Three-time heavyweight world champion Muhammad Ali wasn’t just an incredible athlete, but also the face of goodwill to nations around the world.
In 1979, Ali visited China for the first time and met with Deng Xiaoping as he began to implement economic reforms. The small act of diplomacy showed China’s new government (and the US) that it was willing to engage with the West. Ali also helped end China’s 20-year ban on boxing.
On a second visit to China, he said: “Now that you are open to the world, never lose your culture, because others will try to give you their culture. It will be a great fight.”
Ali was also revered in the Philippines, where he fought Joe Frazier in the famous “Thrilla in Manila” boxing match in 1975—considered one of the best fights of all time—which Ali won, maintaining his title as the world’s heavyweight boxing champion.
On the day after his death, here are how some of China and the Philippines’ sports and political figures are mourning the boxer:
“I planned to go visit to my idol, Muhammad Ali, after winning a professional bout… But now, I can only pray he is at peace in heaven, and free from illness and pain.”
—Zho Shiming, the Chinese Olympic boxer, wrote on his Weibo account.
“We lost a giant today… Boxing benefitted from Muhammad Ali’s talents but not nearly as much as mankind benefited from his humanity. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Ali family.”
—Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino boxer, said in a statement.
“Muhammad Ali is a legendary athlete who touched the lives of people from all over the world, including Filipinos who witnessed the ‘Thrilla in Manila’.”
—Benigno Aquino, the Philippines’ president, told the AFP.
“We mourn the passing of ‘the greatest’ who floated like a butterfly but stung like a bee,”
—Joey Romasanta, the Philippine Olympic Committee spokesman, told the AFP.
“He was an icon and an idol to several generations. As a boxer he dazzled, mesmerised and inspired awe. There will never be anyone like him. He was, is and will always be the greatest”
—Ed Picson, head of the Philippines’ amateur boxing, told the AFP.
“He is an icon and a great man. He taught us how to fight, how to overcome hardships.”
—Xiong Chaozhong, China’s WBC champion, told the Business Standard.
“Both Chinese boxing and world boxing benefited from Muhammad Ali’s talent. He was influential both in and out of sports. He fought against injustice and sacrificed prime years of his own career in the process.”
—Yang Lianhui, Chinese boxer, told the Business Standard.