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Muhammad Ali dead at age 74

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The Courier-Journal-USA TODAY Sports

"The Greatest" is gone.

Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer and transcendent cultural icon, died Friday at the age of 74, according to a family statement released by spokesman Bob Gunnell.

Ali battled Parkinson's disease for 32 years. He had been in the hospital since Thursday with what Gunnell described as a respiratory issue.

As an athlete, Ali was one of the best and most recognizable of all time. He was one of boxing's great heavyweights and a multiple-time champion. Ali beat Joe Frazier in the storied "Thrilla in Manila" in 1974 and defeated George Foreman in "The Rumble in the Jungle" in 1975.

Ali, who was born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Ky., was known as much for his showmanship and trash talk during his career as he was his ability inside the ring. Much of Ali's self-promotional strategy and verbal warfare has been borrowed by others in combat sports over the years, including MMA stars like Conor McGregor and Chael Sonnen.

Outside the ring, Ali was a political activist and warrior for racial justice. He was infamous for refusing the draft during the Vietnam War. Ali was also the first black athlete to truly challenge the white establishment, which made him a polarizing figure.

A figure of controversy in his heyday, Ali has been looked at as nothing less than venerable and revered for years. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1984, three years after retiring from boxing, and fought the disease hard for more than three decades.

Ali was every bit as influential in the MMA community as he was in boxing. UFC president Dana White, a former boxer and trainer, lists Ali among his heroes. So does McGregor, current MMA pound-for-pound king Jon Jones and longtime former UFC champion Anderson Silva.

"I think Muhammad Ali changed the face of combat sports forever," White told ESPN on Friday. "A lot of guys didn't have a lot of personality back in the day. He was charismatic. He was incredible. He was a guy who was known around the world -- one of the most famous human being to ever live. In my house today, there's tons of artwork of Muhammad Ali. Anybody who has ever been involved in combat sports, I think, is a huge fan of Ali."