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Fikile Mbalula: Muhammad Ali was a genius

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, a self-proclaimed boxing fanatic, says Ali was a one of a kind sportsman.

This file photo taken on October 30, 1974 shows Former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (L) and titleholder US George Foreman (R) fighting on 30 October, 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire during their world heavyweight championship match. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula has described Muhammad Ali as a genius.

Ali died this morning at the age of 74 in a Phoenix hospital in Arizona.

Speaking to EWN Sport, Mbalula, a self-proclaimed boxing fanatic, says Ali was a one of a kind sportsman.

"Ali was a global icon, he changed the sport of boxing."

Mbalula labelled Ali as a leader, saying he transcended the sport of boxing.

"He felt deep about the injustice and took a stand, using his own career of boxing to advance the people's struggles and identified himself with the struggling people of the world."

Ali went on to win some of the greatest fights of all time; the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 where he famously beat George Foreman and a year later, Joe Frazier in the thriller in Manilla.

Ali also carried the flame at the opening of the summer games at the 1996 Olympics.

Watch: Remembering Muhammad Ali: The butterfly, with the sting of a bee

A LIFE OF A LEGEND

Along with a fearsome reputation as a fighter, he spoke out against racism, war and religious intolerance, while projecting an unshakeable confidence and humour that became a model for African-Americans at the height of the civil rights era.

"Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest human beings I have ever met," said Foreman.

Watch: Top 10 Muhammad Ali Best Knockouts

"No doubt he was one of the best people to have lived in this day and age. To put him as a boxer is an injustice."



Ali enjoyed a popularity that transcended the world of sports, even though he rarely appeared in public in his later years.











"We lost an icon," said Delson Dez, 28, a construction worker, who was holding up a poster of the fighter in Scottsdale, Arizona soon after Ali's death was confirmed in a statement issued by his family late Friday evening.

Few could argue with his athletic prowess at his peak in the 1960s. With his dancing feet and quick fists, he could, as he put it, 'float like a butterfly and sting like a bee'. He was the first person to win the heavyweight championship three times.



But Ali became much more than a colorful and interesting athlete. He spoke boldly against racism in the '60s, as well as the Vietnam War.

During and after his championship reign, Ali met scores of world leaders and for a time he was considered the most recognizable person on earth, known even in remote villages far from the United States.

Ali's diagnosis of Parkinson's came about three years after he retired from boxing in 1981.







His influence extended far beyond boxing. He became the unofficial spokesman for millions of blacks and oppressed people around the world because of his refusal to compromise his opinions and stand up to white authorities.

"We lost a giant today. Boxing benefited from Muhammad Ali's talents but not nearly as much as mankind benefited from his humanity," said Manny Pacquiao, a boxer and politician in the Philippines, where Ali fought arch rival Joe Frazier for a third time in a brutal 1975 match dubbed the "Thrilla in Manila."

In a realm where athletes often battle inarticulateness as well as their opponents, Ali was known as the Louisville Lip and loved to talk, especially about himself.

His taunts could be brutal.

"Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head," he once said. He also dubbed Frazier a 'gorilla' but later apologized and said it was all to promote the fight.

Once asked about his preferred legacy, Ali said: "I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him ... who stood up for his beliefs ... who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love.

"And if all that's too much, then I guess I'd settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn't even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was."

Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on 17 January, 1942, as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., a name shared with a 19th century slavery abolitionist. He changed his name after his conversion to Islam.

Ali is survived by his wife, the former Lonnie Williams, who knew him when she was a child in Louisville, along with his nine children.

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