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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.

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.