Yes, he did “Float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee,” but the life and legacy of the world famous Muhammad Ali transcended boxing. To many, he is an icon that will truly be known as not only the greatest fighter, but the one that brought life to the sport that will never be duplicated.
According to reports from the Associated Press (AP), Muhammad Ali died Friday, June 3, at age 74, after being hospitalized in the Phoenix area with respiratory problems earlier that week. AP reported that family spokesman Bob Gunnell said Ali, who had Parkinson’s disease, died of septic shock. While it’s not clear exactly what transpired with Ali, people with late-stage Parkinson’s often have difficulty swallowing. Food and liquid landing in the lungs can lead to pneumonia or a chest infection that could cause sepsis, a bloodstream infection.
Local community members weighted in on their thoughts regarding Ali’s legacy, as well as their personal experience with the legendary boxer. Del Duduit, of Lucasville, currently works as a pharmaceutical sales professional for Boehringer-Ingelheim, recalled the time he first met Ali in Ashland, Kentucky in 1991.
“I believe it was in 1991, I was working for The Portsmouth Times as a sports writer and we got word that he (Ali) was going to be in Ashland, Kentucky for a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House,” Duduit said. “From what I remember he had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and it was evident, because he did not speak at the event.
Duduit said he was able to speak directly with Ali.
“When I was able to get some time with him, he really didn’t speak and had to have a person talk for him,” Duduit said. “He would sort of mumble to us, and his interpreter would relay to us what he was trying to say at that time. I remember shaking his hand, and I remember his hand was shaking.
Duduit said Ali signed some of his memorabilia that he’d brought to the event.
“I remember he was very gentle, very peaceful. He was one of my idols, I always admired his work,” Duduit said. ” I didn’t agree with him on everything, but the way he portrayed himself was very professional. In the ring he was a showman, but he was able to demonstrate why he was the greatest fighter at all time. We will never see anybody like him. We will see champions. At one time he had a lot of controversy around him, but his only controversy was for what he believed in, and so you can’t fault him for that, which is different for some athletes today. Some athletes will catch heat, and you will wonder where their head is. He was entertaining, yet dominating and that is what his legacy means to me.”
Frank Lewis, reporter for The Daily Times, said it is indisputable concerning Ali being a icon.
“In a day and age in which superlatives get thrown around, sometimes really important things can actually get lost in the shuffle. For example, the title – icon, can get overused. However, make no mistake about it – Muhammad Ali was a true icon. He completely changed the landscape of sports and in the process, the entire country,” Lewis said “Ali was bigger than life and he was such a great promoter, he made his career that big as well. He stood up for his personal beliefs even to what could have been the potential death of his career. The world is a better place because of a man who transcended sports to unabashedly step into the political arena and take his best shot. He won.”
Eugene Collins, Sr. retired deputy director of Scioto County Community Action, said he got to view Ali in person.
“I was in the military at the time in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Muhammad Ali was living in Lousiville, Kentucky at the time,” Collins said. “Me and some of my military friends went into Louisville to see him (Ali), and some of the other men that were boxing at that time. He is definitely the best all around that I have ever seen in my life. He was also a person that was dedicated to what he believed in. He was actually an icon for a lot of young Americans, and the ones that were around him really enjoyed being around him. At what time that I was able to be around him when I was stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky and going to Louisville and seeing him work out in the gym was unreal, and as he got older he became the Heavy Weight Champion of the World. He was a very dedicated person and what he said is what he believed. He was a superstar and an icon.”
Mark Frazie, former boxer and light weight boxing champion, who participated in the 1977 Olympics, said he met Ali in the same year and had the opportunity to actually get into the ring with the world famous boxer.
Frazie was ranked No. 1 in the light-weight division. After competing in the Olympics with John Tate, who was ranked first in the heavy-weight division, Frazie found himself at a gym in Miami, Florida where the movie “The Greatest,” was being filmed. Frazie was speechless when he looked across the room and spotted Ali standing in the same room.
However, Frazie’s astonishment quickly turned to anxiety when he was invited to spar with the legendary boxer.
“ … I was scared to death, but he took it very easy on me,” Frazie said. “The place was so packed too, from them shooting the movie, “The Greatest.” When I heard that he’d passed away, there are a lot of things that come to mind, is the difference he made in boxing. Not going to the service, I know it made a lot of people mad, but yet how he made boxing look so easy for him and the people he beat was just phenomenal. He was one of the greatest performers that ever came out and brought more attention to it that anyone ever did.”
Reach Portia Williams at 740-353-3101, ext. 1929, or on Twitter @PortiaWillPDT.