When an Indian journalist got dangerously close to Muhammad Ali's left hook
Muhammad Ali’s success in boxing transcended the realm of sport. Transitioning from Cassius Clay to a World champion, during a time when racial discrimination against African Americans was at its peak, highlighted his ability to continuously battle adversity.
The entire world is currently mourning Ali’s death with condolences pouring in from all walks of life. America’s first Black President Barack Obama aptly described Ali’s contribution to humanity. He said, "A quality of Ali's that I have always admired the most: his unique ability to summon extraordinary strength and courage in the face of adversity, to navigate the storm and never lose his way. Muhammad Ali, one of the most recognisable faces on earth is one of my inspirations.”
With world sport losing one of its icons, little do people know that the King of the Jungle had a connection with India. Around 36 years back in 1980, Ali visited Chennai to fight former heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis in an exhibition match.
Despite boxing’s lack of popularity, fans flocked the Nehru stadium to get one glimpse of Ali.
“Son, in my 49 fights I have knocked out 32 opponents, do you see any scars?”: Ali to Partab Ramchand
A sponsored visit by a private company saw Ali square off against local Tamil Nadu boxers. A photograph of him with then Chief Minister M G Ramachandran, has been doing the rounds on social media. Ticket prices ranged from Rs 100 to Rs 20, for some it was their entire month’s salary.
Even Celebrities such as Mohammed Rafi came down to Chennai to meet Ali.
However, one particular incident during his India visit grabbed headlines. A journalist named Partab Ramchand questioned Ali’s left hook and his lack of knockout victories.
Ali subsequently called him on the Press conference dais to give him a piece of his mind. He said, “Son, in my 49 fights I have knocked out 32 of my opponents and I haven’t suffered much punishment. You see my face? Do you see any scars or disfigurements? It looks nice and clean isn’t it? That’s it, that is why I am the greatest.”
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, Ramchand said, “I still remember Ali unleashed a left hook on me. Of course it was not with force, but I was trembling in fear, and deep down even in adulation. As a teenager, who grew up in sixties, it was a dream for me to meet Ali. I coerced my editor a lot to give me that chance. That day, I went ahead with an open mind, my aim was not to criticise, but to ask him about the chinks in his armour.”
During his training camp with the young Tamil Nadu boys, Ali allowed a junior pugilist to land a couple of punches on him. He fell theatrically on the ground much to the crowd’s delight.
Ramchand added, “He came from Mumbai and used Chennai as a two day stopover. His wife Veronica also came along.”
According to the Hindu, the bout didn’t live up to its hype. The report from February 1, 1980 stated, “The swift movements, cat-like reflexes, the shuffles and the lethal left jab were all there, but were all too brief to savour in fullness.”
The bout was also organised by the Tamil Nadu amateur boxing association. Ramchand added, “He kept saying that whenever he came to India he used to just see more and more people all the time. The next day I saw him training with the young kids and having a good time. That’s when I realised he’s not the greatest for his boxing prowess, but he will always remain the greatest for his character.”