Tens of thousands of people from all over the world will gather at Louisville in Kentucky today not just to bid farewell but to celebrate the life of the Boxing superstar Muhammad Ali, widely respected as one of the greatest sports personalities of modern times.
According to agency reports, Actor Will Smith and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis will be among the pallbearers for today’s funeral of the Boxing legend who, as Shakespeare would have said, “strode the world stage like a colossus” in the 1960s and the 1970s.
Attending the funeral of the world’s most famous boxer, entertainer and antiwar activist will be former United States President Bill Clinton, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and comedian Billy Crystal. Actor Smith had played Ali in the 2001 movie of the same name, earning an Oscar nomination and becoming a family friend. London-born Lennox Lewis, who went on to represent Canada in the Olympics, is one of three boxers along with Ali and Evander Holyfield to have held the heavyweight title three times. At least 30,000 people are expected to attend the Inter-Faith Thanksgiving services in Louisville while hundreds of millions will watch it live on television.
In one of the hundreds of glowing tributes to the Superman, who went over and above any boxing ropes or boundary lines in his professional and personal life, the Guardian’s Gary Younge says Muhammad Ali knew he had a job to do on this planet – inspire people.
“In life, there’s a beginning and an end,” said John Carlos, the black American Olympic medalist who raised his fist in a black power salute from the podium of the 1968 Olympic games. “The beginnings don’t matter. The end doesn’t matter. All that matters is what you do in between – whether you’re prepared to do what it takes to make a change. There has to be physical and material sacrifice.
When all the dust settles and we’re getting ready for the last round, the greatest reward is to know that you did your job when you were here on the planet.” Indeed Ali did it and did it well.
US President Barack Obama says he kept a pair of Ali’s gloves on display in his study under picture of Ali towering over Sonny Liston after he knocked him out in the first round of the world heavyweight title fight in 1965. “Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it,” President Obama said.
“When champions win, people carry them off the field on their shoulders. When heroes win, people ride on their shoulders. We rode on Muhammad Ali’s shoulders,” says Rev Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader and a long-time friend.
When Ali announced his membership of the Nation of Islam and that he was changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, he told the media: “I’m no troublemaker. I have never been to jail. I have never been to court. I don’t join any integration marches. I don’t pay attention to all those white women who wink at me. I don’t carry signs. A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing.”
As the poet Henry Wordsworth Longfellow would have said, “Ali drove the nail aright, he stuck it on its head and he stuck with all his might while the iron was red.The poet would have also written that heights reached by personalities like Ali, reached and kept, were not gained by sudden flight; but he, while others slept, was toiling upwards in the night.
Perhaps the legendary Rudyard Kipling’s famous ‘If’ and his description of a man could form the lines of our final ode to Ali:
He kept his head when others were losing theirs and blaming it on him.
He trusted himself when others doubted him and made allowance for their doubting too.
He had dreams, but did not make dreams his master. He met with triumph and disaster and treated those two impostors just the same.
He filled the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of boxing well done.
So his was the world and everything in it and – what’s more, as the Bard would have said – THIS WAS A MAN.