Muhammad Ali was supported by fellow boxing legends George Foreman and Larry Holmes as Sports Illustrated named its Sportsman Legacy Award after him in his hometown Kentucky on Thursday.
On the 40th anniversary of Ali’s fight with Joe Frazier in the Philippines, which is known as the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, the three-time world heavyweight champion received a standing ovation in appreciation of what he achieved as arguably the greatest fighter, if not sportsman, of all time.
The 73-year-old, who is battling Parkisnon’s disease, wore sunglasses as he watched a slideshow picturing iconic moments from his career before receiving a silver award plate. His 14-round fight Manilla fight was his second victory of Frazier and is considered one of the greatest contests in history.
The former champion appeared uplifted when former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal joined him at the front table he shared with his wife Lonnie. ‘Thank you for loving Muhammad as much as you have and that you still do,’ she told a packed audience.
Despite famously losing to Ali in an ill-tempered fight in 1974 in Zaire, known as the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, Foreman said: ‘This is the greatest man I’ve ever met in my life. I get excited and my heart beats (fast) every time I meet him.’
‘He’s a good friend. I never thought a guy would beat me up like that and become my friend,’ he added.
And Holmes, Ali’s former sparring partner who beat him in 1980, added he always hopes to be there when his friend is recognised, saying: ‘I hope we can do this next year and the year after that.
‘Ali got a heart. He will give you the shirt off his back,’ he said.
O’Neal, a long-time friend of the family, admitted accompanying ‘the champ’ on his special night felt like a dream.
‘Sometimes I say I’m still dreaming. Being a kid, I never thought I’d be sitting next to the champ, watching him receive an award. That wasn’t in my dream playbook,’ he said.
Ali has now appeared on a total of 39 Sports Illustrated magazine covers during his career, and will feature as a young man on the front of this month’s issue.