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.”

‘It’s about time’: Trump pardons late boxer Jack Johnson

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump on Thursday granted a rare posthumous pardon to boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, clearing Jack Johnson’s name more than 100 years after what many see as his racially-charged conviction.

“It’s my honor to do it. It’s about time,” Trump said during an Oval Office ceremony, where he was joined by boxer Lennox Lewis and actor Sylvester Stallone, who has drawn awareness to Johnson’s cause.

Trump said Johnson had served 10 months in prison for what many view as a racially-motivated injustice and described his decision as an effort “to correct a wrong in our history.”

“He represented something that was both very beautiful and very terrible at the same time,” Trump said.

Johnson was convicted in 1913 by an all-white jury for violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for “immoral” purposes, for traveling with his white girlfriend.

Trump had said previously that Stallone had brought Johnson’s story to his attention in a phone call.

“His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial,” Trump tweeted in April. “Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!”

Johnson is a legendary figure in boxing and crossed over into popular culture decades ago with biographies, dramas and documentaries following the civil rights era.

He died in 1946. His great-great niece has pressed Trump for a posthumous pardon, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have been pushing Johnson’s case for years.

The son of former slaves, Johnson defeated Tommy Burns for the heavyweight title in 1908 at a time when blacks and whites rarely entered the same ring. He then mowed down a series of “great white hopes,” culminating in 1910 with the undefeated former champion, James J. Jeffries.

McCain previously told The Associated Press that Johnson “was a boxing legend and pioneer whose career and reputation were ruined by a racially charged conviction more than a century ago.”

“Johnson’s imprisonment forced him into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice, and continues to stand as a stain on our national honor,” McCain has said.

Posthumous pardons are rare, but not unprecedented. President Bill Clinton pardoned Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American officer to lead the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War, and Bush pardoned Charles Winters, an American volunteer in the Arab-Israeli War convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Acts in 1949.

Linda E. Haywood, the great-great niece, wanted Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, to pardon Johnson, but Justice Department policy says “processing posthumous pardon petitions is grounded in the belief that the time of the officials involved in the clemency process is better spent on the pardon and commutation requests of living persons.”

The Justice Department makes decisions on potential pardons through an application process and typically makes recommendations to the president. The general DOJ policy is to not accept applications for posthumous pardons for federal convictions, according to the department’s website. But Trump has shown a willingness to work around the DOJ process in the past.

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

Lomachenko stops Linares in 10th, wins lightweight title

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NEW YORK (AP) Vasiliy Lomachenko stopped Jorge Linares in the 10th round of their lightweight championship fight Saturday night, winning a title in his third weight class in just his 12th pro bout.

Lomachenko landed a hard left to the body during a flurry of precision punches that sent Linares went to a knee. Linares finally got up just as the count was reaching 10 but referee Ricky Gonzalez called an end to the fight at 2:08 of the round.

Linares knocked down Lomachenko in the sixth and the fight was all even after nine rounds before Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) put an overpowering end to his first fight at 135 pounds, adding that title to his belts at 126 and 130 pounds.

Linares (44-4, 27 KOs) hadn’t lost since 2012 and used his size advantage to do some damage, but in the end Lomachenko did more in an exciting Madison Square Garden match.

The fighter widely known as Vasyl said this week he prefers to use Vasiliy, his legal name. And now he can be called lightweight champion after picking up the WBA’s version of the belt in front of a crowd of 10,429 that chanted “Loma! Loma!” and waved blue and gold flags for much of the night.

It was Lomachenko’s eighth straight victory by stoppage, but this one was much tougher than a recent stretch of clinics in which his last four fights ended when his opponents’ corners wouldn’t let them take more punishment from the Ukrainian.

Lomachenko had joked he should be called “no mas Chenko” for his habit of making opponents quit, but Linares made him earn this victory.

The Venezuelan was on a 13-fight winning streak and was giving the two-time Olympic gold medalist the test he wanted, one that he said would bring out the best in what many already consider the most skilled fighter in the world.

Each fighter was ahead 86-84 on a judge’s card, while Julie Lederman had it 85-all after nine rounds.

Lomachenko said Thursday he needed to finally be put in danger to show his complete array of skills, and then on display in the 10th round with a series of shots that Linares couldn’t defend, especially the left to his midsection that took the biggest toll.

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