Muhammad Ali: Joe Calzaghe pays tribute to his 'inspiration and hero'

Joe Calzaghe
Joe Calzaghe ruled the super-middleweight division for a record 11 years

Joe Calzaghe has led British boxing's tributes to sport's 'The Greatest' Muhammad Ali, who has died aged 74.

Ali died on Saturday after suffering from a respiratory illness, a condition complicated by Parkinson's disease.

Welshman Calzaghe admitted Ali, the first to win the world heavyweight title three times, inspired him to become a two-weight world champion.

Muhammad Ali

"In a 1,000 years time people will look back and say he was the greatest," said Calzaghe, paying tribute to "his hero".

"He is the greatest boxing and greatest sporting icon of all time. He was my inspiration, I tried to copy some of his moves as soon a I started boxing at the age of 10 or 11.

"Boxing is the hardest sport in the world and in a time when he was champion, it wasn't a great sport - it was on a bit of a downward spiral but he transcended the sport with his personality and style.

"People loved him, he was someone completely different, he backed it up in the ring and everybody wanted to tune in and watch him fight."

Ali's trilogy with fellow American heavyweight Joe Frazier is one of sport's greatest rivalries and the infamous third and final showdown, widely known as the Thrilla in Manila, is the favourite of Calzaghe, himself a record-breaking world champion.

"My favourite was the third fight with Joe Frazier," recalled Calzaghe.

" Frazier and Ali had won one apiece but in the Thrilla Frazier didn't get back up for the final round. No disrespect to the world heavyweight champions of today but compared to those guys, they were at a different level.

"They were unbelievable. That rivalry with Frazier was epic, I remember watching tapes of those fights and I wanted to be like Ali.

"And the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman in 1974, he was against a guy who was number one in the division and Ali was a massive underdog.

"Everybody thought Ali wasn't just going to get beaten or hurt against Foreman, but they thought he was going to get killed.

Muhammad Ali spars with Sir Tom Jones
Muhammad Ali 'spars' with Welsh singing legend Sir Tom Jones in 1980

"But Ali stood back, took incredible punishment and waited for Foreman to burn himself out before knocking him out in the eighth. That was incredible.

"It is a truly sad day hearing he has died. There'll never be another Muhammad Ali. He was a superstar. And although he has gone, his legacy will live on for what he has done for sport and humanity."

"I know he has been poorly with Parkinson's Disease for a long time but it still so upsetting as he is somebody that made such a big difference to my life and the lives of so many people around the world."

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor have front row seats for Ali's fight with Henry Cooper at Wembley Stadium in 1963
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor have front row seats for Ali's fight with Henry Cooper at Wembley Stadium in 1963

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