Ali became world citizen but never forgot his hometown roots

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Muhammad Ali traveled the world as a fighter and humanitarian, but he always came home to Louisville.

His Kentucky hometown was where Ali, as a gangly teenager, began to develop his boxing skills – the dazzling footwork and rapid-fire punching prowess. The three-time world heavyweight boxing champion never forgot his roots, returning to his old West End neighborhood and visiting high school classmates even after becoming one of the world’s most recognizable men.

Now the focus shifts back to Ali’s hometown as the world says goodbye to the man who emerged from humble beginnings to rub elbows with heads of state.

Ali, slowed for years by Parkinson’s disease, died Friday at age 74 in an Arizona hospital. His funeral is scheduled for Friday afternoon in Louisville.

Ali chose his hometown as the place for one of his lasting legacies: the Muhammad Ali Center, which promotes his humanitarian ideals and showcases his remarkable career. Ali and his wife, Lonnie, had multiple residences around the U.S., but always maintained a Louisville home.

The city embraced its favorite son right back. A downtown street bears his name. A banner showcasing his face – and proclaiming him “Louisville’s Ali” – towers over motorists near the city’s riverfront.

Lifelong friend Victor Bender knew Ali ever since they were boyhood sparring partners. Bender remembered Ali – then known as Cassius Clay – as a dedicated athlete who worked tirelessly to hone his boxing skills.

He also remembered Ali’s human touch – his willingness to reach out to others.

“Only health changed him,” Bender said in a September 2014 interview. “When he was healthy enough, he could talk with anybody. He loved children. He’d reach out and touch anybody, because he loved people.

“Sometimes his handlers would say, `Look, we’ve got to go. We’ve got to meet the schedule.’ And he’d say, `The schedule will have to wait.”‘

Ruby Hyde remembered the heavyweight champ cruising into her neighborhood in a Cadillac with the top down. “All the kids jumped in and he rode them around the block,” she remembered.

Ali’s boyhood home – a small, single-story frame house – still stands in the working-class neighborhood where he grew up. The bright pink home on Grand Avenue was renovated by its current owners and opened for Ali’s fans to get a glimpse into his life before the world came to know him.

Ali’s storybook boxing career – highlighted by epic bouts with Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Sonny Liston – began with a theft.

His bicycle was stolen when he was 12. Wanting to report the crime, the shaken boy was introduced to Joe Martin, a police officer who doubled as a boxing coach at a local gym. Ali told Martin he wanted to whip the culprit. The thief was never found, nor was the bike, but soon the feisty Ali was a regular in Martin’s gym.

“He always had a good left-hand punch,” Bender recalled. “He could follow up. The fundamentals were always there.”

Ali developed into a top amateur boxer. His early workouts included racing a school bus along the streets of Louisville, said Shirlee Smith, his classmate at Louisville Central High School.

“Every time the bus would stop to pick up kids, he would pass us up,” she recalled. “Then we’d pass him up. Everybody on the bus would be laughing and teasing him. He was training at that time, and we were just having fun. But he was focused on what he wanted.”

Ali’s boyhood neighbor, Lawrence Montgomery Sr., said he saw early glimpses of the bravado that earned Ali the “Louisville Lip” nickname.

“He told me then that he was going to be the heavyweight champion of the world, and I didn’t believe him,” Montgomery said. “I told him, `Man, you better get that out of your mind.’ But he succeeded. He followed through.”

Not long after graduating from high school, Ali won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

Smith remembered Ali as a happy-go-lucky classmate who wasn’t changed by fame. She recalled the class reunion when Ali performed magic tricks.

“He never had any airs or any pretense,” she said. “He was just Muhammad Ali.”

Ali announced his conversion to the Muslim faith soon after upsetting Liston in 1964 to win the heavyweight crown for the first time. Ali moved away in the early 1960s but never lost contact with Louisville.

The Ali Center includes exhibits recalling the turbulent 1960s that Ali came to personify. Ali was refused service at a Louisville restaurant after he returned home as an Olympic gold medal winner. Other exhibits recall Ali’s role as a civil rights supporter and opponent of the Vietnam War.

Louisvillians embraced him as their own again as they mourned his passing. They flocked to the Ali Center and to his boyhood home along with out-of-town visitors paying their respects.

Amid the flurry of activity by mourners outside the Ali Center, Frank Green, 73, had his own reflective moment about the champ. Green gingerly got down on his knees to say a prayer for Ali and his family. He brought along a photo showing him posing with Ali.

“It’s really hurtful and painful over the last few years to see him in the condition he was in,” said Green, whose wife was an Ali classmate. “His dynamic personality – he’d go in a dark room and you wouldn’t have to flip the light switch. The lights would automatically come on. He was that type of dynamic personality.”

At a memorial service outside Metro Hall Saturday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer summed up Ali’s deep ties to the city.

“Muhammad Ali belongs to the world, but he only has one hometown,” he said. “The `Louisville Lip’ spoke to everyone, but we heard him in a way no one else could.”

Boxer LaMotta, immortalized in ‘Raging Bull,’ dies at 95

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MIAMI (AP) Jake LaMotta, the former middleweight champion whose life was depicted in the film “Raging Bull,” has died at the age of 95.

His fiancee, Denise Baker, says LaMotta died Tuesday at a Miami-area hospital from complications of pneumonia.

The Bronx Bull, as he was known in his fighting days, compiled an 83-19-4 record with 30 knockouts.

LaMotta fought Sugar Ray Robinson six times, handing Robinson his first defeat. He lost the middleweight title to him in what became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

In his previous fight, LaMotta saved the championship in movie-script fashion against Laurent Dauthuille. Trailing badly, LaMotta knocked out the challenger with 13 seconds left.

LaMotta threw a fight against Billy Fox, which he admitted in testimony before a U.S. Senate committee. He said he was promised a shot at a title.

On June 16, 1949, he became middleweight champion when Marcel Cerdan couldn’t continue after the 10th round.

The 1980 film “Raging Bull” was based on LaMotta’s memoir. Actor Robert DeNiro won an Academy Award for it.

Canelo and Golovkin fight to controversial draw

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gennady Golovkin retained his middleweight titles Saturday night, fighting to a draw with Canelo Alvarez in a brutal battle that ended with both fighters with their hands aloft in victory.

The middleweight showdown lived up to its hype as the two fighters traded huge punches and went after each other for 12 rounds. Neither fighter was down and neither appeared seriously hurt but both landed some huge punches to the head that had the crowd screaming in excitement.

Golovkin was the aggressor throughout and landed punches that had put other fighters to the canvas. But he couldn’t put Alvarez down, and the Mexican star more than stood his own in exchanges with Triple G, from Kazakhstan. The two were still brawling as the final seconds ticked down and the fight went to the scorecards.

One judge had Alvarez winning 118-110, a second had it 115-113 in Golovkin’s favor while the third had it 114-114. The Associated Press scored it 114-114.

Golovkin, who has never lost in 38 fights, retained his middleweight titles with the draw. But Alvarez showed that he could not only take Golovkin’s punches but land telling punches of his own.

A frenzied crowd of 22,358 at the T-Mobile Arena roared throughout the fight as the two middleweights put on the kind of show that boxing purists had anticipated. They brawled, used sharp jabs and counter-punched at times, with neither one willing to give the other much ground.

“Congratulations all my friends from Mexico,” Golovkin said. “I want a true fight. I want a big drama show.”

There was plenty of drama late in the fight as Alvarez seemed to rally and rocked Golovkin with uppercuts and big right hands. But just as soon as he landed he often took one back from the slugger so feared that most other fighter avoided him.

“I won seven-eight rounds easily,” Alvarez said.

It was a battle from the opening bell as Golovkin tried to walk Alvarez down but often found himself getting hit from sharp counter punches.

“Today, people give me draw. I focus on boxing,” Golovkin said. “Look my belts, I’m still champion. I’ve not lost.”

Golovkin predicted before the fight that the late rounds would resemble a street fight, and in a way they did. Both fighters were willing to trade, and both had no problems landing hard shots to the head.

Golovkin had chased Alvarez for nearly two years, trying to get the signature fight that would pay him millions and make him a pay-per-view draw on his own. Alvarez finally agreed after Golovkin looked vulnerable earlier this year against Daniel Jacobs in a decision win that stopped his knockout streak at 23 fights.