Muhammad Ali won another round of love and appreciation for his achievements as a fighter in and out of the ring.
The latest celebration of the three-time world heavyweight champion and self-proclaimed “Greatest of All Time” featured former champions and Larry Holmes and George Foreman, two notable erstwhile opponents who gladly came to honour Ali on Thursday night in his Kentucky hometown.
Friends, associates, dignitaries and former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal also were on hand for the ceremony on the 40th anniversary of Ali’s third fight with Joe Frazier in the Philippines, an epic 14-round battle known as the “Thrilla in Manila.” Ali earned his second victory over Frazier when the former champion didn’t come out for the final round, and that fight is considered one of the greatest events in boxing and sports.
The 73-year-old Ali is battling Parkinson’s disease. Seated at a front table with wife Lonnie to his right, the champion wore sunglasses as a slide show of iconic photos played behind him. He did not speak and no photos were permitted during the ceremony, but the champ broke a big smile when O’Neal arrived and took Lonnie’s place at the table.
His presence was one of a few yearly visits home, as he spends most of his time in Arizona along with homes in several states.
Ali’s victory and other notable moments were highlighted on a backdrop of two dozen magazine covers at different points of his three-decade career as a fighter and half-century as a humanitarian.
This week’s Sports Illustrated cover features Ali as a young fighter. Other notable moments were featured in a video montage in which he described himself as “The Greatest.”
One cover included Foreman, who has come to grips with being a footnote in Ali’s legacy after his 1974 loss in the “Rumble In The Jungle” in Zaire.
“This means a lot,” a trim-looking Foreman said, “because it was boxing and we all enjoyed being part of it. I wish I could have enjoyed it then as much as I enjoy it now.”
Ali has been part of many moments in and out of the ring during a career that included winning an Olympic gold medal and speaking out on many social, athletic and humanitarian issues. Fittingly, he was honoured in the centre bearing his name and just four miles from his childhood home.
Wherever Ali is recognised, Holmes wants to be there.
“I hope we can do this next year and the year after that,” said Holmes, a onetime sparring partner who beat Ali in 1978.