In 1980, legendary boxer Muhammad Ali toured India for exhibition bouts titled ‘Greatest to Greatest’, a reference to him and to Indira Gandhi who had just returned to power after a humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections after the emergency.
Ali played exhibition bouts in New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai when he visited the country at the invitation of London-based NRI industrialist Lord Swaraj Paul, who paid glowing tributes to the boxer on Saturday saying, “He was truly a legend. Crowds in India were thrilled to see him in action.”
Even more thrilled were the boxers who got a chance to interact and exchange a few blows with the American, who was revered not just for his skills inside the ring but also his bold stand on issues related to civil rights.
Here’s a look at Hindustan Times’ news clippings during Ali’s India visit.
When Ali was asked in New Delhi to comment on Islam allowing men to marry four wives, he said, “Four is simply hell, three is almost as bad as hell, two is too much trouble and one is happiness - plus you live longer. His ‘one wife of the day’ - Veronica - was with him during the news conference clad in a gold-coloured south Indian sari.
A report about a press conference in Chennai where he said all black players should boycott Moscow Olympics because of Russian intervention in Afghanistan.
“Sports could mellow down politicians”
Ali had to rush back to the US after President Carter summoned him for an urgent diplomatic assignment. He cancelled his trips to Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Much later, in 1990, Ali visited Kolkata and spent three days in the city during Christmas holidays. He was invited by Mohammedan Sporting and wowed many fans with his magic tricks.
Ali breathed his last at a hospital in Phoenix, where he was admitted owing to respiratory complications. The three-time world heavyweight champion was among the most influential sporting icons in the world.
Born as Cassius Clay on January 17, 1942 before converting to Islam, Ali is survived by his nine children, including daughter Laila, who like her father became a world champion boxer; and his fourth wife, Lonnie.
In 1960, Ali won an Olympic gold medal as a light-heavyweight. After turning professional, he defeated Sonny Liston by KO in the seventh round and became the World Heavyweight Champion in 1964.
(With agency inputs)