Louisville friends spent The Greatest's final hours praying, hoping

Friends pray for Muhammad Ali
Published: Jun. 4, 2016 at 3:44 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 4, 2016 at 5:35 AM EDT
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Bud Shardein (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Bud Shardein (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Sonny Fishback (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Sonny Fishback (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Muhammad Ali is known for some of the greatest fights of all time. They were fights against guys named Liston, Foreman and Frazier, fights again injustice and cultural norms.

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In his later years, he had many hard fights against Parkinson's disease and other illnesses. And after several days in the hospital this week, the 74-year-old icon died in Arizona early Saturday morning.

Louisvillians who knew him spent their Friday night preparing for the worst, but hoped The Greatest wasn't down for the count.

Bud Schardein was a few years younger than Ali. Growing up in Portland, he was training to be a boxer himself.

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"I was 12 years old and a kid from Western Louisville when he won a gold medal," Schardein said. "We followed him. I mean it was a natural thing. You wanted to emulate him. Be like him."

Ali was still Cassius Clay when Sonny Fishback became his childhood and lifelong friend.

"He wasn't supposed to be the heavyweight champion of the world," Fishback said. "They took his belt. He said, 'Don't worry, I'll get it back.'"

He watched Ali's legacy grow.

"The guy was a great guy, man," Fishback said. "There's no bad stuff about him really. He was a big kid who never grew up."

On Friday, he pointed out that Ali had been hospitalized many times before.

"Really, truly, I've heard it so many times I didn't get upset about it," Fishback said.

Whether his fight was in the ring or the hospital, Ali was never short on confidence.

"I don't think there was anyone who ever got in the ring who was more courageous than him," Schardein said. "He did what nobody else thought he could do, so I'm not going to give up on him."

Fishback still remembers what Ali told him when the champ was diagnosed with Parkinson's.

"It was tough for me, but it wasn't tough for him," Fishback said. "He said, 'It's alright. I got this.'"

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