Muhammad Ali: 'A man who fought for what was right'

By Daniel Uria  |  June 4, 2016 at 2:13 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 4 (UPI) -- Prominent members of the boxing world and beyond shared their reverence for iconic boxer and a social activist ahead of his time, Muhammad Ali.

Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, 74, died following a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease in Phoenix about 9 p.m. Friday night as a result of "septic shock due to unspecified natural causes" according to a family spokesperson.

Family members said funeral services will be held on Friday, June 10 at 2 p.m. at the KFC Yum! Center in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. The funeral will be open to the public and will be live streamed online.

His daughter, Rasheda Ali, shared a message to her father on Twitter Saturday morning wishing him peace.

"The Greatest Man that ever lived," she wrote. "Daddy my best friend a my hero you [are] no longer suffering and now in a better place."

This is a portrait of the heavyweight champion of the world as a very young man. Cassius Marcellus Clay II (Muhammad Ali) is shown here at age 12 as he begins his boxing career. Even then, Policeman-Boxing instructor Joe Martin recalls, Cassius "always talked a good fight." File photo by UPI

The boxing career that would catapult him to become one of the most recognized athletes of all time began in his hometown of Louisville in 1942 ,when police officer Joe Martin began training the 12-year-old Ali after he vowed to fight a boy that had stolen his bicycle. In the years to come, Ali would become known not only for boxing jabs but for his words of wisdom and bravado in and out of the ring.

George Foreman, who would serve as one of Ali's greatest professional rivals in his Hall of Fame Boxing career, also shared his fond memories of the man many called "The Greatest."

"Until Ali no one said 'I'm beautiful' he was royalty, yet common man was his pal. That is beauty. Greatest kind," Foreman wrote.

Even after Ali's retirement from boxing in 1981, his 56-5 career record, three World Heavyweight Championships and Olympic gold medal resonated with generations of boxers to come.

"God came for his champion. So long great one," fellow World Heavyweight Champion boxer Mike Tyson wrote on Twitter.

Ali was just as prominent a figure outside the ring, as his conversion to Islam following his heavyweight title victory over Sonny Liston in 1964 and other social causes saw his influence reach far beyond that of any ordinary athlete.

"It's a sad day for life, man," boxing promoter Don King said. "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."

CLAY CONVICTED: Houston, Texas: Former world heavyweight champion Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) (L), his expression thoughtful, is surrounded by a battery of newsmen and photographers as he leaves the Federal Court here June 20, 1967, after an all white jury found him guilty on charges of refusing to be inducted into the U.S. army forces,. Clay, who contends he is a Black Muslim Minister and not subject to the draft, was given the maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. Clay remained free on a $5,000 bond and his attorney will file an appeal Wednesday, June 21. File photo by UPI

President Barack Obama said he was too young to remember the impact of Ali's first Olympic medal, but recognize him for being "a man who fought for what was right" as he grew older.

"He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn't," he said. "His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. 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 recognize today."

The United Nations said Ali brought "a message of peace and spirituality" when he addressed the UN Special Committee against Apartheid in 1978, and was designated a UN Messenger of Peace two decades later in 1998.

He was also awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton and later the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

Boxing great Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74 in Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday, June 4, 2016. He is shown with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev (C) during an unprecedented meeting at the Kremlin on June 16, 1978. During the meeting, Ali and the Soviet leader exchanged kisses and Brezhnev made the former world heavyweight boxing champ his"unofficial ambassador for peace with the United States." At right is the interpreter. File photo by UPI

Ali lived quietly in Phoenix toward the end of his life where Sen. Jon McCain, R-Ariz., credited him for inspiring his Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act and participating in brain research to prevent modern fighters from facing the perils that contributed to his deteriorating health.

"Ali's advocacy made it possible for a new generation of boxers to be free from the mistreatment and coercion that he and many others faced," McCain said.

The NAACP hailed Ali, who received the organization's President's Award in 2009, as an inspiration and vowed to hold him as an example for future generations of activists.

"We will continue to use his life as an example for all of us to not be passive participants in our society," they said in a statement. "As we continue to fight for the right to vote, to fight against racial profiling and to fight against an unjust criminal justice system, Muhammad Ali's legacy will continue to inspire generations to be bold, be fearless, and 'be great.'"

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