Why South Asians Love Muhammad Ali

The boxing legend symbolizes more than just athletic prowess for those from the subcontinent.

muhammad ali
Muhammad Ali visited Pakistan twice, in 1988 and 1989. He’s pictured here being honored with a Sindhi cap and Ajrak. (U.S. Consulate Karachi)

Ayesha Le Breton


February 15, 2024

In 2016, over 100,000 people lined the streets of Louisville, Kentucky to pay their respects to hometown hero Muhammad Ali, who had passed away at 74 after a prolonged battle with Parkinson’s . “I know his funeral was attended by tens if not hundreds of thousands of people, but my father was one of the people who made the trek there,” said Bashir Ahmad, whom Pakistanis call the “godfather” of mixed martial arts.

Global admiration for Ali is well-documented — he won the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Century, BET’s Humanitarian Award, and America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom. What’s perhaps more surprising is that Ali also won over fans in South Asia, a region that had never before shown much interest in boxing, and a diaspora that viewed him as something much more than a gifted athlete.

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