Muhammad Ali’s influence still resonates with the lives that he touched while he was alive. One Sioux Falls man’s Ali story reaches into the Middle East.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and America’s response during the early 1990's turned Michael Saba into a hostage courtesy of Saddam Hussein.

“I was doing business in Baghdad at the time and that was it. He just took all of the Americans and locked us up in a hotel. I got out (after) about 10 or 11 days and escaped (Iraq) on the back roads. I was one of the first hostages to get out and most people didn’t get out.”

Where Ali entered the picture is through Saba’s plan to rescue Americans who didn’t escape. Saba said even with Ali’s star power the negotiation process was a little choppy and his health became an issue.

“It took him a week to get to see Saddam. Saddam was playing some games. Ali didn’t bring enough medicine along on that trip to treat his Parkinson’s symptoms. He didn’t think he’d be there a week. He was able to get medicine with the help from some Irish folks at a hospital because he was sick.”

Ali’s celebrity status and his ties to the Muslim community made him the right person to do the job. Saba also said Ali's humble attitude was very effective.

“He did humanitarian things because they needed to be done not because he wanted publicity. He said, ‘I don’t want the media to know I’m doing this.’ They did know of course and it was pretty high profile because he got the hostages out. He was very happy to do this to save human lives. For him that was the most important thing.”

Ali was the biggest name in the effort to release the Americans held hostage in Iraq. Saba also enlisted the help of broadcaster Casey Kasem among others.

Saba has lived in Sioux Falls since 2007 and has worked for both Sanford Health and Avera Health in various capacities.


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