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Ali remembered in prayer as an icon who pushed for unity

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thousands of fans, dignitaries and faithful from across the globe filled a Kentucky arena Thursday to honor Muhammad Ali at a traditional Muslim prayer service where he was remembered as a global icon who used his celebrity to promote unity among faiths, races and nations.

The service, known as Jenazah, began two days of remembrances for the boxing legend, who died Friday at age 74. Ali designed his final memorials himself years before he died, and intended them to be in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and open to all.

“He was a gift to his people, his religion, his country, and ultimately, to the world. Ali was an unapologetic fighter for the cause of black people in America,” said Sherman Jackson, a leading Muslim scholar who spoke at the service. “Ali was the people’s champion, and champion he did the cause of his people.”

More than 14,000 got tickets for the Thursday service, and millions more were able to watch by live stream. Tickets for Friday’s memorial were gone within an hour. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, boxing promoter Don King and Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, were among the high-profile guests in attendance Thursday.

Ali joined the Nation of Islam, the black separatist religious movement, in the 1960s, but left after a decade to embrace mainstream Islam, which emphasizes an embrace of all races and ethnicities.

The attendees at the service were young and old; black and white; Muslims, Christians and Jews. Some wore traditional Islamic clothing, others blue jeans or business suits. Outside the arena, the term “Jenazah” trended on Twitter as the service started and the world began to watch.

“We welcome the Muslims, we welcome the members of other faith communities, we welcome the law enforcement community,” Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent U.S. Muslim scholar, told the crowd. “We welcome our sisters, our elders, our youngsters.”

“All were beloved to Muhammad Ali.”

The service lasted less than an hour and included prayers and several speakers, including two Muslim women, who described Ali’s impact on their own lives, on the world’s acceptance of the Islamic faith and as a champion for civil rights.

Mustafa Abdush-Shakur leaned on his cane as he limped into the arena. He came 800 miles from Connecticut despite a recent knee replacement that makes it excruciating to walk.

“This is a physical pain,” he said. “But had I not been able to come and pray for my brother, it would have caused me a spiritual pain and that would have been much deeper.”

A fellow Muslim who shares the boxing great’s name arrived in Kentucky with no hotel reservation, just a belief that his 8,000-mile pilgrimage was important to say goodbye to a person considered a hero of his faith.

Mohammad Ali met the boxer in the early 1970s and they struck up a friendship based on their shared name. The Champ visited his home in 1978 and always joked he was his twin brother, he said. He stood weeping at the funeral, a green Bangladeshi flag draped over his shoulder, holding snapshots he took of the boxer during his visit, one standing with his family, another of him sprawled on a bed in his home.

The service began with four recitations of “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great,” with silent prayers between of a reading from the first chapter of the Quran, a blessing for Abraham, a general prayer for the well-being and forgiveness of the deceased for the next life and a prayer for everyone at the funeral.

The memorials are taking place after a burst of assaults on U.S. mosques and Muslims following the Islamic extremist attacks last year in Paris and San Bernardino, California, and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the presidential election.

Organizers of Ali’s memorials say the events are not meant to be political. Still, many Muslim leaders say they are glad for the chance to highlight positive aspects of the religion through the example of Ali, one of the most famous people on the planet. The global nature of the service – and because it was streamed – offered a window into a religion many outsiders know little about.

“In this climate we live in today, with Islamophobia being on the rise and a lot of hate-mongering going on, I think it’s amazing that someone of that caliber can unify the country and really show the world what Islam is about,” said 25-year-old Abdul Rafay Basheer, who traveled from Chicago. “I think he was sort of the perfect person to do that.”

Muslims typically bury their dead within 24 hours, but the timeline is not a strict obligation, and accommodations are often made, either to follow local customs or, in the case of a public figure like Ali, provide time for dignitaries and others to travel. Ali died in Arizona and time was needed to transport his body to Louisville, said Timothy Gianotti, an Islamic scholar at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Gianotti said by phone that he and three others – two Phoenix-area Muslims and Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent U.S. Muslim scholar who will lead Thursday’s prayers – washed, anointed and wrapped Ali’s body within a day of his death. The body is typically wrapped in three pieces of simple fabric.

“Muhammad planned all of this,” Shakir said. “And he planned for it to be a teaching moment.”

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AP religion reporter Rachel Zoll contributed to this report from New York. Reporters Jeff Karoub contributed from Detroit and Claire Galofaro from Louisville.

GGG outlasts Jacobs in close unanimous decision

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NEW YORK (AP) Gennady Golovkin outlasted Danny Jacobs in an exhausting 12-round defense of his middleweight titles Saturday night.

Both fighters are knockout artists, yet this one went the distance – the first time GGG has not had a KO in 24 fights, and his first time going 12 rounds. The Kazakh won 115-112 on two judges’ cards and 114-113 on the other.

The AP had it 114-113 for Golovkin.

In the toughest fight of his stellar career, Golovkin often was stymied by Jacobs changing to a left-handed style. But a series of hard rights throughout the bout were enough – barely – to bring his record to 37-0.

“Daniel did a very good job,” Golovkin said. “Daniel is my favorite fighter. I can’t destroy him.”

He didn’t, unlike so many other opponents who felt the fury or GGG.

“I thought I won it by at least two rounds minimum,” said Jacobs, nicknamed Miracle Man after he overcame bone cancer in 2011-12 to win 10 straight fights. “I did feel like I had to win the 12th round to make sure.”

He won it on two of the three cards, but it wasn’t enough, perhaps because he was knocked down in the fourth round, which went to Golovkin 10-8 on all three cards.

Still, with Madison Square Garden reverberating from chants of “Triple G” or “JACOBS,” no one could be sure of the outcome right until the final punch.

Jacobs is 32-2. Golovkin holds on to his belts and took Jacobs’ WBA middleweight title.

Golovkin, a world champion since 2010, is 5-0 at the Garden, which he calls a “second home.” But Jacobs, from Brooklyn and, oddly, a representative of the competing arena the Barclays Center, tested him more than anyone has.

Golovkin keeps his WBC and WBO crowns – the IBF belt was not at stake because Jacobs skipped that organization’s fight-day weigh-in. On the horizon for GGG could be that elusive meeting with Canelo Alvarez if the Mexican wins his fight in May against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

“Of course I am ready to fight Canelo, of course I want that fight,” Golovkin said. “I am like an animal for that fight.”

But there’s another option, GGG admitted.

“I will give Danny Jacobs a chance for a rematch.”

Earlier, Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai stunned previously unbeaten Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, knocking down the Nicaraguan in the first round, bloodying his face with an unintentional head-butt in the third, then winning a majority decision for the WBC super flyweight championship.

Even though Sor Rungvisai was docked a point in the sixth round for another head-butt – there were several in the brutal bout – he never backed off. He relentlessly attacked the cut over the right eye of Gonzalez, who clearly was hampered by the blood streaming down his face. The challenger carried the fight in the eyes’ of the judges through the latter rounds.

In only his second fight outside Asia, Sor Rungvisai improved to 42-4-1 with 38 knockouts. Gonzalez, considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, is 46-1.

One judge had the fight even at 113-113. The other two gave the Thai the nod 114-112 in the action-packed bout.

A sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden vigorously booed the decision.

The AP had it 115-113 for Gonzalez, who has held some sort of world title since 2008.

Gonzalez went down from a hard right to the body in the opening round, but he then took charge – even after his face turned to a bloody mask in the middle rounds. However, Sor Rungvisai landed enough punches and moved well enough to keep in it.

And then, despite being outpunched decisively, with Gonzalez landing 441 to 284, the Thai got the surprise decision.

Earlier, Carlos Cuadras outpointed fellow Mexican David Carmona in a super flyweight fight.

Both from Mexico City, Cuadras and Carmona were coming off defeats. Neither was particularly sharp Saturday night, and the decision drew a lusty round of boos from the crowd.

Perhaps the unorthodox manner in which Cuadras fought, at times looking off-balance and awkward, didn’t win over the fans. Or maybe it was the way Carmona came on late in the 10-rounder.

Regardless, the judges went for Cuadras 97-93, 97-93 and 96-94.

Cuadras (36-1-1 with 27 KOs) lost a close unanimous decision to Gonzalez in a sensational September matchup for the WBC belt he’d held since 2014. He wasn’t nearly as impressive in his win at the Garden.

Carmona (20-4-5) was also coming off a loss, to WBO world champion Naoya Inoue of Japan.

Cleveland’s Ryan Martin improved to 18-0 with 11 knockouts when he totally outmatched Bryant Cruz before stopping him in the seventh round of their lightweight bout.

Floyd Mayweather would be massive betting favorite against Conor McGregor in superfight

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Seeing how Floyd Mayweather has never lost a professional fight to any actual boxer, oddsmakers rate him as an overwhelming favorite if the much rumored boxing match against mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor comes to realization.

Mayweather is  listed as a -1400 betting favorite against the +750 underdog McGregor at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. If it happens – and McGregor has been dropping hints that it will, sharing video of him training for boxing in Mayweather’s hometown of Las Vegas – it would also be the most lucrative bout in prize fighting history.

Mayweather, who turns 40 years old next week, is a perfect 49-0 during a career which has seen him win acclaim as the best fighter, pound for pound, of the last quarter-century. The five-division world champion has stayed on top of the game for so long by being an excellent defensive fighter who wears out opponents.

Mayweather’s last seven victories as well as 10 of his last 12 have gone the full 12 rounds. At this stage of his career, he’s far from a knockout artist but is likely to be able to keep his guard up much better than the typical opponent McGregor faces in the Octagon.

McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion, ends his fights quickly. The Irishman has won 17 of his last 18 bouts, including 14 by knockout or technical knockout. Stamina likely wouldn’t be an issue for McGregor in a boxing ring, given that boxing rounds are two minutes shorter than the five-minute rounds in the UFC.

Of course, if the fight actually comes to pass, McGregor would have to adjust to using the heavier boxing gloves and would have to get used to staying on his feet.

Since coming to the UFC, McGregor has been an underdog only once, closing at -105 against Jose Aldo at UFC 194. That was the bout where he knocked out Aldo in 13 seconds.