Muhammad Ali, widely regarded as the most recognizable athlete of the 20th century, died on Friday in Phoenix, US at the age of 74. Photographs of fans with Ali flooded Facebook and Whatsapp.
Mohammed Ali, the black superman had flown to India in 1980. It was the year when Mrs. Indira Gandhi had just fought her way back to power. London-based NRI industrialist Lord Swaraj Paul sponsored Ali’s visit to India to play exhibition bouts in New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. The three-time world heavyweight champion was among the most influential sporting icons in the world. He had won an Olympic gold medal as a light heavyweight in 1960 and had become the World Heavyweight Champion in 1964 when he defeated Sonny Liston.
Tamil Nadu’s Randolph Peters got a chance to trade punches with Ali. “I was the Railways featherweight champion at that time. All of 25, I clearly remember, one by one we shook hands with him. When my turn came, I requested him for a session of shadow boxing,” recalled Peters while speaking to PTI.
“He was very surprised and said ‘you small man, you want to fight me? I will throw one left hook and you would go flying out of the stadium’. “I could only smile at that and went back to my seat after the introductions. After the exhibition bout (against former heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis), he called out the local guys for some fun,” he said.
“He saw me and gestured me to come forward. I went up and we probably sparred for two minutes. He had obliged me and I was thrilled. He later gifted me his left hand glove which I still have,” added the now 63-year-old.
Ali’s opponent in a exhibition bout in Delhi was Kaur Singh. Two years later, in 1982, Kaur won the Asian Games gold.
When in Mumbai he said, “I am happy to be in Bombay; I was driving here from the airport and came via Muhammad Ali Road—you have already named a road after me.”
Ten years later, in 1990, Muhammad Ali visited Kolkata on a special invitation from Mohammedan Sporting.