COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - In the wake of the death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, a former boxing promoter in Columbus wants to honor the champ for his contributions to women's boxing.
Ali was many things to many people, like William "Bill" Paul. Athlete. Humanitarian. Civil Rights Activist. Iconoclast. And, Paul said, an advocate for women's boxing back in the 1970's.
"Back then, the only way a female could participate is professionally," Paul said. "The amateur sports said, 'no.' Olympics - that would never happen."
Paul, a former Air Force Academy boxing champion, was one of several pioneers behind the effort to legitimize female boxing as a sport.
He helped organize the World's First Women's Amater Boxing Championship in Minnesota back in 1978.
The few times Paul met Ali, he said the Champ wholeheartedly supported women's boxing.
Paul said he recalled the exact words Ali told the Minnesota state boxing commissions when they shut down the first organized women's fight.
"Ali stood up and said, 'Put those women on the card! Put those women on the card!" Paul said. "So after that, they made a deal and said, 'We'll put them on the next card."
Paul made a trip to Spokane, Washington, in 2012, to send off the U.S. Women's Boxing Team as they prepared to compete in their first ever Olympic Games in London.
That dream, Paul said, was achieved in no small part thanks to Ali's cry, shouted so many years ago.
"From that point on, he motivated me, motivated many others to continue to be their best and thrive for their best,' Paul said.
Muhammad Ali lived to see the growth of women's boxing across the country. His own daughter, Laila, went on to become a boxing champion in her own right. The U.S. women's team is getting ready for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this August.
Paul, who now works for a private organization he created, advocates for chest protection on male and female boxers.
He is currently collaborating with hospitals across the country to study the relationship between repeated trauma to the chest, or breasts, and the likelihood of developing breast cancer.