Muhammad Ali was remembered in tributes worldwide for his iconic fight for social justice as well as his legendary boxing battles following his death on Friday at age 74.
“We lost a giant today,” Filipino fighter Manny Pacquiao said. “Boxing benefitted from Muhammad Ali’s talents, but not as much as mankind benefitted from his humanity.”
The front-page headline on Ali’s hometown newspaper, the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, simply said, “The Greatest” with a photo of Ali in the ring.
Ali spoke out for African-American civil rights in the 1960s, carrying on his fight against injustice and sacrificing the prime years of his own career in the process.
“He is, without a question in my mind, the most transformative person of our time,” boxing promoter Bob Arum said.
Ali, born Cassius Clay, beat Sonny Liston in 1964 to win the heavyweight title, but was stripped of his titles in 1967 when he refused to join the US Army and fight in the Vietnam War. He was banned from boxing until 1970, and in 1971 the US Supreme Court ruled in his favor in sitting out the war.
“When people saw what he had done for what he believed in, threw away three-and-a-half years of his career and he remained steadfast, he came through all of that bigger and more important than ever before,” Arum said. “People looked at him and said there was something special about him. Any man willing to make that kind of sacrifice for his beliefs had to be respected.”
Boxing began mourning its greatest hero with ultimate praise.
“We lost a legend, a hero and a great man,” said Floyd Mayweather Jr, who retired last year as an unbeaten welterweight champion. “He’s one of the guys who paved the way for me to be where I’m at. Words can’t explain what Muhammad Ali did for the sport.”
Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson tweeted: “God came for his champion. So long great one. @MuhammadAli TheGreatest RIP.”
Four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield said he admired Ali greatly.
“It’s a great loss. I wanted to be like Ali. He inspired me,” Holyfield said. “Someone asked me if I wanted to break his record [as a three-time champion] and I said no, because that means I have to lose, but you find out you have to be stronger to get up from a loss to go on. And that’s what Ali proved.”
Promoter Don King said Ali would live on forever alongside other US civil-rights heroes.
“He was tremendous, not just a boxer, a great human being, an icon,” King said. “Muhammad Ali’s spirit, like Martin Luther King Jr, will live on. That’s why Muhammad Ali will never die.”
Chinese boxer Zou Shiming expressed his sorrow on social network Weibo, saying: “Why has his life been cut away? I still want to follow his path, I still wish I can one day win the championship and find the opportunity to pay homage to him. From now on, what a pity we won’t see him again.”
US retired fighter and promoter Oscar de la Hoya praised Ali as “the fighter who ushered in the golden era of boxing and put the sport on the map.”
“Ali exemplified courage. He never took the easy route, something to be admired in and outside of the ring. As we reflect on his life, let us remember a man who pursued greatness in everything he did and be inspired to hold ourselves to that same standard,” he said.
Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on Jan. 17, 1942, as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, a name shared with a 19th-century slavery abolitionist. He changed his name after his conversion to Islam.
Ali is survived by his wife, the former Lonnie Williams, who knew him when she was a child in Louisville, along with his nine children.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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