ELKINS PARK, Pa. (CBS) – In the boxing ring, he was “The Greatest.”  Now, former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali is hoping to influence the outcome of a serious bout pitting the country of Iran against two hikers, one of them a Montgomery County, Pa. native.

In a letter, Ali asks Iran’s supreme leader to “please show the world the compassion I know you have in your heart,” pleading with Ayatollah Khamenei as a fellow Muslim to show the same mercy to Elkins Park native Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer as he did for Sarah Shourd.

The two men have been detained for nearly two years on charges of spying (see related story).  Shourd was released last September for health reasons (see previous story); Ali had also written to Khamenei before that.

Ali’s wife, Lonnie, says the champ would be willing to travel to Iran to secure the hikers’ release, but it would depend on his Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.

In a statement, the hikers’ families say they’re grateful for Ali’s help and hope Iran hears and responds to his appeal.

Reported by Ian Bush, KYW Newsradio 1060.