THE world’s most powerful man yesterday led farewell tributes to the world’s most famous man, The Sun reports. US President Barack Obama said Muhammad Ali “shook up the world — and the world is better for it”.
He echoed the phrase the boxer had used when he beat Sonny Liston to win his first world heavyweight title in 1964. Mr Obama said “like everyone else on the planet” he and wife Michelle were mourning Ali’s passing but felt fortunate “The Greatest chose to grace our time”.
The high praise came for a man who rubbed shoulders with world leaders and some of the history’s biggest icons. Ali — formerly known as Cassius Clay — met The Beatles, Elvis Presley, David Beckham, Obama, Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton — but he was bigger than them all.
Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, 49, posted a picture of himself and his idol on his Twitter account and said: “God came for his champion. So long great one.”
David Beckham also posted a snap of when he met Ali and called him “the greatest there will ever be, the biggest and the best”. “Drummer Ringo Starr, who with the other Beatles met the boxer in 1964, tweeted: “God bless Muhammad Ali peace and love to all his family.”
The sporting superstar’s influence was immense. Ex-US leader Bill Clinton believes Obama would never have become America’s first black president without Ali paving the way.
Mr Clinton yesterday tweeted: “Goodbye my friend. You were Great in so many ways.” Ali battled for the rights of black people and his legacy is now being compared to civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
Mr Obama hailed him as a man who “fought for what was right” not only in the ring but outside it. He added: “He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t.
“Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognise today.” The President keeps a photo of Ali and a pair of his gloves in his Oval Office study at the White House.
Boxing legends were united in their admiration for Ali. George Foreman, who faced him in one of his biggest fights — the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” — said his rival was so much more than an outstanding boxer.
He said: “Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met. “No doubt, he was one of the best people to have lived in this day and age.”
Fellow ex-heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield said: “To take it upon yourself and say, ‘I’m the Greatest’, you put yourself in a position for people to take pot shots at you. “This is what Ali did. It’s amazing him becoming three-time heavyweight champion of the world.
At that time people thought, ‘Who could beat three?” Frank Bruno called Ali the “greatest boxer ever”. He said: “There are some boxers who have got power, some have got speed, some have got skill — he had everything.”
Asked what he felt made Ali special, the ex-heavyweight said: “It’s a combination of so many different things — his looks, his charisma, his boxing.” He added: “He was a very intelligent guy, one of the most nicest guys you could ever wish to meet.”
Fellow Brit Chris Eubank said: “He was an inspiration to me to be a better person. “The greatest tribute I can pay to him is to carry myself the way he did.” Ex-boxing promoter and lifetime pal Don King called Ali a “fighter for the people”.
He said: “His spirit was as solid as ever. He wasn’t a man that would take defeat — defeat was not in his vocabulary or behaviour. “Whatever he took on, it was a challenge and he would fight the chall- enge.” He said that also applied to his hero’s battle against Parkinson’s disease.
Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “Muhammad Ali was not just a champion in the ring — he was a champion of civil rights, and a role model for so many people.”
Elliott Gorn, a professor of history at Loyola University in Chicago, said: “Without Muhammad Ali, it is impossible to imagine the accomplishments in race that America has made.
“Ali was an outspoken black athlete talking about race at a time when American sporting personalities were expected to be deeply apolitical.
“Boxers weren’t supposed to be brash, they were supposed to be grateful and humble, especially if they were African American — but Ali turned all that on its head.
“Without a proud black leader like Muhammad Ali, it is hard to imagine the US ever having the courage to elect a black president.”
Pal paddy in eulogy
A BRITISH bare-knuckle boxer who became one of Ali’s closest friends told of his devastation. Paddy Monaghan, 72, says he was woken up with the message that: “The Champ has left us.”
He told The Sun on Sunday: “Ali was my brother. I was woken with the sad news this morning by my son Tyrone. He received a call from Ali’s son-in-law Mike Joyce. He simply said ‘The Champ has left us.’
“I feel I should now be at the side of his wife Lonnie. I have asked a priest to ask for a mass to be said for Muhammad.” Dad-of-five Paddy, of Abingdon, Oxon, became friends with the legend when he led a protest calling for Ali to be given back his heavyweight title, in the row over Vietnam.