A remarkable boxer and an amazing human being- but was Muhammad Ali really the greatest fighter?

Former Sheffield world champion Clinton Woods has no doubts that Muhammad Ali lived up to the tag as the greatest of all time - but not everybody in the local boxing community shares his view.

Tuesday, 7th June 2016, 3:50 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th June 2016, 3:53 pm
Billy Crystal, right, hugs boxing legend Muhammad Ali on his 65th birthday on the campus of Arizona State University in 2007. Crystal is expected to speak at Ali's funeral in Louisville, on Friday

The man born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr died aged 74 last week and will be buried in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday.

Today the local fight scene paid its respects to the legendary heavyweight. Yet opinion is divided whether he truly was the best ever to grace a ring.

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“Ali had everything, movement, speed, power, a great ability to soak up punishment, stamina and intelligence,” said Woods. “In a time of 15 round fights he had everything. This was at a time when they were many hard talented heavyweights. His fights with Joe Frazier were savage. He was definitely the greatest heavyweight.”

Trainer Glyn Rhodes was one of Ali’s most enduring UK fans. “His award of sports personality of the century says it all,” he said. “He was the greatest sportsman that ever lived and a humanitarian and ambassador outside boxing.

“There’s not been another heavyweight boxer that could have lived with him on his best night, for instance the fight between Ali and Cleveland Williams (1966) was pure class. His biggest achievement was to win the heavyweight title three times in the era he did. His greatest fight was Ali beating George Foreman in Africa in 1974 and the greatest image of Ali was when he lit the Olympic flame while suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

“For a man to be willing to give up the heavyweight championship of the world for something he believed in is unbelievable. How many sports people now would give up anything nowadays? The nearest I came to the man was training in Miami at Angelo Dundee’s gym and visiting the 5th Street gym that Ali made famous on Miami beach. A marvellous man in every way.”

Former British world champion Ricky Hatton with Muhammad Ali

Sheffield’s world champion Kell Brook, a father of two daughters, would have named his son Cassius, had he had one.

The IBF ruler said: “He changed the game of boxing. He had his style but the way he talked as well – it made him a legend in the ring. And he is near to being a prophet outside it.

“He wanted to help people to his final breath. You hear about the stuff from earlier in his life, when it was a difficult time and place. It wasn’t easy for him. But he did what he wanted and what he thought was the right thing to do.”

Paul ‘Silky’ Jones agrees with the opinion that Ali was not only the greatest sportsman but was also a man of enormous character and influence.

Muhammad Ali, left, hugs former U.S. President Bill Clinton as he walks onstage at the grand opening gala celebration for the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. Clinton will deliver the eulogy at Alis funeral

“He was a great human who truly did shake up the world,” he said. “I’m truly blessed and honoured to say I was alive when Ali was. To say I shared the earth with this man is humbling. You cannot call this man just a great boxer or athlete, he was much more. Boxing was just an instrument he played his beautiful music through. We can’t compare him to fighters of today because: “If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologise.”

Doncaster promoter Stefy Bull said Ali was his inspiration as a kid. “He is certainly one of the reasons why I dedicated myself to the beautiful sport,” he said.

“He was the full package in and out of the ring and stood for what he believed in. His biggest achievement was beating Sonny Liston and George Foreman; he was never given a chance and to win how it did against the odds was special. To become a great you have to beat a great and Ali did that on many occasions.

“I believe he could live in any generation and beat any heavyweight pound for pound, he was that good. I’d go as far as saying possibly the greatest sportsman ever. Young boys wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him.”

Former British world champion Ricky Hatton with Muhammad Ali

Trainer Ross Burkinshaw added: “Ali was idolised the world over. He stood up for what he believed in even if it had a damaging effect on himself. One of his daughters Hana once wrote a book named ‘Ali, More Than A Hero’ and that sums him up. I don’t think there is a heavyweight in today’s scene that would get near Ali.

“I’ve had the privilege of meeting two of Ali’s daughters and watching his daughter, Layla, box Joe Frazier’s daughter Jackie! It was billed Ali-Frazer 4. I met Joe there but didn’t get the chance to meet Muhammad. As a boy to my teens I watched Ali over and over. He was so inspirational.”

Trainer Andy Marlow has fond memories of watching Ali on TV, as a child but thinks he would have been undone if Mike Tyson had campaigned in his era.

“Ali’s skill, style and charisma were unique but they fitted in with those times along with Elvis, Bruce Lee, The Harlem Globetrotters etc,” he said.

“To me he is an icon, a real inspiration and a man who backed up his words. Ali would breeze through today’s fighters but as for the question would he beat an on form Mike Tyson. Well... the answer is no. It hasn’t sunk in yet about Ali’s death but I suppose we all been expecting it and conditioning ourselves for his end for years.”

Heavyweight Dave Allen added: “Anyone in involved with boxing has Ali to thank for making the sport what it is today. I don’t think he is the greatest fighter of all time but he’s the greatest thing to happen to boxing, beating Frazier 2-1 in The Trilogy for me is his best achievement and I think everyone remembers the image of him standing over Sonny Liston.”

Muhammad Ali, left, hugs former U.S. President Bill Clinton as he walks onstage at the grand opening gala celebration for the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. Clinton will deliver the eulogy at Alis funeral

Sam O’maison insists that Ali “is the face of boxing not because what he did in the ring but because of how he stood against everything on the outside of the ring.”

“He was the first boxing match I watched as a boy and I remember it clearly to this day,” he added.

“I think today it needs more of the Ali swagger about the heavyweight scene apart from Tyson Fury. The fight that will always stand in my head is Ali v Foreman. How Ali stood in that corner and let Foreman punch himself tired and to take all those shots seems madness!”