Rhode Island boxing community remembering Muhammad Ali

(WPRI) – The world is remembering Muhammad Ali Saturday, after the famous boxer died late Friday night at the age of 74.

Southern New Englanders in the boxing community are sharing their stories of the champion who inspired them.

Boxing promoter Jimmy Burchfield, Sr. is one of those Rhode Islanders remembering the great boxer Saturday. His office is filled with pictures of Ali’s greatest moments, and one signed by Ali himself.

“He beat so many opponents before they even started fighting,” says Burchfield. “He just — he would break them down. If he saw a weakness in your personality, he would go after it. And by the time it got to the fight, he’d have that fighter in his hand.”

Burchfield remembers Ali for his wit, intellect, and ability to size people up.

He reminisced about a visit Ali made to Providence in 1979, when Burchfield got to meet him at Jimmy’s restaurant.

“And he said, are they all your people down there? Are those all your customers, your friends?” Burchfield said yes. “He said take the rope down. He went and let all of those people come and he took pictures with them, signed autographs, did everything.”

Providence boxer Jason Estrada went to the Olympic games in 2004, four decades after Ali took the gold at the Olympics in Rome.

“Everything leads back to Ali,” Estrada told Eyewitness News. “Some way, some form. If it’s something political outside the ring, or just the way you hold your hands in the ring — it all leads back to Ali.”

Muhammad Ali is also known for his belief in people, and work to bring about social change, in addition to his infamous boxing career.

“People say anyone can be replaced,” says Burchfield. “Muhammad Ali could never be replaced.”

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