Family says Muhammad Ali watched Super Bowl, not on verge of death

Kevin Iole
Shutdown Corner
Muhammad Ali poses before the Super Bowl. (Credit: Ali spokesman Bob Gunnell)
Muhammad Ali poses before the Super Bowl. (Credit: Ali spokesman Bob Gunnell)

The family of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali has disputed a report in a London newspaper that the flamboyant ex-heavyweight champion is near death. Instead, family spokesman Bob Gunnell said Ali was in his Phoenix area home watching the Super Bowl wearing Baltimore Ravens' gear.

Ali's daughter, May May, later confirmed to the Associated Press that the boxing great was watching the game.

The Sun newspaper in London quoted Ali's brother, Rahman, saying that his brother's death is imminent.

The 71-year-old Ali, who was famously stripped of the heavyweight title in 1967 for refusing induction into the military service, has had Parkinson's disease since 1984. He appears frail, but has made several public appearances over the last several months.

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The Sun quoted Rahman Ali as saying that his brother no longer recognizes him.

My brother can’t speak. He doesn't recognize me. He's in a bad way. He's very sick. It could be months, it could be days. I don't know if he’ll last the summer. He's in God's hands. We hope he gently passes away.

The Louisville Courier-Journal, Ali's hometown newspaper, reached out to his wife, Lonnie, who referred the paper to Gunnell. Gunnell disputed The Sun report.

He looks great. He's having a Super Bowl party.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville on Jan. 17, 1942, Ali became one of the most famous faces in the world during a career that spanned two decades. He won an Olympic gold medal in 1960 in Rome, then won the heavyweight title on three occasions. He defeated Sonny Liston for the belt in 1964 while still known as Clay.

He was stripped of the title in 1967 for refusing induction into the military service, famously saying, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong."

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After three years in exile, Ali returned in 1970 and scored impressive wins over Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. That set up what may be the most famous match in boxing history, a March 8, 1971, bout against Smokin' Joe Frazier.

It pitted a pair of unbeaten superstars in their primes, each of whom had a claim to the heavyweight belt. Frazier knocked Ali down with a thunderous left hook in the 15th round, perhaps the most famous punch in boxing history, en route to a unanimous decision. They would fight twice more, with Ali winning both times. Their 1975 bout in Manila, Philippines, which Ali dubbed "The Thrilla in Manila," is regarded as one of the greatest fights in boxing history.

Ali's last public appearance came at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in January.

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