New Delhi, June 4 (IANS) Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson was joined by several other sporting greats in paying tributes to boxing legend Muhammed Ali, who breathed his last after a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease in Arizona.
Ali, 74, who had been hospitalised in Phoenix, Arizona earlier this week, passed away following respiratory problems.
One of the greatest boxers in history — regarded as the greatest by many — Ali was the first man to win the world heavyweight title three times. Known for his staunch beliefs, Ali was an outspoken advocate of civil rights for black people in America and his opposition to what he perceived to be the white dominated establishment which was one of the reasons that prompted him to convert to Islam in 1959.
In 1967, he famously refused to fight in Vietnam, citing religious and moral reasons which saw him being suspended from boxing for four years — at a time when he was at the peak of his boxing power.
Sporting celebrities across the globe took to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to pay their tributes to the legendary boxer.
“God came for his champion. So long great one. @MuhammadAli #TheGreatest #RIP,” Tyson tweeted.
Former World champion Lennox Lewis tweeted, “A giant among men, Ali displayed a greatness in talent, courage & conviction, that most of us will ever be able to truly comprehend. #RIPAli”
Recalling his playing days, former Olympic gold medallist and two-time world heavyweight champion George Foreman, who lost to Ali in the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire, said, “Ralph Ali, Frazier & Foreman we were 1 guy. A part of me slipped away, ‘The greatest piece’.”
Former world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao tweeted, “Please keep @MuhammadAli in your thoughts and prayers. With God, all things are possible.”
Pacquiao’s nemesis Floyd Mayweather took to Instagram to pour his heart out, “Today my heart goes out to a pioneer, a true legend, and a hero by all means! Your charisma, your charm and above all, your class are all of the elements that will be greatly missed by myself and the world.”
“You are someone that inspired me greatly throughout my boxing journey and words can not express how great you were as a person! Thank you for everything you’ve done for Black America, in the the world of sports & entertainment and for the legacy you leave behind! My sincerest condolences to the Ali family!” he added.
Apart from past and present gems of the boxing world, tributes also poured in from legends and stars from other sports.
“The sporting universe has just suffered a big loss. Muhammad Ali was my friend, my idol, my hero. We spent many moments together and always kept a good connection throughout the years. The sadness is overwhelming. I wish him peace with God. And I send love and strength to his family,” Pele, regarded as the greatest ever footballer along with Argentine legend Diego Maradona, wrote on his official Facebook account.
Calling Ali a true Olympian, International Olympic Council (IOC) president Thomas Bach said, “He was an athlete who touched the hearts of people across the globe, an athlete who was engaged beyond sport, an athlete who had the courage to give hope to so many suffering illness by lighting the Olympic cauldron and not hiding his own affliction. He was an athlete who fought for peace and tolerance — he was a true Olympian.”
German football legend Franz Beckenbauer termed Ali as the greatest of all in his message, “Very sad day: the GREATEST has gone.”
Cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar also took to Twitter to pay his last respects to the legendary boxer.
“My hero since childhood. I always had a wish to meet you some day but now it will never happen. RIP “The Greatest”,” Sachin wrote.
Legendary Indian tennis player Leander Paes, who on Friday clinched the French Open mixed doubles with Swiss great Martina Hingis, called Ali the greatest athlete of all time.
“To the GREATEST OF ALL TIME…Thanks for giving every kid a Chance to DREAM…I BELIEVE CAUSE OF YOU… #RIPAli,” Paes tweeted.
Legendary American tennis player Martina Navratilova called Ali a “hero” in her tweet, “RIP Muhammad Ali…we will miss your spirit and humanity. You were shunned,excoriated and jailed for the same reason that made you a hero…”
Beijing Olympics bronze medallist Vijender Singh, who turned professional last year, tweeted, “@MuhammadAli sir u always be a legend ???? #RIP we always miss u.”
Five time World chess Champion Viswanathan Anand also joined the list of celebrities in paying tribute to Ali.
“Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.. Maybe that’s why chess is boxing of the mind. Float like a butterfly sting like a bee would never be the same. R.I.P. The great #MuhammadAli,” Anand said.
Legendary sprinter and multiple Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson tweeted, “He was my hero and gracious enough to write the foreword for my 1st book Slaying The Dragon. The best! #RIPChamp.”
Italy and Juventus football legend Alessandro del Piero said, “Few have passed from the legend of sport to the story of mankind. Thank you ?#?MuhammadAli? eternal example.”
Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and was soon after diagnosed with signs of sluggishness and neurological damage. He thereafter received treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
Married four times, Ali is survived by seven daughters and two sons. His funeral will take place in his hometown of Louisville.