Muhammad Ali's iconic moments in Atlanta

People across the world are mourning the loss of sports and cultural legend Muhammad Ali.

The three-time heavyweight champion, born Cassius Clay, became one of the world's most iconic figures. Known for his athleticism, humor and deep commitment to racial and social issues, many people agree he left an indelible mark on society.

In fact, in the prime of his career, Ali refused to enlist in the U.S. Army, taking a religious stance against the Vietnam War. The controversial position cost him his title and boxing license. It also brought him a legion of fans and foes across the nation.

However, in the decades Ali impacted the world, Atlanta played a pivotal role in two moments in his career. In 1970, the city hosted Ali's first fight after he regained his right to fight again. And in 1996, the Olympic gold medalist surprised the world by lighting the cauldron at the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell helped approve Ali's comeback fight against Jerry Quarry in 1970. He told Fox 5 the event helped thrust the star back into the game while putting the city on the map.

"We had the fanciest people in the United States here, celebrities from all over. I had never seen men with full-length mink coats," Massell laughed.

Former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew  Young said he'll remember Ali's commitment to serving communities even when his body was struck by Parkinson's Disease. Young added the icon's courage amid sickness shown through as he lit the torch at the Olympic Games.

"We were not sure he was strong enough to hold up the torch but he made it. He became a wonderful symbol for the Games," Young said.

Five-time heavyweight champion and Georgia native Evander Holyfield said he began idolizing Ali when he was eight years old. He said, he too, was surprised by Ali's participation at the Games. But there was no one more fitting to light the torch than his idol, Muhammad Ali.

"I kind of felt like there was nobody in the state of Georgia who had done more than me as an athlete. When they told me I wasn't going to light it, I wanted to know who was greater than me. And it was Ali," Holyfield said.

Holyfield stressed Ali will be remembered for his fights both inside and outside the ring.

"I was just so amazed...When they started talking about the things he stood up for and all the things he had to go through to be who he was,  I realized he deserved it," Holyfield added.

Young agreed the legend's message of hope will continue to resonate around the world.

"Other than Coca-Cola, Muhammad Ali was one of the first global brands," Young said.

 

 

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