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.”

Manny Pacquiao loses WBO welterweight title on points to Jeff Horn

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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Manny Pacquiao lost his WBO welterweight world title to Jeff Horn in a stunning, unanimous points decision in a Sunday afternoon bout billed as the Battle of Brisbane in front of more than 50,000 people.

The 11-time world champion entered the fight at Suncorp Stadium as a hot favorite but got more than he bargained for against the 29-year-old former schoolteacher.

Still, Pacquiao dominated the later rounds and the result could have gone his way.

Pacquiao’s long-time trainer Freddie Roach predicted the fight would be short and sweet but Horn – unbeaten in his 17 previous professional fights – applied pressure by winning some of the early rounds and Pacquiao needed treatment during the 6th and 7th rounds for a cut on the top of his head that resulted from a clash of heads.

The judges scored the fight 117-111, 115-113 and 115-113, with Horn immediately calling out Floyd Mayweather Jr., after the fight, declaring himself “no joke.”

Roach had said earlier in the week that he’d think about advising Pacquioa to retire if he lost the fight, but that would depend on how he fought.

Pacquiao’s camp had talked about a rematch with Mayweather if he got past Horn, hoping to avenge his loss on points in the 2015 mega fight. That seems to be a distant chance now.

Pacquiao, who entered the fight with a record of 59-6-2, 38 knockouts, was defending the WBO title he won on points against Jessie Vargas last November.

Mayweather vs. McGregor odds: Sportsbooks set betting lines, props for fight

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Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor stand to collect a massive payday whether their superfight is a charade or a combat sports classic, and there’s plenty of upside for bettors too.

With the bout set, Mayweather is a -600 moneyline favorite against the +400 underdog McGregor at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.  Mayweather will put a 49-0 ring record on the line in the August 26 bout at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, while McGregor, a UFC champion at two weights, might prove a point just by having a decent showing.

The moneyline has tightened considerably since the first rumors about the fight. Last November, Mayweather opened at -2250 and McGregor opened at +950. Evidently, many MMA fans found McGregor irresistible at that price, as it steadily dropped, falling to +450 by late April. That was also the point where the moneyline on ‘Money’ came down to -700.

The over/under on rounds is 9.5. A 10-round fight is uncharted waters for McGregor, but 13 of Mayweather’s last 14 fights have gone at least 10 rounds. Twelve have gone the full 12 rounds; the Mayweather-McGregor betting odds on whether the fight goes the distance pays +125 if it does, and -175 if it’s stopped early.

McGregor also pays +120 if he wins by decision, which is the standard outcome for his bouts against full-time boxers. McGregor’s method-of-victory props include +700 for a knockout and +3300 for victory by decision.

There is little in the way of past performance to go on here, since McGregor hasn’t boxed since he was a teenager in Ireland. Mayweather’s defensive skills should allow him to parry any early onslaught from McGregor, who is a knockout artist in the UFC octagon and rarely has fights go more than two rounds.

The round prices offer the most potential profit for Mayweather backers. One can assume that the skilled defensive fighter might dance around while McGregor goes out hard. It might be prudent to scale down expectations of a quick finish – +3300 for Mayweather winning in Round 1, +2500 for Round 2 – and look at the slightly later rounds. Rounds 4 through 6 are listed at +1600 and +1400.

While Mayweather’s round prices trace a reverse parabola, McGregor’s round prices are relatively stable. The Irishman offers +4000 for a win in Round 1, or each one from Rounds 4-7. There is a slight drop to +3300 for both Round 2 and 3.

Another way to bet on the Mayweather-McGregor fight is the 4.99 million total for pay-per-view buys. The over hitting would require beating the audience for Mayweather’s 2015 fight against Manny Pacquaio (4.6 million). McGregor also holds the UFC’s PPV record of 1.65 million, set at UFC 202 in August 2016

With boxing and MMA fans creating a larger fanbase and the event being scheduled for the dog days of late August – before the NFL and college football blot out everything else on the sports landscape – 5 million buys seems doable.