Ali's birth city Louisville honours its hometown hero

In remembrance of Muhammad Ali in his home town, a police honour guard in crisp blue uniforms saluted as several officers lowered the US flag, just hours after the death of the boxing legend.

Tribute to Muhammad Ali in his hometown Louisville.   -  Reuters

Flags were lowered on Saturday in Muhammad Ali's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky at a somber ceremony paying homage to boxing's greatest figure and the city's best known native son. A police honour guard in crisp blue uniforms saluted as several officers lowered the US flag as well as the Kentucky state standard, just hours after the death of the boxing legend.

The ceremony took place at the museum - formerly Ali's boyhood home - which now serves as a shrine to the life and legacy of Ali, who died at a hospital in Arizona late Friday after experiencing breathing problems. Ali is to be buried in Louisville, a city that was once part of the segregated South, but which has come to embrace him fully as one of its own.

Government building flags across the city were lowered on order of Mayor Greg Fischer, who spoke reverentially about Ali at Saturday's ceremony. "Muhammad Ali lived a life so big and bold that it is hard to believe any one man could do everything he did, to become all the things he became in the course of one lifetime," Fischer said.

"This man, this champion, this Louisvillian ended his 74 years yesterday as a United Nations messenger of peace, a humanitarian and champion athlete who earned Amnesty International's lifetime achievement award, the presidential medal of freedom, sportsman of the century," the mayor said.

Ali was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr in Louisville. He took the name of Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam in 1964, soon after he had stunned the sport by claiming the heavyweight title for the first time by defeating Sonny Liston.

Although now hailed as one of the towering figures in sport, he was vilified by many for converting to Islam and for his outspoken stance on Vietnam and civil rights issues. His refusal to fight in Vietnam saw him prosecuted for draft evasion and led to him being effectively banned from boxing for three years at his prime. Eventually, however, his steadfast adherence to his beliefs earned him accolades - including in his hometown.

"A man of action and principle, he was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and willingly paid a price, taking a stand that forced him out of the ring for over three years during the primetime of his career," Fischer said at the flag-lowering ceremony.

"Muhammad Ali belongs to the world, but he only has one hometown," the mayor added. "Thank you, Muhammad, for everything you've given to your hometown, your country and your world."