By Tuncay Kayaoglu
ISTANBUL (AA) - The death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali was greeted with widespread grief across Turkey, particularly among boxing figures and fans.
The former world heavyweight champion died Friday at the age of 74 in the U.S. city of Phoenix, Arizona, a family spokesman said. He was suffering from a respiratory illness, complicated by Parkinson’s disease.
Seyfullah Dumlupinar, coach of the Turkish boxing team, described the loss of the man widely recognized as the world’s greatest boxer and one of its most influential sporting figures.
“Boxing lost its father and idol,” Dumlupinar, 48, told Anadolu Agency. “Because of Ali, many people became boxers and Muslims.”
Dumlupinar said he had been inundated with phone calls from friends and members of the boxing community grieving Ali’s death.
“Ali was a legend,” Eyup Gozgec, chairman of the Turkish Boxing Federation, said. “He had a unique style and figure, as well as an exemplary persona.”
Gozgec said Ali’s death was a tragedy for Muslims as well as boxing fans.
Ali was known as Cassius Clay before he embraced Islam in the early 1960s with the Nation of Islam, which combined Islam with black political activism, before turning to Sunni Islam in 1975.
He held the heavyweight title on three separate occasions and his fights are among the greatest in the sport. However, it was his charisma and devotion to causes such as civil rights that led to him transcending boxing.
- Greatest of all time
Cemal Kamaci, a prominent Turkish boxer whose career spanned the roughly same period as Ali’s, said: “The world has not seen a boxer like him. He was such a boxer who could knock out his opponents at any moment.”
The 73-year-old, a former super lightweight who was the first Turkish boxer to win a European title, recalled meeting Ali in a gym during a trip to the U.S.
“When he learned that I am a Muslim, he hugged me,” Kamaci told Anadolu Agency.
Elsewhere in sport, Turkey and Barcelona footballer Arda Turan tweeted: “RIP the greatest of all time”.
Hidayet Turkoglu, a former basketball player and now an advisor to Turkey’s president, said Ali conquered hearts and boxing rings while Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus paid tribute to Ali as a “world star as well as Muslims’ strong voice”.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted that Ali remained an inspiration for thousands of people through his sporting ethics and faith.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, highlighted Ali’s stand against injustice and unfairness and many social media users commented on his opposition to the Vietnam War in spite of the damage it did to his early career.
His decision to refuse the draft led to Ali being stripped of his title and boxing license. He did not fight for four years.
Ali leaves behind his wife Lonnie, seven daughters and two sons and a legacy likely to remain unmatched in either the sporting or wider world.