Ali became world citizen but never forgot his hometown roots

Leave a comment

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.”

Pacquiao plans to return to the ring Nov. 5

160712-manny-pacquiao
Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAS VEGAS (AP) Manny Pacquiao isn’t ready to give up his night job just yet.

Pacquiao, who said before his last fight in April that he would retire, now plans to return to the ring in November against an opponent who has yet to be selected.

Promoter Bob Arum said Tuesday that Pacquiao got permission to take a break from his new duties as a senator in the Philippines to take another fight. It will be held Nov. 5, likely in Las Vegas.

“He likes to fight and he likes the attention,” Arum said of Pacquiao’s return.

Pacquiao looked impressive in his last fight in April, returning from a layoff to knock down Timothy Bradley on his way to a unanimous decision. After the fight he wavered on his previous plans to retire.

“If you ask me to come back I don’t know,” Pacquiao said. “I may be enjoying retired life. I’m not there yet so I just don’t know.”

Pacquiao, who was formerly a congressman in his native country, was elected to the Senate in May and there were fears that increased duties would prevent him from fighting again.

But Arum said the head of the Senate told Pacquiao he was free to fight after the country’s budget is settled on Oct. 15.

“He would train in the Philippines and leave on the 16th to come to the U.S., train for two weeks and then come to Vegas,” Arum said. “The only issue is getting an arena for the fight.”

Arum said he is talking with MGM Resorts about an arena to host the fight. He had reserved the Mandalay Bay arena for Oct. 15, but Pacquaio can’t leave his Senate duties that early.

The fight also could be at the UNLV campus arena, he said, though UNLV would have to move a scheduled basketball exhibition from the date.

There were reports that Pacquiao might fight Adrien Broner, but Arum said he wanted the same money as Pacquiao, which was a non-starter. Another possible opponent would be Jesse Vargas, who fights for Top Rank, and holds a piece of the welterweight title.

Pacquiao was off for nearly a year after losing in May 2015 to Floyd Mayweather Jr., healing from a shoulder injury. But he seemed reinvigorated after beating Bradley in April in a performance that got good reviews from most, including trainer Freddie Roach.

“When I see Manny Pacquiao like that, this is the best Manny Pacquiao,” Roach said after the fight. “He hasn’t missed a beat. I would like to see him fight again.”

Laila Ali, Jaime Foxx pay tribute to Muhammad Ali

160627-Jamie-Foxx
AP Images
Leave a comment

Laila Ali paid tribute to her late father, sports icon Muhammad Ali, during the BET Awards on Sunday at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

Ali, a retired boxer herself, started to choke up as she spoke about her father’s legacy and the outpouring of support since his death at the age of 74 on June 3 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

“My father, Muhammad Ali, lived his life with conviction and purpose,” Ali said. “He is known as the greatest athlete of all time, a man who fearlessly faced opposition both in and outside the ring.”

Actor Jamie Foxx, who starred in the 2001 biopic about the icon’s life, “Ali,” as Ali’s cornerman Drew Bundini Brown, also spoke about the legend, noting that he stood up when no one else was doing so.

After getting a standing ovation, Ali stood in front of a photo of her father holding her as an infant and talked about her father’s evolution in his heart, mind and spirit over the course of his lifetime.

“These past few weeks my father’s generosity and love has been matched by a worldwide outpouring of love and reverence for him and our entire family,” Ali said.

“If he was here today, he would humbly ask you to pray not just for our family, but for all of mankind.”