Jewish boxing greats past and present this week paid moving tribute to Muhammad Ali, who died aged 74 on Saturday.
Former professional Scottish boxer Gary “The Kid” Jacobs, who held the British, Commonwealth and European (EBU) welterweight titles and fought for the WBC crown, met Ali back in 1993 and called him “an inspiration”. He said: “To meet someone that special, that great, who achieved what he achieved, was inspirational. When I met him I was European Champion, so I was fairly high up the world rankings, but when you meet the greatest fighter on the planet – not everybody gets to meet him – it is inspirational.
“He was the best boxer of all time, who did it in a time when it was harder for him due to racial issues. He overcame that and achieved it against all the odds.”
Former welterweight boxer Dmitriy Salita, who fought Amir Khan for the WBA light welterweight title, called Ali “probably the most influential sports figure of all time”. He said: “As a fighter and an athlete, he transcended sports and is probably the most influential sports figure of all time. He stood up proudly and powerfully for what he believed in. When I was a young boy in Odessa, my father used to tell me about Ali’s great fights and his fight for equality and it made him like a superhero in my eyes.
“When I stopped boxing on Shabbat towards the end of my amateur career and certainly when I turned pro, there were lots of challenges. Being the only observant Jewish boxer at that time was a new concept that some supported and many scoffed at. The stories and motivation of a great fighter and figure like Ali gave me motivation and encouragement to believe in myself and do what I felt was the right thing even when faced with lots of challenges. His lessons, fight for equality and incredible heroism in and outside the ring make Ali truly the greatest!”
Belarussian-born Israeli Yuri Foreman became Israel’s first WBA champion in 2009. The 35-year-old, who is now a rabbi and continued his comeback with a win at the weekend, said: “In my opinion the fame and the popularity he achieved was because of his work outside of the ring. He was a three-time world heavyweight champion, a politician, diplomat, poet, civil rights activist and teller of truth – in times when telling the truth was not popular and it took a tremendous amount of courage to do so.”
American welterweight Zachary Wohlman, also known as “Kid Yamaka”, said: “Muhammad Ali will always be the face of boxing. He represents what it means to believe in yourself and identity no matter what the stakes. Everyone gets knocked down, in the ring and in life we watched him courageously get back up. Long live the king. RIP champ.”
The UK’s most prominent Jewish boxer Tony Milch, said: “He was great for boxing and a big loss to the sport. When you think of boxing, you think of Muhammad Ali.”
Ali’s Jewish doctor Abraham Lieberman, was with him two hours before he died. He said: “I’ve lost a great friend. He was a really kind person, with a tremendous sympathy and affinity for people. That to me was Muhammad Ali.”
Former Israeli Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein will represent Israel at the star’s funeral, while Jewish actor and comedian Billy Crystal will read a eulogy.