Muhammad Ali, boxer, and India

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Ali won the gold medal at the Rome 1960 Olympics, then took three world heavyweight championships in 1964, 1974 and 1978. (Source: AP); Picture courtesy: The Indian Express, September 22, 2016
Muhammad Ali in India; Picture courtesy: The Times of India, June 6, 2016

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.

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Muhammad Ali in India

The Times of India, Jun 05 2016

Muhammad Ali came to the country on four occasions -once to Kerala -and, in fact, fought here in exhibition matches. The pugilist first landed in India in the mid-1970s. It was a stopover in Delhi on Rajiv Gandhi's request. `The greatest' reportedly fought the then Indian national heavyweight champion Kaur Singh at the National Stadium in an exhibition match.

Back then, Rochester aka Rocky Brass was a brash teenager and an upcoming amateur boxer in north Chennai. Rocky would hone his skills by watching videos of Ali's bouts with Joe Fraser. A decade later, he got to spar with his “American Dronacharya“ when Ali landed in Chennai in 1980, after a brief visit to Delhi and then Bombay . As part of a promotional event, the legend took on American boxer Jimmy Ellis at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, with superstarturned-chief minister MGR ringside.

But before the match began, there was some time to engage the huge crowd. “Ali asked if anyone was ready to spar with him,“ recalls Rocky , now 59. “I went up.“

The lightning-fast right-hand jab, which Rocky idolized on screen, swished past his left ear. “If it had made contact, I'd have been thrown out of the ring,“ he says. It was that evasion that impressed the officials and landed Rocky a group D job in Southern Railways.

Ali's Kerala connection lies in his three-day visit in 1989, which added him to the list of admirers of the state's martial art form Kalaripayattu. He was in troduced to the fight form by veteran Kalaripayattu practitioner A Moosa Haji of Chelavoor. The 71-year-old, who has trained over 2,000 students, said the boxer had expressed his wish to see a demonstration. “After the demonstration, Ali said boxers would benefit a lot if they could learn a bit of Kalari,“ recalls Haji. “He was awed by the agility and speed of the Kalari performers and specifically wanted to know more about the empty hand technique of Adithada.“

Haji still treasures the signed commendation letter he got from the legend. “Ali asked his wife to write a commendation letter as he had difficulty writing himself but personally signed it,“ Haji says.

Ali came back to India during the Christmas of 1990, this time to Kolkata. On a special invitation from Mohammedan Sporting, the champion donned the magician's hat and mesmerized fans. “He showed us some (magic) tricks... I remember how he floated in the air but later revealed the trick,“ former club president Sulaiman Khurshid told agencies.

Almost acted with Amitabh Bachchan

Muhammad Ali with former Prime Minister Mrs. India Gandhi, Mohammed Rafi and Amitabh Bachchan; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Jun 05 2016

Haroon Khan

The Times of India, June 6, 2016

Shailendra Awasthi  Understandably so as this former amateur national-level boxer is the only Indian to have matched `The Greatest' step by step in a boxing ring not once but twice! As he was asked to recall that first opportunity when he accepted the legend's challenge at Vallabhbhai Patel stadium on one evening in January 1980, Haroon Khan quickly went down the memory lane. After taking on his sparring partner Jimmy Ellis and few local talents in an exhibition display , Ali suddenly turned to the crowd. “Is there any one in India who wants to fight with me?“ announced Ali as he always did. Soon he was taken aback by a lone voice from the crowd. “I want to fight,“ thundered Khan recalling that he was upset by the lack of courage shown by the crowd. “Do you know who I am? Aren't you afraid of me,“ thundered Ali with his usual braggadocio. “Yes I know you are Muhammad Ali but I only fear Allah,“ Khan shot back.

Ali may have past his prime by then as he had announced in his opening remark that he was no longer the fearsome boxer and was reduced to just The Greatest, his footwork and swift landing of punches was very much intact. “The moment I showed my defensive technique from the beginning of that three round bout, Ali knew that I was not the novice yet he kept toying with me,“ recalled Khan. But soon the crowd, which included many Bollywood personalities and boxing enthusiasts, started egging Ali to show his rights and lefts which he was avoiding by then. And that spell the doom for Khan.

Ali suddenly lost his nice guy attitude and landed a blows leaving Khan with a bleeding eye. “He then stopped and started showing me his footwork. In the process, Ali slipped and fell but soon got up and hugged and praised me for standing up to him,“ recalled Khan.

The second chance to fight with Ali came when Khan was on a business trip to Abu Dhabi in December 1982. “I tried to reach him through many people including one of the event manager Asif Iqbal, the former Pakistan cricketer but noting worked,“ informed Khan.

Then Khan gatecrashed at a pre exhibition press conference with his album of Mumbai fight and managed to draw legend's attention. “He allowed me one more opportunity to fight with him and later gave me a golden glove over lunch,“ said Khan. After fighting with the greatest, Khan is locked in a fight with successive Maharashtra governments for the last two decades for a flat under 10 per cent quota given to sportspersons. “My request was accepted in 1995 but is still awaiting a signature from the CM. I have recommendations from Sunil Dutt, Amitabh Bachchan and any many other eminent personalities but have failed to get a favourable response,“ complaints Khan who had also worked on many Bollywood movies including Arjun, Khudgarz, Satya etc.

2016: First Jesse Owens Award

The Indian Express, September 22, 2016

First Jesse Owens Award goes posthumously to Muhammad Ali

Ali won the gold medal at the Rome 1960 Olympics, then took three world heavyweight championships in 1964, 1974 and 1978. (Source: AP)

The first Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award will recognize the late Muhammad Ali.

The Owens Award was started in 2016, the 80th anniversary of Owens’ four-gold-medal performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and is to be presented annually to recognize people who have served as an inspiration in society.

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