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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.

Canelo Alvarez inks 11-bout deal, $365 million deal with streaming service DAZN

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NEW YORK – Canelo Alvarez has signed an 11-fight deal to have his fights shown on the sports-streaming service DAZN, beginning with his next bout.

Alvarez will move up in weight to challenge WBA super middleweight champion Rocky Fielding on Dec. 15 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Golden Boy Promotions said Wednesday that Alvarez’s deal will be the richest athlete contract in sports history. Terms weren’t announced.

Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KOs) is coming off s victory over Gennady Golovkin in a middleweight showdown in September. That fight, like most of boxing’s biggest, was shown on pay-per-view. It cost $84.95 to be seen in high definition.

Now fans can pay significantly less – $9.99 subscription cost per month in the U.S. – to see his fights on DAZN (pronounced Da-Zone). Under the five-year partnership, Golden Boy also will put on up to 10 fight nights per year that will stream live on DAZN beginning in early 2019.

Alvarez wins narrow decision over Golovkin for middleweight title

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin fought 24 rounds in the space of a year, with little to pick between them.

When the scorecards were totaled Saturday night, though, there was a new middleweight champion of the world — but not by much.

Alvarez won the 160-pound titles held by Golovkin by the narrowest of margins, taking a majority decision to hand the longtime champion his first loss as a pro.

Two judges gave Alvarez the final round, allowing him to pull out the win.

A year after the two fought to a draw, the second fight was almost as close. There were no knockdowns, but the action was spirited throughout as the two battled to the final bell before a frenzied crowd at the T-Mobile Arena.

Two judges favored Alvarez 115-113, while a third had it 114-114. The AP scored it 114-114.

“He’s a great fighter but I’m a great fighter and I showed it tonight,” Alvarez said.

The two fighters switched roles from their first fight, with Triple G trying to counter Alvarez and the Mexican fighter coming forward much of the fight. Both landed well to the head and Golovkin (38-1-1) controlled some rounds with his jab though neither were ever in any trouble of going down.

The fight was a rematch of a draw last September that left neither fighter satisfied. This time it was Golovkin who was upset, and he stormed out of the ring without talking.

“I can’t complain, that’s what we have the judges for,” said Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer.

Ringside punch stats showed a close fight, though they favored Golovkin by a small margin. Golovkin was credited with landing 234 of 879 punches while Alvarez (50-1-2) landed 203 of 622.

Almost immediately there was talk of a third fight between two middleweights who now know each other well.

“If the people want us to do it again let’s do it again,” Alvarez said. “For now I’m going to enjoy it with my family.”

Alvarez seemed to take control of the fight in the middle rounds, but Triple G came on strong in the final few rounds to make it as close as it could be. Golovkin landed several big punches to start the 12th round but still lost it on the two scorecards that ended up favoring Alvarez.

Both fighters were cut with Alvarez having one over his left eye and Golovkin cut over the right eye.

It was the first loss in 40 fights for Golovkin, the fearsome puncher from Kazakhstan who held portions of the middleweight title for seven years. And it came at the hands of the red-headed Alvarez, a Mexican star whose positive test for clenbuterol forced the rematch to be postponed from May.

They put on another show before a roaring crowd of 21,965, who crowded into the arena on the Las Vegas Strip with high anticipation in the biggest fight of the year.

Most of the crowd on Mexican Independence Day weekend favored Alvarez, who seemed to control much of the pace of the fight even while taking some sharp shots to the head. Though Golovkin has a reputation as a knockout artist, he never seemed to hurt Alvarez, who credited his fight plan with the win.

“I showed my victory with facts,” Alvarez said. “He was the one who was backing up. It was a clear victory.”

Alvarez was guaranteed $5 million to $4 million for Golovkin, though both fighters were expected to make many millions more from the biggest pay-per-view in boxing so far this year.