On the four-year anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s death, there are hundreds of uplifting stories from his life we can look back on and remember fondly. From his career in the ring to his brave activism outside of it, Ali was one of the greatest athletes and role models of the entire 20th century.
One of the lesser-known stories from Ali’s prime involved a young boy dying from cancer. Ali met the boy after a training session, and the powerful encounter motivated him to go on and beat George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle.”
Muhammad Ali’s business manager told the story of meeting a dying child
Gene Kilroy, Muhammad Ali’s business manager during his boxing career, recently spoke with Off the Ball Sports ahead of Ali’s death anniversary on June 3. Kilroy talked about how he first met Ali and how the two became friends and business partners.
Kilroy was one of Ali’s closest confidants. He was in the legendary boxer’s wedding, and he was right by Ali’s side after “The Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman.
“The Facilitator,” as Kilroy was known, was instrumental in setting up that infamous fight with Foreman. It might have never happened without him. But, as Kilroy tells it, Ali might never have won the bout without a little inspiration from a dying child.
Muhammad Ali made a pact with child battling cancer
While Muhammad Ali was training for the biggest fight of his life, he met a surprising inspirational figure. After a training session, Kilroy brought a young boy named Billy over to meet Ali.
Ali asked the boy why he was wearing a hat, and he revealed he was battling cancer and had no hair. That’s when Ali embraced the boy and held him close to comfort him. Kilroy took a photo of the hug and gave it to the boy’s father.
Ali was so moved by the child’s confidence and positive outlook that he proposed a pact. “You’re gonna beat cancer, and I’m gonna beat George Foreman.”
Two weeks later, the boy’s father called Kilroy and said he wasn’t going to make it. Ali and Kilroy drove to the hospital where Billy was to check on him. Again, Ali referenced the pact and said he would beat Foreman after Billy beat cancer.
Billy, who had already accepted his fate, changed Ali’s life with his response. “No champ,” Billy replied. “I’m gonna meet God. I’m gonna tell him you’re my friend.”
Muhammad Ali went on to beat George Foreman
Although Billy couldn’t beat cancer, Ali was determined to hold up his end of the pact with his friend. He went on to beat George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974.
Billy wasn’t alive to see his friend fulfill his promise, but he’ll forever be with Ali. His family framed the picture of him hugging Ali and placed it in his casket after he died.
As much of a generational athlete Ali was inside the ring, his passion for helping others is what set him apart. On the four-year anniversary of his death, we remember Ali for the impact he had on so many lives, young and old.
It’s a sad day for most, but knowing Ali and Billy are playfully sparing in heaven makes it a little more bearable.