(ATR) Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer says the hometown of Muhammad Ali will be the center of the world's attention when the legendary boxer is honored and laid to rest this week.
"Ever since the passing of the champ ... (the) eyes and ears and soul of the world have been focused on our city," said Fischer. "Now the world is doing more than watching our city, the world is coming to our city."
Ali will be honored over the course of two days beginning with a traditional Islamic funeral service on Thursday at Freedom Hall, site of the last bout Ali fought in his hometown. Approximately 14,000 spectators are expected to attend the service scripted by Ali himself. Fischer says Ali first disclosed plans for the funeral ten years ago.
The plans include a funeral procession that will travel past the museum dedicated to Ali and along the boulevard that carries his name. The journey through Louisville is expected to last 90 minutes.
International leaders already confirmed to attend the Friday ceremony includes Turkey President Recep Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton is also slated to speak at the funeral along with sports journalist Bryant Gumbel, comedian Billy Krystal and Ali's wife Lonnie.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach will attend along with IOC members Anita DeFrantz and Larry Probst. A spokesperson for the International Boxing Association (AIBA) tells Around the Rings that former USA Boxing president Tom Virgets will represent the federation.
Nino Benvenuti will represent the Italian National Olympic Committee. Now 78, Benvenuti won the middleweight category in boxing at the 1960 Games where Ali won gold.
Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis is one of eight pallbearers for the ceremony. Joining him is actor Will Smith (Smith portrayed the boxer in a 2001 biopic "Ali"), Ali family members John Grady, Ibn Ali, Komawi Ali and Jan Wadell, family friend John Ramsey and Jerry Ellis, brother of Ali’s former sparring partner Jimmy Ellis.
The two-day tribute to the boxing legend will mean packed hotels with the city’s approximate 18,000 hotel rooms nearing capacity. More than 2,000 members of the media have filed requests to cover the memorial service at the KFC YUM! Center on Friday with 15,000 tickets available to the general public. The ceremony will also be streamed live at alicenter.org.
Volunteers throughout the city will be donning orange "I am Ali" t-shirts and will be assisted by the 600-plus police force that will watch over all of the proceedings.
Around the Rings will be on the scene in Louisville.
Written by Kevin Nutley
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