Muhammad Ali, probably the greatest heavyweight boxer in the world and an icon of the 20th century that brought much needed fame to the sport, passed away at the age of 74.
Ali had been battling Parkinson’s disease for decades, passed away on Friday in a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. He had been admitted to the hospital earlier this week following complains of respiratory problems.
“After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74,” spokesman Bob Gunnell said.
Ali, who was a three-time World Heavyweight Champion, had a magnificent career that spanned over two decades.
In 1981, Ali retired with a record of 56-5, with 37 knockouts and was the first man to win heavyweight titles three times.
His historic bouts as the Rumble in the Jungle, against George Foreman in 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire are revered by all. Other defining moments of his career included two knockouts of Sonny Liston and his thrilling rivalry with Joe Frazier.
“Ali, Frazier & Foreman, we were 1 guy. A part of me slipped away — the greatest piece” Foreman wrote on Twitter shortly after Ali’s death was announced.
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson said, “God came for his champion. So long great one. @MuhammadAli #TheGreatest #RIP.”
Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr in Louisville, Kentucky. He dazzled fans with his slick moves in the ring, and his wit and engaging persona outside it.
His refusal to serve in the Vietnam War saw him banned from the sport for years, but the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction for draft dodging in 1971.
He took the name of Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam in 1964, soon after he had stunned the sport by claiming the title with a monumental upset of Sonny Liston.
He was vilified in some quarters for that conversion and his outspoken stance on Vietnam and civil rights issues, but he held firm to his beliefs and eventually earned accolades as an activist.
He was chosen to light the Olympic torch in 1996 in Atlanta and was named a UN messenger of peace in 1998 and received the highest US civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2005.
Last year in December, Ali issued a statement rebuking US presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
“Muhammad Ali transformed this country and impacted the world with his spirit,” said longtime boxing promoter Bob Arum. “His legacy will be part of our history for all time.”
(With inputs from agencies)