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The Greatest at 70: Muhammad Ali, so much more than a hero in the ring

17 JANUARY 2012

"I am the greatest."

It's a proclamation Muhammad Ali has repeated again and again right from the start of his boxing career. As he put it: "I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest."

That's why, as he turns 70, he is still adored by fans around the world.

 

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Even an absence from the public eye caused by his fight against Parkinson's disease has not dimmed his appeal.

Muhammad was cheered by 350 friends and colleagues at a private party in his Kentucky hometown on Saturday, one of five planned to celebrate his landmark year.

The legend's wife Lonnie Ali says that her husband has mixed feelings about the milestone birthday.

"He's glad he's here to turn 70, but he wants to be reassured he doesn't look 70," she said.

 

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His youthful vigour may have dissipated. What is left is the legacy of an authentic American hero and perhaps the most famous athlete the world has ever known.

The heavyweight champion was more than the sum of his boxing achievements, which included 37 knockouts.

Driven by his convictions, he was articulate, compelling, and passionate in equal measures. Not only was he a role model to voiceless African-Americans, but everyone who was ever challenged over their principles. And it was almost as if his fighting ability and his beliefs went hand in hand.

A hero of the civil rights movement, his finest hour came when he refused to fight in Vietman. He was banned from the sport for four years but came back to reclaim his crown.

 

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In recent years the sports star has dedicated himself to philanthropy, raising millions for charity.

Muhammad Ali turns 70: Heavyweight champion of verse's best quotes

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