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  1. ITV Report

Muhammad Ali thrilled by knighthood campaign as boxing legend's life goes on show

Lonnie Ali said Muhammad Ali's youthful dedication to becoming a boxer should inspire a generation of children she believed were more inclined to shirk a challenge. Credit: ITV News / Reuters

Muhammad Ali's wife has said her husband is "so excited" by a campaign for Britain to give him an honorary knighthood as she unveiled an exhibition dedicated to the boxing legend's life story.

More than 20,000 people have signed British boxer David Haye's petition for the UK to formally honour the American icon, including London mayor Boris Johnson and champion boxers Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams.

Video report by ITV News Reporter Paul Davies

Speaking at London's O2 exhibition, Lonnie Ali welcomed the campaign as she highlighted her husband's connection to the British public and culture.

It's a very prestigious thing and it's coming from (Britain) ... he loves (Britain) ... he loves the people. He feels understood here, he feels at home ... he has a special warmth that has been given to him by the people, an acceptance.

– Lonnie Ali

Lonnie Ali said her husband - who she said could visit the UK in the summer - would be "totally mesmerised" by the I Am The Greatest exhibition as he "never gets tired of looking at himself".

I Am The Greatest: Muhammad Ali runs at London's O2 from Friday March 4 until August 31. Credit: PA Wire

More than 100 items are used to tracks Ali's story, from his home in Kentucky to becoming a heavyweight legend, and include the stolen bike that unwittingly began his historic career path.

Reporting the vehicle's theft, the 12-year-old Cassius Clay threatened to beat up the thief, which prompted a policeman to suggest the youngster should first learn how to fight.

Boxing gloves worn by Muhammad Ali in his fight with Joe Frazier in 1971 billed as the fight of the century. Credit: PA Wire
Exhibiton curator Sarah Foster checks a pair of signed boots worn by Muhammad Ali in his fight with Jimmy Young in 1976. Credit: PA Wire

"Muhammad started out at very humble beginnings, he really didn't know what he was going to do in life," Lonnie said. "By chance, because he lost his bicycle ... he found boxing."

Lonnie said Ali's story should inspire a generation of children who she believed had become prone to giving in when faced with difficulties.

(The) important thing is that he (Ali) didn't know he had talent, but he dedicated himself. Sometimes kids today give up when things get a little difficult, they want to jump ship to go do something else, but it's putting your foot forward a little bit every day and look where it got him. Muhammad realised he could become champion of the world and he said 'I'm going to work for that'.

– Lonnie Ali

Among the items on show in London are Ali's gold boxing gloves given to Elvis Presley in 1973, torches and participation medals from his participation in the 1960 Rome Olympics as "Cassius Clay" and the notorious "torn" glove from his 1963 fight with British boxing legend Henry Cooper.

A cotton robe worn and signed by Muhammad Ali which he wore before his fight with Trevor Berbick in 1981. Credit: PA Wire
A replica of the Cassius Clay Championship belt from 1964. Credit: PA Wire

The exhibition also looks at the impact of Ali's life beyond the ring, notably his refusal to fight in Vietnam on religious and racial grounds, which saw him sacrifice four of his "best years" with a suspended boxing licence.

David Haye, who is leading the campaign to see Britain award Muhammad Ali an honorary knighthood, joined Lonnie Ali at the unveiling of the O2 show. Credit: ITV News

Speaking at the exhibition, Haye said Ali deserved the honorary knighthood title because he "transcended sport" and had earned a legacy worthy of centuries.

He's someone who unites people and makes the impossible possible. I look at what he has done and I think what would Ali do in my position. He's the reason why I am boxing. There will never be another boxer who will be remembered in 500 years' time like Muhammad Ali.

– British boxer David Haye

The exhibition runs from March 4 until August 31, with the star of the show potentially due to visit in the summer for what will be his first trip to the UK in three years.

Lonnie said: "Hopefully he will be here before this exhibition leaves the O2. Maybe when the weather is a little warmer."

Wife Lonnie Ali, who met Ali when she was six, spoke at the opening of the exhibition dedicated to her husband. Credit: Reuters

Watch ITV News' Paul Davies report from the exhibition on News At Ten.