‘Ali may have been arrogant, but he was a generous man’

Boxing referee Stanley Christodoulou says many don’t know Muhammad Ali was a humanitarian.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela, enjoying a moment with former boxing champion, Muhammad Ali. Picture: Facebook.

JOHANNESBURG - Former world boxing referee Stanley Christodoulou says Muhammad Ali was not only an outstanding boxer, but also a great humanitarian.

Ali died of septic shock due to unspecified natural causes on 3 June.

The retired boxer was 74-years-old.

The former heavyweight champion of the world was admitted to hospital last week with respiratory problems caused by Parkinson's disease.

Christodoulou says Ali may have been arrogant but he was a very generous man.

"I remember when Don King started out, he used Ali's name and the money they gave towards certain hospitals and [the] previously disadvantaged. He did a lot of humanitarian work; that's the great person that he was. Nobody knows all that because he didn't go and advertise it but that's what he did all the time."

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Ali shot to fame by winning light-heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

His footwork was so strong that it was extremely difficult for opponents to cut down the ring and corner Ali against the ropes.

Ali was outspoken about religious freedom and racial injustice against young African Americans. At the age of 22 he won the world heavyweight championship in 1964, from Sonny Liston, in a shocking upset. Shortly after that bout, Ali joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name.

He went on to win some of the greatest fights of all time, including the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 where he famously beat George Foreman on African soil, fighting in front of thousands in Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ali's hometown of Louisville will honour the former boxing champion on Friday, with a procession through the Kentucky city and public funeral at a sports arena - a tribute befitting a local hero who achieved global stature as a humanitarian.

Additional reporting by Reuters