The 'greatest boxer' Muhammad Ali has died as Derbyshire reporter Jon Cooper mourns a childhood hero

Potentially the greatest boxer and possibly the greatest sportsman of all time has died at the age of 74.

Saturday, 4th June 2016, 2:02 pm
Updated Saturday, 4th June 2016, 3:08 pm
Pictured is Derbyshire Times reporter and boxing fan Jon Cooper reflecting on the amazing life and influence of Muhammad Ali.

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali died at a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, USA after being admitted on Thursday.

He had been suffering from a respiratory illness, a condition that was complicated by Parkinson’s disease.

As the sporting world mourned this devastating loss, Derbyshire Times reporter Jon Cooper reflects on how Ali had been a larger than life childhood hero and had even inspired him to take to the ring as a teenager.

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Jon, who took up boxing training at St Thomas’s Gym, in Sheffield, during the 1980s, said: “My earliest memories of Ali would be of ITV highlights on World of Sport and BBC’s Grandstand as well as news items and interviews where he would wax lyrical about his fight strategies.

“He was a superhero come to life. He had style, grace and dignity that never left him even as he fell victim to the crippling Parkinson’s Disease.

“Ali also brought me my first sporting heartache as I rushed home from school to watch him during his later defeats at the hands of Leon Spinks and Larry Holmes.

“But nothing could wither my pride and admiration for this sporting and societal icon who had the courage to stand and fight both in the ring and out of it on many political issues too including his opposition to the Vietnam War.”

A funeral is expected in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

Ali was named Cassius Marcellus Clay and became well-known after winning a light-heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

He won his first world title by beating Sonny Liston in 1964 and became the first boxer to win a world heavyweight title on three separate occasions.

He retired in 1981 after winning 56 of his 61 fights.

Ali was also entitled “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC.

Sports fans everywhere will also hold dear his victories against Joe Frazier in 1975, dubbed the Thrilla in Manila, and against George Foreman in 1974, dubbed the Rumble in the Jungle.

British champion Henry Cooper had floored Clay earlier in his career when they met in a non-title bout in London in 1963 but Ali recovered to take the win.

Ali converted to Islam early in his boxing career and in recent times said: “I’ve seen the whole world. I learn somethin’ from people everywhere.

“There’s truth in Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, all religions. And in just plain talkin’.

“The only religion that matters is the real religion - love.”

Muhammad Ali - a name that will ring true for many years to come when we reflect on potentially the greatest sportsman of all time.