How the world paid tribute to Muhammad Ali

'He did more to change race relations and the views of people than even Martin Luther King'

Elsa Vulliamy
Sunday 05 June 2016 14:36 BST
Muhammad Ali preparing for his fight with Brian London in London in 1966
Muhammad Ali preparing for his fight with Brian London in London in 1966 (Getty Images)

All over the world, fans and followers have gathered to mourn the death of Muhammad Ali, with tributes have been coming in from every country.

As well as being a boxing champion, Ali was also a controversial and inspiring political figure - converting to Islam in his early twenties and changing his name as a gesture of racial pride.

He also stirred up controversy by refusing into the US military to fight in Vietnam, which resulted in his arrest, and the stripping of his boxing titles (which he later reclaimed).

Here is how the world remembered him:

"He's the most transforming figure of my time, certainly. He did more to change race relations and the views of people than even Martin Luther King. It was a privilege and an honor for me to know him and associate with him." — Bob Arum, who promoted 26 of Ali's fights.

"Ali, Frazier & Foreman we were 1 guy. A part of me slipped away, "The greatest piece" — tweet by George Foreman, Ali's opponent in the "Rumble in the Jungle"

"Without question his legacy is one that he defied the odds because he stood up for what he believed in and when he was put to the test he took personal harm rather than go against his beliefs and what he stood for." — Don King, promoter of "Rumble in the Jungle" and "Thrilla in Manilla."

Muhammad Ali wins his third World Heavyweight title against Leon Spinks (Getty)

"When an icon like Muhammad Ali passes away, it's very emotional. It's also gratifying to know that a guy, one man, would sacrifice so much in his individual life knowing that it would better the next generation of men and women after him. Today I can go to China and all over the world and people know my name and know my face. I give all credit to Muhammad Ali because he was the first icon. He is the GOAT. He's the greatest of all time and it has zero to do with his accomplishments inside the ring." — NBA star LeBron James.

"The world has lost a great Champion. Muhammad Ali, lover of human beings, a warrior for the fight against discrimination ... a great friend." — tweet by football great Jim Brown.

"Today we bow our heads at the loss of a man who did so much for America. Tomorrow, we will raise our heads again remembering that his bravery, his outspokenness, and his sacrifice for the sake of his community and country lives on in the best part of each of us." — basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

"This is a sad day for me — and for the world. Muhammad Ali was bigger than sports and larger than life. He said he was 'The Greatest' and he was right. He was the greatest of his era in the ring and a global icon in sports. I was a kid during his prime, but I remember some of his epic fights and his incredible style. My sincerest condolences go out to his wife, Lonnie, his kids and family." — basketball great Michael Jordan.

Muhammad Ali remembered

"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." — soccer great Pele on Twitter and Instagram.

"Certain people are courageous. He was very courageous in doing what no other athlete probably would have dared to have done, in particular a black athlete at that time," West said. "To me, he's inspired the people to look at inequalities in this world and I think some of the things he did, he just changed the perceptions of people. He was a magnificent person. I loved that guy. I really did." — former basketball star Jerry West.

"Ali was the example of how you use your platform and speak what you believe no matter what people will say," Curry said, "and (I) look at him (with) a sense of confidence in that regard, for sure." — basketball star Stephen Curry.

"The true GOAT (Greatest of All Time). What a sad day for everyone to (lose) someone so great and kind and someone who really stood up for what they believed in. He was my hero. He always will be. (hash)muhammadali (hash)cassiusclay" — tennis great Serena Williams on Instagram.

"I gave Ali the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 and wondered aloud how he stayed so pretty throughout so many fights. It probably had to do with his beautiful soul. He was a fierce fighter and he's a man of peace, just like Odessa and Cassius Clay Sr., believed their son could be." — former President George W. Bush.

"Muhammad Ali, a man who stood by his principles despite criticism and hardship, exemplified a true patriot and a true Muslim. His strength, courage and love of humanity has been, and will continue to be, an inspiration to people of all faiths and backgrounds in America and worldwide." — Roula Allouch, chairwoman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' national board.

"A tremendous loss. There was a time when I was a teenager and I was going through some turmoils in my life and some turmoils in the country. Muhammad Ali gave us all — especially young black men — a sense of pride and a sense of strength." — Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker.

"On the surface, the fighter and the preacher shared little in common. Ali was a Muslim. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian. Their approaches to fighting racism and oppression could not have been more starkly opposing. Ali was bold, brash and unapologetically confrontational. King was even-tempered, calm and unwaveringly rejected hatred. Yet, these men forged a bond of lasting friendship during the Civil Rights era and found common ground on which to oppose the Vietnam War, segregation and housing discrimination. They shared a deep courage and unabiding determination to speak truth to power — just in different ways. In the end, they sought the same things: freedom, justice and equality for everyone." — Dr. Charles Steele, the president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization co-founded and once led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"He might be one of the most impactful athletes in this past century. He's obviously a charismatic guy, did a lot for the sport of boxing. I think he'll be, at least from my experience, known not just for how great of an athlete he was, but for the impact that he had in a social aspect as well. ... Just I think his personality, in combination with how great of an athlete he was, certainly allowed him to have the impact that he's had on sports, not just boxing." — Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan.

"Mr. Ali was far more than a legendary boxer; he was a world champion for equality and peace. With an incomparable combination of principle, charm, wit and grace, he fought for a better world and used his platform to help lift up humanity." — spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.


"Ali, the G-O-A-T. A giant, an inspiration, a man of peace, a warrior for the cure. Thank you." — tweet by actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease.

"Muhammad Ali, who passed away yesterday, was an extraordinary athlete and a remarkable man of good deeds who conquered the hearts of millions. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali's life-long struggle against racism and discrimination will never be forgotten. May Allah have mercy on Muhammad Ali, whose courage, conviction and determination inspired all of humanity. — tweet from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"The best of all time has left. I remember the emotion of my dad when he saw him face to face in Las Vegas, in the fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Herns in 1981. So how can I not feel this loss, if he was what he most admired my father? In the ring he was a dancer. Surely he left because he could no longer give us more happiness. My condolences to his family." — soccer great Diego Maradona on Facebook.

"His life story is an American story, and it's a story that began in Louisville, Kentucky." — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"Muhammad Ali was an incredibly important world figure who made an indelible mark on this country's history and the sport of boxing. I remember him coming up to me at my father's (Joe Louis) funeral and saying that he believed my father was the greatest. To me, Muhammad Ali was a hero and certainly the greatest when I was growing up. He was loved by many and I, along with countless others, am saddened by his passing." — Joe Louis Barrow Jr., the son of boxing great Joe Louis.

"He fought hard, not only in the ring, but in life for his fellow citizens and civil rights. The world has lost today a great unifying champion whose punches transcended borders and nations." — King Abdullah II of Jordan.

"Ali was not afraid of anything. He made up his own rules inside the ring and out, and he told the world that is how he acted even (if) they didn't like it. ... He was suspended for political reasons, he was arrested, he lost, he once boxed 12 rounds with a broken jaw, but he always came back. We learned from him that victory is the ability to stay on your feet after everyone else has raised their hands and given up." — Yair Lapid, head of Israel's centrist Yesh Atid party and a former amateur boxer.

Muhammad Ali with his daughters Laila (9 months) and Hanna (2 years 5 months) in London in December 1978 (Evening Standard/Getty)

"Muhammad Ali has not only been a sports legend but also an outstanding man, whose values transcend his fantastic boxing career. We will always remember him also for his full commitment for the values of equity and brotherhood. We're proud he started his unique sports career winning the Olympic gold medal in Rome 1960, a story that still emotions me very much. He'll be forever 'The Greatest' to all of us." — Rome 2024 bid President Luca di Montezemolo.

"Muhammad Ali transcended sports with his outsized personality and dedication to civil rights and social justice. He was an inspirational presence at several major NBA events and was deeply admired by so many throughout the league. While we are deeply saddened by his loss, Muhammad Ali's legacy lives on in every athlete who takes a stand for what he or she believes." — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

"HBO is honored to have known Muhammad Ali as a fighter of beauty and a man of principle. We experienced the joy of working with him in support of initiatives he passionately cared about including, most importantly, his never-ending desire to teach tolerance and understanding of others to all people." — HBO Sports.

"He sacrificed the heart of his career and money and glory for his religious beliefs about a war he thought unnecessary and unjust. His memory and legacy lingers on until eternity. He scarified, the nation benefited. He was a champion in the ring, but, more than that, a hero beyond the ring. 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." — Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and longtime friend of Ali.

The Dalai Lama greets Muhammad Ali during a dedication ceremony for the Chamtse Temple in 2003 in Bloominton, Indiana (Getty Images)

"Rip the greatest of all times in many different ways" — tweet by world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.

"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." — tweet by British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"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. Meeting him in person was an inspiration. He was a man who at the same time was so proud and yet so humble." — IOC President Thomas Bach.

"Hillary and I are saddened by the passing of Muhammad Ali. From the day he claimed the Olympic gold medal in 1960, boxing fans across the world knew they were seeing a blend of beauty and grace, speed and strength that may never be matched again. We watched him grow from the brash self-confidence of youth and success into a manhood full of religious and political convictions that led him to make tough choices and live with the consequences. Along the way we saw him courageous in the ring, inspiring to the young, compassionate to those in need, and strong and good-humored in bearing the burden of his own health challenges. I was honored to award him the Presidential Citizens Medal at the White House, to watch him light the Olympic flame, and to forge a friendship with a man who, through triumph and trials, became even greater than his legend. Our hearts go out to Lonnie, his children, and his entire family." — former President Bill Clinton.

"We are proud to call Ali not only a member of Team USA, but an Olympic champion. With unparalleled grit and determination, he left a legacy that will continue to inspire generations of Americans for years to come." — Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Muhammad Ali with other flag bearers including Ban ki-Moon and Doreen Lawrence during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games (AFP/Getty Images)

"Muhammad Ali is a legend and one of the world's most celebrated athletes, the fighter who ushered in the golden era of boxing and put the sport on the map. He paved the way for professional fighters, including myself, elevating boxing to become a sport watched in millions of households around the world" — boxer Oscar De La Hoya, who won titles at six different weight classes.

"We lost a giant today. Boxing benefited from Muhammad Ali's talents but not nearly as much as mankind benefited from his humanity. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Ali family. May God bless them." — boxer Manny Pacquiao, a champion in eight weight classes.

"Passing the Olympic torch to Muhammad to light the cauldron at the Atlanta Games in 1996 was the defining moment of my career, and a memory I will treasure forever, as much as any of the medals I won. As Olympians, our role is to inspire others to achieve their dreams, and no person has ever lived that role more than Muhammad Ali." — swimmer Janet Evans.

"Thinking of (hash)MuhammadAli and remembering a man who was not afraid to take a stand and who was committed to being his authentic self." — tweet from tennis great Billie Jean King.

Newspapers all over the world also paid tribute.


The Courier Journal, the local paper in Louisville, Kentucky, where Ali was born described him as a "legend". They were one step ahead of many other papers, announcing Ali's death on Saturday.

(Courier Journal)


Almost all UK newspapers paid tribute to Ali on Sunday morning.



Darwin-based Australian daily tabloid the SundayTerritorian devoted three pages to Ali.

(Sunday Territorian)


Sunday's edition of French newspaper Le Monde had bore the headline 'Muhammad Ali: The history of America'.

Ali's funeral will take place in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky on Friday, and will be livestreamed across the world.

A family spokesman said Ali "would want people from all walks of life" to be able to attend his funeral.

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