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Muhammad Ali, 1942 - 2016

World to Gather for Final Farewell

6/7/2016, 2:13 p.m.
With a wit as sharp as the punches, Muhammad Ali dominated sports for two decades. He passed Friday, June 3.
Muhammad Ali, who riveted the world as 'The Greatest' boxer of all time, is pictured through the years from a 21-year-old world championship heavyweight contender to his status in retirement as a world ambassador.

(AP) -- A traditional Muslim funeral for “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali will be held in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday with an interfaith service to follow on Friday drawing political and religious leaders from around the world, according to memorial plans released by Ali’s family on Monday.

Ali died Friday at age 74. Former President Bill Clinton, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan are expected to speak at the Friday service. Representatives from a number of religions, including Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism and Buddhism will also be present.

With a wit as sharp as the punches, Ali dominated sports for two decades before time and Parkinson's disease, triggered by thousands of blows to the head, ravaged his magnificent body, muted his majestic voice and ended his storied career in 1981.

He won and defended the heavyweight championship in epic fights in exotic locations, spoke loudly on behalf of blacks, and famously refused to be drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War because of his Muslim beliefs.

Despite his debilitating illness, he traveled the world to rapturous receptions even after his once-bellowing voice was quieted and he was left to communicate with a wink or a weak smile.

Revered by millions worldwide and reviled by millions more, Ali cut quite a figure, 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds in his prime. "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," his cornermen exhorted, and he did just that in a way no heavyweight had ever fought before.

Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw in the first round of their 1965 title fight in Lewiston, Maine, one of sports’ most iconic moments.

Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw in the first round of their 1965 title fight in Lewiston, Maine, one of sports’ most iconic moments.

He fought in three different decades, finished with a record of 56-5 with 37 knockouts — 26 of those bouts promoted by Arum — and was the first man to win heavyweight titles three times.

He whipped the fearsome Sonny Liston twice, toppled the mighty George Foreman with the rope-a-dope in Zaire, and nearly fought to the death with Joe Frazier in the Philippines. Through it all, he was trailed by a colorful entourage who merely added to his growing legend.

"Rumble, young man, rumble," cornerman Bundini Brown would yell to him.

And rumble Ali did. He fought anyone who meant anything and made millions of dollars with his lightning-quick jab. His fights were so memorable that they had names — "Rumble in the Jungle" and "Thrilla in Manila."

But it was as much his antics — and his mouth — outside the ring that transformed the man born Cassius Clay into a household name as Muhammad Ali.

"I am the greatest," Ali thundered again and again.

Few would disagree.

Ali spurned white America when he joined the Black Muslims and changed his name. He defied the draft at the height of the Vietnam war — "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong" — and lost 3 1/2 years from the prime of his career. He entertained world leaders, once telling Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos: "I saw your wife. You're not as dumb as you look.”

He later embarked on a second career as a missionary for Islam.