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Ali’s cemetery opens to public, and fans pay homage at grave

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) He carried a dozen roses into Cave Hill Cemetery and headed for a patch of grass in the back corner that seemed too ordinary for the man buried beneath it.

Farzam Farrokhi had worried there would be a horde of people Saturday morning elbowing for a place among the first to see Muhammad Ali’s grave.

Instead he found a quiet and reverent stream of visitors. There was not yet a headstone marking the spot. No rope cordoned off those wishing to kneel, pray or kiss the grave.

It would have looked like any unremarkable rectangle of fresh sod had people not been snapping photos. A few brought flowers, one left a tiny set of boxing gloves. A man unfurled an Islamic flag and laid it alongside the grave.

Farrokhi, a native of Iran, drove 12 hours from his home in Queens, New York, for Ali’s funeral. He was grateful for no massive crowds so he could sit and reflect on the life and the death of The Greatest, who suffered for years with Parkinson’s disease.

“I can’t imagine a heart like Ali’s being stuck in a body where he can’t do what he wants to do. Now he can be free,” he said. “Maybe he’s shaking up the next world already.”

Ali was buried Friday in a corner of his hometown’s historic Cave Hill Cemetery, 300 acres famous for its beauty and wildlife.

Ali picked the site himself. He toured the cemetery’s twisting paths and towering trees and decided on this spot just across from a flower patch and a lake, with a fountain that babbles day and night. Four geese moseyed across the road nearby Saturday morning.

His headstone will be simple when it’s installed, in keeping with Muslim tradition. It will be inscribed with just one word: Ali.

Jake and Janell Bessler drove from Evansville to see it Saturday. On the way, they told their 4-week-old daughter, Violet, sleeping in her car seat, about the boxing great and what he meant to the world.

“We told her `this is history, you get to be a part of it,” Janell said. They sat her in front of the grave and snapped a photo, so she’ll be able to see it one day.

Visitors trickled in from near and far. James Terry, a Louisville native, carried a map of the cemetery, marking the family plot on the other side where he will one day be buried. He delighted at the idea he will share the same dirt as The Champ.

Roy Johnson, a long-haul truck driver from Colton, California, was delivering a load a paper to New Jersey when the heard about Ali’s death. It broke his heart, he said. Ali made him believe, as a little black boy, that greatness was possible if he fought for it hard enough and never wavered.

Johnson was planning to visit his son, stationed at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border during his trip. He drove about 100 miles out of his way to be among the first to see Ali’s grave.

“My heart is beating really fast right now, I’m in awe of this moment,” he said. “I never got a chance to meet him when he was alive. Now he’s just a few feet away. It’s just beautiful to be standing here.”

Farrokhi stopped at a florist on the way and surveyed the bouquets of roses. They had bunches in red and yellow and white. Then he found one that mixed all the colors.

“When you think of Ali’s fans, they’re every color,” he said. “It seemed right, that’s how he wanted the world to be.”

He pulled the flowers off the stems one by one, crushed the petals between his fingers and sprinkled them on top of Ali’s grave, rows of magenta yellow, red and white. He repeated it 11 times until he got to the last flower, a pale pink one.

He kneeled and laid it whole at Ali’s feet.

Pacquiao plans to return to the ring Nov. 5

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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

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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.”