The Champion Of Champions – Muhammad Ali

The world lost one of the most celebrated sports figures of the 20th century, the legendary Boxing Champ Muhammad Ali, on June 3, 2016. Ali, who passed away at the age of 74 in Arizona (USA), was known for displaying some of the most extraordinary boxing techniques. Ruby Lilaowala pays a tribute to this boxing great who was revered for his uncompromising work ethic and fearlessness in the ring… and out of it!

I was in Doha, Qatar, between 1980 and 1986, with my husband and two daughters. My husband was the Executive Director of a group of Arab Companies and I worked in the Ministry of Press and Publication as a Censorship Officer, Government of Qatar.

Every year we used to either return to India for our annual vacation or go touring to another country. In the year 1984, we decided to tour the West coast of the United States of America. After visiting Disney World, we went to Washington DC, as my husband was keen to see the Smithsonian Institute, the Capitol, White House et al.

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Muhammad Ali with Ruby and daughter, Tina

One day, as we were leaving the Ramada Renaissance Hotel, we spotted Muhammad Ali with his entourage in the hotel lobby. I immediately approached Mr. Ali and requested him to pose for a photograph with me and my younger daughter, Tina who had accompanied me then. Without fuss, Mr. Ali posed for a picture which was taken by my husband. He then asked me my nationality and my vocation. He found it a little difficult to believe that we were from India.

I pressed my luck a little further and told him that my father was once a good amateur boxer who had fought at national levels. I asked him about some of his best fights but he diplomatically told me that he had to fight hard with all his opponents but “the second fight with Joe Frazier in Manila where I regained my title was the toughest”.

I couldn’t believe my good luck and realised that it was impossible to tie him up in conversation any longer. We shook hands and parted. I distinctly remember that his hand was baby soft. Back in Doha, I wrote an article on him for Gulf Times which was much appreciated by my British Editor Mr. Brian Nichols.

Muhammad Ali was born born in Lousiville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay. He converted to Sunni Islam in 1975. At that time, he declared ‘Cassius Clay’ as a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God and I insist people use it when they speak to me and of me.”

Near the end of 1967, Ali was stripped of his title and was convicted for refusing induction into the army and sentenced to five years in prison. He appealed against his conviction and supported himself by giving speeches at rallies. In 1971, his conviction was reversed by the Supreme Court of the United States. In the same year, viz.1971, Ali lost to Joe Frazier – his first professional loss. But in 1974, he fought George Foreman and regained his title. The same year, he offered a rematch to Joe Frazier and won against him. This bout which took place in Manila is rated as one of the biggest boxing-fights ever. Even Ali admitted that it was his toughest.

Later he developed Parkinson’s disease and spent the rest of his years as mentor to younger fighters. One of his daughters, Laila Ali, turned to professional boxing and was quite successful. Ali married four times and fathered nine children. His recent

death has robbed the world of a colourful personality and one of its greatest athletes.


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