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Ali takes $50-million purse without a punch

Los Angeles, April 12: Muhammad Ali, thought by many to be the greatest athlete of his generation, rung up a $50-million purse yesterday without having to step into the ring.

CKX Inc, a New York company that last year paid $100 million for the right to market the name and likeness of Elvis Presley, yesterday said it had paid $50 million in cash for commercial rights to the name and likeness of the former boxer who used his stunning physical skills and engaging personality to become one of the world’s most recognised figures.

Presley’s image and name now adorn everything from American Greetings Corp. cards to Zippo Manufacturing cigarette lighters. But CKX said it would move slowly and selectively on deals involving Ali, a Muslim who, for starters, won’t lend his name or image to products such as alcohol and industries such as gambling.

Given Presley’s rock ‘’ roll essence, “it made sense to associate him with a broad array of opportunities,” CKX chairman Robert F.X. Sillerman said yesterday during a telephone interview. “But that’s not what Muhammad Ali is about. Could we sell a coffee cup with a picture of Ali on it' Sure. Is it likely' Not at all.”

Though slowed in recent years by Parkinson’s disease, the 64-year-old Ali has remained in the public eye, in part through his role as a UN “Messenger of Peace”. Two years ago, Ali appeared in an IBM commercial that encouraged people to “shake up the world”. Late in 2005 he accepted the Medal of Freedom from President Bush during a White House ceremony and oversaw the opening of the non-profit Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Ali, an Olympic gold medalist in 1960 and a three-time world heavyweight champion, retired from boxing in 1981. The man who first boxed as Cassius Clay remains one of the world’s best known and most respected athletes.

“He’s definitely got shelf life,” said Henry Schafer, executive vice-president of Marketing Evaluations Inc., a Manhattan, NY-based company that measures the familiarity and appeal of personalities.

In recent years, Ali’s business generated as much as $7 million in annual revenue. Though more than the largest purse ($2.5 million) Ali earned while boxing, the figure is dwarfed by the $51.5 million in revenue that CKX generated in 2005 from its Presley business.

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