Tributes paid to Muhammad Ali on 70th birthday
Lennox Lewis and George Foreman were among the stars to pay tribute to boxing legend Muhammad Ali on his 70th birthday.
British former world heavyweight champion Lewis, who was among 350 guests at a celebration dinner in Louisville on Saturday (14 January), said Ali had inspired him to take up boxing.
“Muhammad Ali inspired me – from when I was a young boy growing up – he motivated me to chase my dreams inside and out of the ring.
“I admired the fact that he was concerned about people, enough to oppose the war in Vietnam and young men going there to fight. He is a religious man and he captured my attention because he was always helpful to people,” he told the Telegraph.
“He was a great boxer and lit up the ring and of course I have watched all of his fights. I particularly remember looking forward to seeing him do the Ali shuffle and enjoyed watching he and Howard Cosell go at it.
“I recently watched “When We Were Kings”, which is a great episode in his life and epitomises what he meant to so many people. He gave hope and inspiration to nations all around the world and was revered by them.
“I studied all the great heavyweights, but Muhammad Ali for me was the main guy. He showed you the sweet science of the sport, he showed you how important it was to be fast and nimble on your feet, but he also showed you that you had to walk the walk if you talked the talk, and how brilliantly he did it.
“I definitely think he should be considered the greatest sportsman of all time because of what he achieved, putting boxing on a global platform, and then having the impact on society that he has had outside the ring.”
George Foreman, who had an epic duel with Ali during the seventies, called for a special day to celebrate his old rival’s greatness.
He said: “There should be a Muhammad Ali Day in America, because he will go down as one of the great American heroes.”
Former US president Bill Clinton said Ali’s talent, charisma and strong principals were responsible for raising the popularity of the sport across the world.
And Clinton also praised the three-time world heavyweight champion for helping pave the way for Barack Obama to become the country’s first black president.
“He made millions of people believe. He was something unique,” he told the BBC.
“People had moved away from boxing. It was a huge deal in America in the 1940s and 1950s and then they wrote it off.
“Then here comes Muhammad Ali, first as Cassius Clay, looking like a ballerina in the boxing ring – reminding people it was a sport.
“He made it exciting and meaningful again. He was entertaining and when he was younger he was always mouthing off. But it was part of his schtick.
“He made it part theatre, part dance and all power.”
Ali risked his glittering career, and his reputation, to oppose the Vietnam War. He refused to serve in the US Army when he was called up for service and was subsequently arrested for committing a felony.
Boxing authorities suspended his licence and stripped him of his titles before he was found guilty of the offence after a 1967 trial. The US Supreme Court reversed the conviction four years later.
“It could have destroyed him but it didn’t – because people realised he had been very forthright and he was prepared to pay the price for his convictions,” said Clinton. “On balance he won more admirers than detractors.”
Ali’s success helped break down racial barriers in the US and create the path which eventually led to President Obama’s election in 2008, according to Clinton.
“All those people from the Civil Rights years and also every African-American who did everything that destroyed the old stereotypes have helped,” said Clinton, 65.
“There was nothing inferior about Ali – he was superior on merit without regards to his race when it came to what he loved.
“All this stuff played a role. Society changes slowly, like icebergs turning in the ocean. Sometimes great symbolic events affect changes of consciousness of a whole country. Ali reflects a lot of that.”
British broadcaster Sir David Frost, who famously verbally sparred with the boxer during television interviews at the height of his fame, believes Ali touched the hearts of millions with his words.
He said: “Over the years Muhammad Ali spoke with peace. Not just for boxing but peace in general.
“Ali was the primary reason I took up boxing. I wonder how many more youngsters across the globe pushed open a gym door for the same reason.
“Although he spoke in this war-like rhetoric, it was already clear that the man beyond that rhetoric was a warm and friendly and peaceable man.
“He became the most famous man in the world for a long time. He’s not far off it now even.”
Former British heavyweight champion Frank Bruno said the world will never see another boxer like Ali.
“He paved the way for boxers like myself to want to go into boxing and make a living for themselves,” he said.
“We’re grateful we had Muhammad Ali to inspire us.”
David Haye, who won the WBA heavyweight crown in 2009, added: “I believe he is the world’s greatest ever athlete bar none.”
From Daily Mail