At the turn of the millennium, when Muhammad Ali was voted Sports Persolity of the 20th century in a BBC poll and a similar recognition from Sports Illustrated in the US, few were surprised. There have been legends like Jesse Owens and Pele who redefined sport, but Ali transcended sport to become a universal icon. It is an amazing saga of a heavyweight boxing champion, once viewed as a divisive figure by the US establishment, going on to be revered worldwide as a standard bearer of social justice. Few would have guessed Ali’s future impact, when as Cassius Marcellus Clay he grabbed the limelight in 1960 Rome Olympics with the light-heavyweight gold. Supremely talented with confidence and charisma to match, he soon turned professiol and boxing was never the same again. Amazed fans rubbed their eyes to see the motor-mouth pugilist from Kentucky, dubbed ‘The Louisville Lip’, shooting off one-liners and composing rhymes to taunt opponents, predicting the precise round when they would fall. And he was as good as his word, fighting like a lightweight with terrific hand speed and dazzling combitions, the knockout ‘phantom’ punch while backing away, and the bamboozling footwork later known as the ‘Ali shuffle’. He had the audacity to give the same pre-match treatment to reigning heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in 1964, and then clobbering him in two matches. Two days after taking the heavyweight crown, Clay joined the ‘tion of Islam’ to become Muhammad Ali, rejecting his ‘black slave past’ and striking a powerful blow for race relations in the US. When he refused the draft to join the US army in Vietm in 1967, he was stripped off the title. Ali lost more than three years of his career at his prime, but gained much more in public esteem for his principled, unwavering anti-war stand. Ali’s epic fights with Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton are part of boxing folklore; yet the three-times world champion tag in a 21-year rip-roaring career do little justice to ‘The Greatest’. For outside the ring, Muhammad Ali came to be revered worldwide as a champion who was truly fearless. His dignified 32-year battle against debilitating Parkinson’s disease, before he passed away quietly on Saturday, merely reinforced that aura.