Muhammad Ali: January 17, 1942 - June 3, 2016

“That all you got, George? That's all you got?” said Muhammad Ali during the George Foreman fight in 1974. Ali – the greatest boxer of all time who died on Friday aged 74 – had an upper hand with psychological battles. Ali was a professional within the ring and a companion outside; George became his closest friend later.

The Olympic medallist and three-time world champion was more than a sportsman. Ali predicted the anti-Vietnam war movement in the sixties and refused to enroll in the armed forces.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong,” he said on refusing the US army induction.

He was a socialist, a philanthropist who distributed medicines to the restricted Cuba; he defied the government and reached Iraq to secure the release of 15 US hostages (under Saddam Hussein) before the Gulf war. The Americans criticised him, many believed he wanted to throw light on his worn-out celebrity status but for Ali, the tour meant goodwill. He also made such tours to Afghanistan and North Korea.

Ali, a rebel with his views on Vietnam war, almost lost his world titles and boxing license. A convert to Islam, he said his religious beliefs didn’t allow him to wage a war. The US foreign policy didn’t fall in line with his thought; he was sentenced to five years in prison in June 1967. He missed three years of professional career but stood his ground. It was overturned in 1971.

The maverick boxer, with a humanitarian heart, followed his instincts. Being an institution of principles and hard work, he personified perseverance and grit.

He hated being called Cassius Clay – his actual name. “Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me,” he made it clear.

Cassius hardly attended school, he barely read or wrote after graduating from the Central High School in 1960. He ranked 376th in the class of 391 students.

A stolen bicycle took him to Joe Martin, a white policeman and the organiser of a boxing club in the darkness of Columbia auditorium’s basement. Ali made sunshine out of the murky setting.

Ali received the presidential medal of freedom from George W Bush in 2005 – his country’s highest civilian honour.

Kentucky to middle-east, Cuba to Iraq – Ali did float like a butterfly, stung like a bee, seven decades flew as fast as he hoodwinked his opponents.

Ali is survived by his fourth wife, Lonnie, and by two sons and seven daughters.

(A rare photograph of Elvis Presley fixing a bejewelled robe he had presented to Muhammad Ali)