For he has been an inspiration to Africans for generations. Africans have followed his fights and chanted his name from Kigali to Khartoum. Every punch threw in the ring was a blow for men and women of colour in Africa.
There was much to admire in Ali. Here was a black man unafraid who beat all comers; a confident and principled man who walked the ring as if he owned it. On top of that he was a skilful, fast, clever and exciting boxer in the glamourous heavyweight division.
On top of that, Ali was not just a superstar. In his day, he was also good looking, charming and witty. He could tie any interviewer in knots with his clever poems and pointed prose. Only he could have said to fellow hard-hitting heavyweight Joe Frazier: “If you even dream of beating me you had better wake up and apologise.”
Legend has it that on a plane to Ghana, on what he called his trip home to Africa in 1964, Ali walked into the cockpit and ran into the black pilots flying the plane.
“What y’all done with the real pilots,” asked a surprised Ali.
“Back where I come from in Louisville they don’t even allow a black man to drive a bus.”
With such attitude and interpretation at his fingertips, Ali became a hit in Ghana. More than 7,000 people packed the streets of Accra to see him. He drew bigger crowds than the Queen.
Ali always had a way of connecting with people. In Ghana he wore traditional Kente cloth and when he boxed a gentle exhibition bout in Kumasi, he pretended to be beaten and flopped to the canvas amid joyful laughter.
It was in Africa that Ali fought his greatest fight and became the only man ever to win the world heavyweight title three times. It was in Kinshasha, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that Ali agreed to fight the moody destroyer from the ghetto, George Foreman. Ali was getting old then and his skills were diminishing. He conned Foreman with the cunning of a fox by sticking to the ropes and getting Foreman to punch himself out.
“Is that all you got George?” said Ali as he watched the power drain from Foreman. When the time was right Ali flattened an exhausted Foreman with a combination that would have stopped a truck. Reporters ringside said Foremen went down in sections, his feet were followed by his knees and finally his giant body crashed to the canvas, never to get up.
On that rainy night in Africa its people sang and celebrated the great victory of their adopted son. I am sure millions of people on the content are praying for Ali to rise from the canvas one more time.