Former rivals, champs Holmes, Foreman unite to honor Ali
Muhammad Ali won another round of love and appreciation for his achievements as a fighter in and out of the ring. He even got the hardware to prove it.
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 opponents who gladly came to honor Ali as Sports Illustrated named its Sportsman Legacy Award after him 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 photos initially weren’t permitted during a ceremony in which he received a silver award plate from the magazine to a standing ovation.
The champ broke a big smile when O’Neal arrived and playfully took Lonnie’s place at the table.
Said Lonnie before a packed room, "thank you for loving Muhammad as much as you have and that you still do."
Ali’s 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 Sports Illustrated magazine covers at different points of his three-decade career as a fighter and half-century as a humanitarian. He has appeared on 39 covers overall.
This week’s issue features a cover of Ali as a young fighter. Other notable moments were featured in a video montage in which he described himself as "The Greatest."
One SI cover included Ali and Foreman, who has come to grips with being a footnote in Ali’s legacy after his 1974 title loss in the "Rumble In The Jungle" in Zaire.
So much so that a trim-looking Foreman praised his onetime rival and added, "this is the greatest man I’ve ever met in my life. I get excited and my heart beats (fast) every time I meet him."
Those tributes have been standard for Ali thanks to a career that included winning an Olympic gold medal and speaking out on many social, athletic and humanitarian issues. Fittingly, he was honored in the center bearing his name and just four miles from his childhood home.
Wherever Ali is recognized, 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.