the media.”
Foreman’s loss to Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire [now DR Congo] 42 years ago stands as one of the most iconic moments in any sport.
Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy tired the unbeaten Foreman in the 80 degree heat, allowing him to force a stoppage in the eighth round.
“Little did I know I would be facing something greater than a boxer,” Foreman said of the fight.
“He stood the test. He took everything I had and gave back worse. I loved the man. I wanted to beat him and knock him out but I loved the man.”
‘He stood for the world’
Don King, who promoted many of Ali’s fights, including the Rumble in the Jungle, said: “It’s a sad day for life. I loved Muhammad Ali, he was my friend. Ali will never die.
“Like Martin Luther King, his spirit will live on. He stood for the world.”
Eight-weight world champion Manny Pacquiao described Ali as a “giant”.
“Boxing benefitted from Muhammad Ali’s talents but not as much as mankind benefitted from his humanity,” the Filipino said.
Floyd Mayweather, a world champion across five divisions, added: “There will never be another Muhammad Ali. The black community all around the world, black people all around the world, needed him. He was the voice for us. He’s the voice for me to be where I’m at today.” Muhammad Ali