Return to Transcripts main page


Boxing Legend Muhammad Ali Dead At 74; A Look at A Legend's Life. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired June 4, 2016 - 06:00   ET



[06:00:15] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Christi Paul.

JOE JOHNS, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: I'm Joe Johns in for Victor Blackwell. Welcome to our international viewers.

PAUL: Yes, as well as those, of course, here in the United States.

We begin with the breaking news this morning. As you are waking up, I'm sure you are learning boxing legend, Muhammad Ali, has died.

JOHNS: Just a real surprise, I think. He was sick in 2014, he was sick in 2015 and a lot of people were saying this is just another episode but he'll be fine. We discover overnight that the greatest is gone.

PAUL: Yes. He actually had been in the hospital on Thursday. But as Joe mentioned, Ali is known as the greatest to a world of fans. He passed away after this 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease.

Muhammad Ali, don't know if you are aware, but he was born Cassius Clay in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky and started boxing at the age of 12. He went on, of course, to become three-time world heavyweight champion.

JOHNS: And as so many people know, in 1964, he joined the nation of Islam, changed his name to Muhammad Ali after his retirement as Parkinson's disease began to take away his motor skills, he became really an ambassador of peace and he raised millions of dollars for charity. The boxing champ was married four times. He is survived by nine children.

PAUL: Muhammad Ali led a pretty inspirational life when all is said and done. Obviously has incredible boxing career, but he had such strong work for humanitarian causes and he never stopped fighting for what he believed in. He is known as a very principled man.

JOHNS: And he always spoke out, quite clearly. CNN's Wolf Blitzer takes a look now at the boxing legend's life.


MUHAMMAD ALI: This is the legend of Muhammad Ali. The greatest fighter there ever will be.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM" (voice-over): He proclaimed himself "the greatest" and millions of fans around the world agreed.

ALI: Strong like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

BLITZER: Those praises became Ali's motto. His wit and charisma outside the ring would also make him one of the world's best known personalities.


BLITZER: But his persona began to emerge long before he captured his first heavyweight championship. He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky during an ugly era of racial segregation in America.

At 12 years old, Ali's world would change forever when a local police officer introduced him to boxing. It became an outlet for his rage.

It also offered Ali an opportunity to develop his remarkable talent. Just six years later, Ali would bring home a gold medal from the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome.

He turned pro at the age of just 18, and at 22, he stunned the boxing world defeating a fighter the experts thought was invincible, Sonny Liston.

Ali had arrived and Liston would never be the same. To prove the point, Ali put Liston away for a second time in a rematch the following year.

The 60s were glory days for Ali, but the civil rights era would also become a controversial and polarizing period in his life. He renounced his given name and joined the volatile black separatist nation of Islam.

Almost as quick as he had arrived, Ali's heavyweight title was gone revoked after he claimed conscientious objector status and refused to serve in the Vietnam War.

At the peak boxing age of 25, Ali also gave up millions of dollars in endorsements and faced five years in prison, all in defiance of a war he called despicable and unjust.

ALI: My intention is to box, to win a clean fight. But in war, the intention is to kill, kill, kill, kill, and continue killing innocent people!

BLITZER: Ali began a three and a half year exile from championship fights until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction on a technicality.

ALI: Better not fight like that with Ali. No contest. BLITZER: But the world would soon learn that even Superman has his off days. Ali was barely back in the ring when his undefeated professional record came to an end. He lost to Joe Frazier in the 1971 match dubbed "The fight of the century." It was the first of three fights with Smoking Joe.

ALI: Joe's going to come out smoking, but I ain't going to be joking. I'll be pecking and a poking, pouring water on his smoking. This might shock and amaze you, but this time I retire Joe Frazier.

[06:05:10]BLITZER: And retire him he did. The famous, "Thriller in Manila" fight ended after Frazier's trainer stopped the fight following the 14th round giving Ali a technical knockout. Ali was on a roll again.

But his greatest athletic comeback was in (inaudible) in what was then (inaudible).


BLITZER: Ali knocked out the heavily favored young champion, George Foreman. It was called the rumble in the jungle. His last fight in 1981 would mark the beginning of another battle that Ali described as his toughest. The diagnosis that he was afflicted with Parkinson's disease.

After two decades of redefining the heavy weight division, Ali was forced to retire. His lifetime record -- 56 victories, just five defeats. But he never retreated from living a very public life.

In 1996, Ali provided one of the most poignant moments in sports history. With 3 billion people watching, he lit the Olympic flame at the summer games in Atlanta. His hands trembling but never wavering.

Ali remained the consummate showman. As his condition grew progressively worse, Ali struggled each day to whisper a word. His hands and legs shook and his voice quivered.

ALI: I am the greatest.

BLITZER: Yet his spirit was never shaken and he never slowed down from serving as an ambassador for peace and a mediator in world conflicts. In 2005, Ali was presented with the presidential Medal of Freedom award, the nation's highest civilian honor.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: When you say the greatest of all time is in the room, everyone knows who you mean.

BLITZER: And tributes for the champ continued.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you feel about getting the honor tonight?

BLITZER: Ali was one of the most gifted and unique personalities in sports history. The world may never see the likes of him again. In the final chapter, few would argue that Ali needed the crowds as much as they needed him. Not for mere validation, but because each saw in the other the best in themselves.

ALI: Ali's got left, Ali's got right, if he hits you once you'll sleep for the night. And as you lie on the floor while the ref counts ten, hope and pray that you never meet me again.


PAUL: You heard some of his quotes there. I posted one on my Twitter page as well. But one that I love most from him is the man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. It is one of those that makes going to waste any more time.

JOHNS: So much of what he said was timeless.

PAUL: The thing is you are right. He went into the hospital on Thursday, they thought this was just another blip, but maybe everything was going to be OK, but he did spend his final moments there at a hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona. We know, fortunately, he was surrounded by close family and friends.

JOHNS: That is where we find Dan Simon live tonight. Dan, this sudden death came as a bit of a surprise.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. You know, details are a bit thin, but when he was first brought here on Thursday, we were told by a family spokesperson that this was going to be a brief visit, that he was in fair condition.

So I think the speed at which this all occurred caught many people off-guard. We know that he had some kind of respiratory problem, which can be common in people with advanced Parkinson's. So again, this happened very quickly.

He did have this respiratory issue, but at this respiratory issue but at this point, we are not being told much more than that -- Joe and Christi.

JOHNS: Right. A lot of people knew one day or another, this was going to come because it's been decades, his fighting with Parkinson's. These respiratory issues as well. What is his family saying, if anything? I know it hasn't been that long. Have they announced funeral plans? I know there's something they are talking about doing in Louisville this morning.

SIMON: That's right. You know, at this point his family is requesting privacy. We haven't gotten any statements from them as of now. We know that there's going to be a media briefing in Phoenix on Saturday afternoon in a few hours from now. That's when we expect to begin hearing details about the funeral.

[06:10:05]At this point again, we don't have any details other than the fact we know that it is going to be in Louisville, Kentucky, in Muhammad Ali's hometown.

JOHNS: He's really become part of the Phoenix community there, hasn't he? SIMON: You know, that's right. Of course, he did grow up in Louisville but for the past several years of his life he did live in Phoenix. This is where he spent his final years. He became a part of this community.

He loved Phoenix and the community loved him. It wasn't uncommon for him to go to restaurants and be visible in the community even in his advanced Parkinson's stage. Of course, he was very frail.

The last time we saw him was back in April at a charity event. So it was clear that his health problems were worsening, but again, I don't think anybody expected to see this happen.

PAUL: When you think about 74? It does seem quite young.

JOHNS: It does.

PAUL: Dan Simon, we appreciate it so much. Thank you.

JOHNS: Sports analyst, Christine Brennan shares her personal memories of Muhammad Ali including the 1996 Olympics when he made a surprise appearance.

PAUL: And you know what? Our own Pamela Brown has some personal memories of the champ including the story -- look at this -- behind this photo. That is her with him at her home. She's going to share her stories in a moment. Stay close.



PAUL: Certainly our thoughts and prayers are with Muhammad Ali's families, his daughters, his sons. He has nine children, was married four times. And this morning everybody is feeling the loss of the man with the self-proclaimed "the greatest," but then who everyone else followed suit with that moniker.

JOHNS: Absolutely. The interesting thing, too, generations would be watching these programs very differently. You have the people who grew up with Muhammad Ali and followed his brashness, followed his anger, his power, his fight with the government.

And then his victories over the years. Then you have the younger audience that is really sort of being reintroduced to this figure, a brash bombastic boxer, three-time world champion dying at the age of 74.

A revered fighter for his quick feet, even faster punches, a man remembered for his contribution to civil rights, his early and vocal objection to the Vietnam War, one that cost him several years as a boxer.

PAUL: Now for more on the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali, CNN sports analyst, Christine Brennan is with us now. Christine, it's so good to see you again, sadly under these circumstances, of course. I know that you followed his career. I want to ask you about one pivotal moment when you were covering the Olympics in '96 here in Atlanta and nobody knew who was going to come out with the torch to light the flame. It was a surprise and it ended up being him. Tell us about that moment.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Well, as you know, Christi and Joe, who was going to light the cauldron at any opening ceremonies at Olympics is really the biggest story of the Olympics before they begin.

So every day this constant drum beat of who is it going to be, names are floated around. The biggest names in a country, the hero or heroin of a nation. Someone who's just going to be known forever as the person who was -- had this great honor of lighting the cauldron.

So the torch -- the flame, of course, has arrived, comes into Atlanta, eventually comes into stadium. I'm there covering the Olympics, as are many others. Everyone is looking.

All of a sudden Janet Evans, the great Olympic swimmer, who was still competing actually is up there and the flame is passed to her. And you're thinking, it's Janet Evans who's going to light this?

And at that moment, in the darkness, that Friday night in Atlanta in 1976 -- or 1996, out of that darkness emerges Muhammad Ali. If it's possible for 80,000 people to gasp in unison as one, that was the sound at that moment in that stadium.

As Janet Evans passed the flame over to Muhammad Ali and then he, with a shaking arm, nonetheless, did his job, did it beautifully and lighted the cauldron to begin the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

It was a breathtaking moment watched by billions around the world. And a wonderful tribute to a man who started his fame and fortune at the Olympic Games.

JOHNS: The other half of this is, we talk about him being a hero, an icon, a larger than life figure. But he wasn't just revered. He was also reviled by some boxing fans especially back in the day. Why was he such a lightning rod and so divisive?

BRENNAN: Joe, I think we have to set this conversation, as you both know well, of course, in the 1960s. And this is as the Vietnam War is raging, as civil rights issues are absolutely at the highest temperature level you could have in our country.

The terrible things that happened with Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy a couple years later and into this charges Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay at the time.

And when he said he wasn't going to go to Vietnam and was a conscientious objector, at a time when you still had a lot of people -- millions of people in this country saying, love it or leave it.

You know, you've got to represent your nation. You've got to go fight and he said no. And at a time that, now looking back, it makes perfect sense.

Back then it was -- the nation was torn in many directions. Certainly torn in two and in to this came Muhammad Ali and he, of course, became a leader in that way. You have to keep in mind, he actually threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River.

He was a man that was so angry and upset at so much social injustice in this country. So before we had all things we had today in the conversations, you had Muhammad Ali starting those conversations.

[06:20:07]And I think that's important to remember. But of course, if you do that, there are going to be many people who don't like you.

JOHNS: That's funny, too, we were just talking about that gold medal story going into the Ohio River. I know Angelo Dundee, among others, former managers, have actually disputed whether he really did that.

So that just goes to the level of controversy that is Muhammad Ali. There are so many things you don't know about him even as we try to describe his life here this morning. Thank you so much, Christine Brennan. Good to see you.

BRENNAN: Great to see you. Thank you very much.

PAUL: Thanks, Christine.

JOHNS: More than an iconic sports figure, the champ was also well known for speaking out on social issues.

PAUL: We'll have more of that.

Also, CNN's Pamela Brown and her fond memories of Muhammad Ali. The story behind this photo at her dinner table.


JOHNS: Breaking news this morning, condolences pouring in from around the world for the death of boxing legend, Muhammad Ali. He had been battling Parkinson's disease for more than 30 years. Thursday hospitalized in Phoenix with what folks describe as a respiratory issue. Muhammad Ali was 74 years old.

PAUL: He had such a remarkable life not just in the ring, but outside of it as well. That's all enshrined at the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

[06:25:07]CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, you might not know has some close ties to the Ali family and the Ali Center. She joins us now from Washington. So your father was governor from '79 to '83 in Kentucky. He is a co-founder of the center.

I want to throw this picture up if we could please of a little Pamela Brown at the table with Muhammad Ali. Help us understand what was happening in this picture and what it feels like now to look back at it knowing who he is. PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Just such an incredible memory. So, clearly I was a little girl and when I first met Muhammad Ali, you know, my parents told me we have this really special visitor coming to the house. And I had no idea.

I didn't know what a big deal he was. But when he arrived, I was telling him that I loved card tricks and I was really into it at that time. Next thing, I knew, we sat down, and I was showing him my card tricks and he was showing me, teaching me, his card tricks.

And we had this instant bond. Again, I had no idea I was sitting at the table with one of the greatest men who has ever lived. I just thought he was really cool because he knew great card tricks. And it was kind of our thing.

Whenever I would see Muhammad Ali as a little girl, we would sit down at the table, like you see right here, and we would just hang out and do tricks for each other. This picture right here was right before we went to church.

I think this was when I realized for the first time like, wow, he's a pretty big deal. We went to church in Lexington, Kentucky, and of course, we were late because we always were late to church.

And we walked in and, I mean, everyone -- there was sort of a gasp, like, my gosh, Muhammad Ali is here. Everyone turned to look. And you could just -- it was awe inspiring. You could just tell people were just so honored to be in his presence.

And I have to say, my favorite memory of Muhammad Ali growing up was when he was our guest at the Kentucky Derby and we were walking to the paddock to see the horses. He grabbed down and he held my hand. And we were about to walk through the grandstands.

Next thing I knew, every single person at Churchill Downs in the grandstands stood up and they were chanting "Ali! Ali! Ali!" and he's holding my hand and I am thinking, this is the most surreal moment of my entire life.

Just imagine that. All of Churchill Downs and they're cheering him on, and he thrived off of that! You could tell, he loved it. He loved being in the spotlight, making people happy and he would just stop.

He let go of my hand and he would do the one-two punch move do and put a big smile on people's faces. He just loved making everyone happy. He just left such an indelible mark on people really all around the world including myself.

JOHNS: You know, you really sort of point out an interesting feature of Muhammad Ali that's not talked about so much, and that is his connection with children. He really seemed to be the kind of man who loved children and children, in turn, loved him.

BROWN: It's so true! Joe, I remember -- I was thinking back on all these memories. When I was a little girl, he gravitated toward me. Had he this little twinkle in his eye and you could tell he just loved being around me and my friends. You saw my friend, Tory, at the time in my picture. He loved being around kids.

That's what when he seemed the happiest. There were all these adults around, but he wanted to hang out with me and my friend. I think we were like 10 years old at the time and he really did love kids.

Here is a picture of my friend, Tory and I. He had this big smile on his face when he was around us. It's so true. You make a really good point there, Joe, that he just loved kids. He seemed so happy around them.

JOHNS: Interesting, there is a piece floating around CNN right now where there's actual video of Muhammad Ali talking to one of his daughters on the phone. It appeared that even though she was a very young child, he still actually asked her for counsel and advice and talked about, well, should I go back into the ring? Should I go and fight again?

PAUL: She's going no! No, don't do it! Not that he listened to her. But, yes, I think he seemed to have that ability to make everybody around him feel important.

BROWN: I just want to point out that his wife, Lonnie, is just such an incredible person and had a big influence on him. Yes, he has Parkinson's, but he didn't let that hold him back. I think Lonnie Ali deserves a lot of credit for that as well.

PAUL: It's got to be hard for her to see him deteriorating the way that he did and seeing that disease taking him over and yet you could still see that spirit in him.


No doubt about it. Pamela, thank you so much. We really appreciate you being here and sharing that with us. It is so unique and what a moment.

BROWN: Happy to do it.

PAUL: Of course. Thank you. We're going to see her a little bit later as well.

Listen, we've been saying that Muhammad Ali who is remembered as this sports legend. A lot of people on Twitter, on Facebook, they're having their reactions to this. Athletes specifically have a lot to say about it. Coy Wire is here with more. Hi Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi Christi. Just how big of a loss was Muhammad Ali? While we were sleeping, the top 10 trending hashtags on Twitter, all of them, Muhammad Ali related. Simply -- this man known as the greatest. We'll see what they have to say, coming up.



PAUL: So grateful for your company. I'm Christi Paul.

JOHNS: And I'm Joe Johns in for Victor Blackwell. We're following the breaking news of the death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. The man known as "The Greatest" passed away at the age of 74 after years of suffering from Parkinson's disease. Ali was an icon, not just of the boxing world.

[06:35:00] He also championed humanitarian causes after he retired. Born as Cassius Clay, he started boxing at the age of 12 after someone stole his bicycle and went on to become three-time heavyweight champion.

Moments after the death of the former heavyweight boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, millions of people took to social media, which by the way wasn't even around when he was boxing. Coy Wire is here now with more.

WIRE: Good morning to you guys.

PAUL: Yes, my goodness. You are right. Every hashtag has to do ...

WIRE: Yeah, isn't that crazy?

PAUL: ... with Muhammad Ali.

WIRE: So the impact on a global scale, just staggering, all top 10 trending hashtags Muhammad Ali related. Let's take a look at some of them. OK.

George Foreman, this is a guy that, you know, known for the rumble in the jungle with Ali, he posted, "Ali, Frazier and Foreman, we were one guy. A part of me slipped away, the greatest piece." That's powerful.

Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson posted, "God came for his champion. So long great one. Muhammad Ali, the greatest."

How about Floyd Mayweather, known for showing his stacks of cash, posting with pictures of stacks of cash. Well he's not the originator. This is Muhammad Ali in a bank vault. He said, "Not a day went by entering the gym that I didn't think of you. Thank you for everything you've done for black America, in the world of sports and entertainment and for the legacy you leave behind.

Boxer Roy Jones Jr. held a record seven belts at the same time. He said RIP to one of the greatest to ever step in the ring. One of the most powerful quotes I say was after Ali defeated Foreman in the rumble in the jungle, Foreman said, in part, he is the greatest man I've ever known. Not a great boxer. That's too small for him. He's not pretty, he's beautiful. Everything America should be, Muhammad Ali is. That's powerful words from someone who was a great foe.

PAUL: Yeah, who was an opponent.

JOHNS: Yeah, just larger than life. But across the board too, that's the thing. He transcends sports in so many ways.

WIRE: Absolutely, yes.

PAUL: Yeah. Coy, thank you so much.

WIRE: You're welcome.

JOHNS: The three-time world heavyweight champion leaving behind an incredible legacy not just in the ring but as an outspoken fighter for social justice in the '60s, a man who embraced his faith and a man who never stopped using his celebrity for good. Joining us now, CNN political commentator Marc Lamont, he's also a professor at Morehouse University. First, Marc, your thoughts on the passing of Muhammad Ali.

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm devastated. You know, when I got the notice a few days ago that he was sick, I prayed that it would be like 2015 and 2014 when the champ once again was able to dip and dodge and survive just like he used to do in the ring. But this time he passed away. And one of my heroes, one of the people I looked to my entire life as a model of what was possible (ph). Not just as an athlete but as a citizen, as a person, as a principled human being.

That person is gone, and honestly my heart is very heavy right now. Muhammad Ali was the greatest. And the fact that we could have hours of conversation about Muhammad Ali and not even mention the fact that he's the greatest athlete of all time is a testimony to how extraordinary he was outside of the ring. And again, I'm devastated. The nation is devastated. The global community is devastated. He meant so much to so many people.

PAUL: You know, I've read one of his quotes, was something that he said -- way back in the day. He said, hating people because of their color is wrong and it doesn't matter which color does the hating. It's just plain wrong. What can we take today from him that can help nurture and heal this world, do you think?

HILL: Well, you know, Muhammad Ali moved through the world in the spirit of love, whether it's the way he engaged small children, whether it is the money he donated to synagogues, whether it is the way that he spread Islam around the world as a religion of peace. All of these things, you know, are evidence that Muhammad Ali was an extraordinary person who believed that we could love our way through this world.

But let's be very clear. Muhammad Ali also understood that the world could only heal when injustice was eliminated. Muhammad Ali wasn't just a champion of love he was a champion of justice. In 1967, Muhammad Ali became an enemy of the state. Muhammad Ali was someone when he refused to go to Vietnam was someone who stood up for what he believed. He was saying that I can't support imperialism. I can't support this war. And that same spirit of love, just like Dr. King in '67 and '68 carried him throughout subsequent decades.

So Muhammad Ali was a champion of love and justice. So, when I think about Muhammad Ali's legacy, I think of someone who says, look, we have to make the world right. We have to make the world equal. We have to make the world fair. Not for one race, not for one race, not for one religion, or gender but for everybody.

JOHNS: You know, he was always evolving spiritually, first he moved to the nation of Islam, then he moved to Sunnism, and then he became Sufi. So, he was changing his spiritual views as he went along. And a lot of people just talked about the nation of Islam and that part of his spiritual journey. But he was much more complex that that.

[06:40:00] HILL: Oh absolutely he was very complex. It is important to understand the impact and the influence of the honorable Elijah Muhammad and of the nation Islam on Muhammad Ali which produces Muhammad Ali, which produces Malcolm X, which produces these extraordinary figures. But as Muhammad Ali transitions in 1975 to a more traditional Sunni-Islamic and following the path of Islam, because remember Elijah Muhammad's son at that point formed the new vision of the nation.

He became certainly more broad, more universal, more cosmopolitan, not just in his religion but in his political thought. Later in 2000 he does become Suthi, which doesn't have different fundamentally different theological beliefs than Sunni Islam, but it does offer is a kind of mysticism, it kind of inward looking self, and even greater kind of investment in peace.

There's no way you could look at Muhammad Ali and not see peace. There's no way you could look at him and not see the way that Islam helped him find his center, help him find his relationship to God but also helped him remain and sustain his commitment to making the world better.

JOHNS: Marc Lamont Hill, thanks so much for that, that's for coming in this morning.

HILL: My pleasure.

PAUL: Thank you Marc. A former British boxer is sharing his memories of the champ. Stay close.



[06:45:00] PAUL: The Greatest, as he was known, is gone this morning. Muhammad Ali passed away overnight. He was 74 years old.

JOHNS: Tributes have been pouring in from all over the world. His death comes after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's disease. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1984, three years after he retired from a boxing career that began when a 12-year-old amateur from Louisville, Kentucky laced up the gloves.

PAUL: "Sports Illustrated" photographer Neil Leifer has photographed Ali throughout his boxing career. JOHNS: He takes a look back at his interactions with Ali and also

shares some stories behind some of the most famous photos of The Greatest.


NEIL LEIFER, PHOTOGRAPHER: I like to call what Ali has visual charisma. There are some people that like the camera. Mohammed, whether he was in the ring or in the studio he has this charisma. He just seems to do whatever the things that one does to make good pictures.

Muhammad Ali turned 70 on January 17th. I first photographed Ali as a 19-year-old kid and I've been lucky enough to ride his coat tails for the last 50-plus years. I've done 35 of his fights. Then I've had my photographs of Muhammad on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" 12 times. I'm often asked, do I have one favorite photograph? My favorite picture ever, it's a remote camera looking straight down on the apron, it's a Cleveland Williams-Ali fight in 1966.

It is far and away my favorite picture, much more -- I don't want to say more important to me than Ali standing over Sonny Liston because I know that my legacy is going to be that picture. But, you had to be in the right seat at the Liston-Ali fight. So I was in the right seat. The Cleveland Williams picture had nothing to do with luck. It was something I thought about, it was something I made happen. It was something I worked on to get it perfect. And it is the only picture I've taken in my life where, even today, I look at it, and there isn't anything I would change.

You talk to anybody that was lucky enough to cover Muhammad Ali during his boxing career and even now. And they're all in love with him. And the reason for it is Muhammad Ali never ran out of time for anybody. I'd come back to "Sports Illustrated" with the pictures and they thought, jeez that's good, its genius, you know, one you couldn't miss.

And he was one of those guys, occasionally he'd come in and say, "OK, you've got 20 minutes today. You took too long last time Neil." And an hour later he was suggesting things. And the most recent one in a lot of ways maybe is the most exciting. It was a fabulous experience and I found that if I waited patiently for the right time of day, he's never looked better.

I always thought it was my own ideas and then suddenly, you know, something happens. Magic happens. With Ali on this recent shoot, the lead picture in the magazine was this thing he's done for a million years when he gets in that boxing pose. Well, I didn't ask him to do that. He was standing there and suddenly he turned in to the old fighter, you know, and he just knows -- he just makes good pictures.


PAUL: Interesting, never take the fight out of him.

JOHNS: That's incredible. PAUL: Never take the fight out of him.

JOHNS: Yeah.

PAUL: A former British boxer has some memories of the champ and he's going to join us in just a second. So we can talk to him about what he remembered of Muhammad Ali and what he's take away from him. Stay close.




JOHNS: We're following the sad news this morning, the death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. This is a boxer and a man who took the world by storm with his prowess. Later in life he became a champion of humanitarian causes.

PAUL: We are seeing such an outpouring of condolences from people all over the world this morning, all over Twitter and Facebook, social media. I mean his legacy is being credited with knocking down barriers to some of the world's greatest boxers, past and present. Well one of those people is with us. Former British boxer and world champion Chris Eubank.

Mr. Eubank, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and we're sorry for your loss here in a sense, because I know that you look at Ali as this man who defied all odds. You've had the chance to meet him. First of all, help us understand the impact that he had on you.

CHRIS EUBANK, PROFESSIONAL BOXER: Well, thank you. And it is my privilege to actually be here and to speak on behalf of I suppose the public, certainly the boxing fraternity. The magnitude of this man and -- I should first say that, you know, I am not mourning, I am celebrating this man. OK? Because in my life, from the time I've been a child growing up, you know, it was him who inspired me to actually become a fighter, but not just a fighter but a humanitarian, a person who contributes towards the community at large.

So his vibrance, his brilliance is something that is within us all. And certainly some of us have been able to actually use his inspiration to make ourselves better people.

PAUL: And how have you done that? How do you feel you are a better person because of Muhammad Ali?

EUBANK: Because I had the audacity to stand on the shoulders of men like Muhammad Ali. So I could see further and do more and support the community at large which is exactly what he did. And so, you know, the greatest tribute, you know, we -- certainly I can pay to Muhammad Ali is to from this day forth live with his memory and his inspiration. The beacon that he was to live with it and carry myself in the way in which he did, that is to support the community at large. In fact, you know, David Cameron, I would like to say to him, I would put my own money to have a statue, a bronze statue, three times the size of the man, four times the size of the man, in Hyde Park here in the United Kingdom, something that we should do as a fund and an actual fact, around the world that could be done in the Emirates, it could be done in New York.

[06:55:00] It should be done in Paris. We should celebrate him. And regardless of whether that happens or not, and certainly I would push and use my own money to fund such a thing. Certainly, you know, his light shines bright in the working class, and always has. From time of memorial, you had first Jack Johnson, then you had the Brown Bomber and -- yeah the Brown Bomber, then you had Muhammad Ali. You've had the greats.

And these men are men that the public at large, the working class has looked up to. So, you know, Muhammad Ali being the inspiration that he is certainly, certainly we owe some type of tribute with bronze statues around the world. It would be a great thing and I'd be very much willing to use my own money to start the first in Hyde Park in United Kingdom.

PAUL: I was going to say, I think that you have just started what maybe a challenge to other people to include their money and to erect statues of Muhammad Ali throughout the world as you have talked about. Chris Eubank, thank you so much for sharing with us. We appreciate it.

EUBANK: My pleasure.

JOHNS: And there's actually more than a few of those monuments around the world as it is, as a matter of fact.

PAUL: Yeah.

JOHNS: Next hour, we're going to talk to CNN'S Pamela Brown. She's going to join us with her father to share a side of the champ few people knew. Her dad is co-founder of the Muhammad Ali Center in Kentucky.