“You see my face? Ain’t it pretty? You see any scars? Now are you convinced that I am The Greatest?
Not many of us remember boxing great Muhammad Ali's visit to India in January 1980. His stopover in Chennai (then Madras) was the highlight of his India tour.
Ali was taken by the support and love that were showered on him by the Chennai crowd.
“When I saw thousands turning up to the airport to meet me and greet me, it sent my spirits soaring and I am overwhelmed at the attention bestowed on me,” he said according to The Hindu, after arriving at Meenambakkam airport from Mumbai (then Bombay).
Accompanied by his third wife Veronica, Ali was seated in an open top car as he was driven to Connemara Hotel through Chennai streets with crowds cheering on him.
According to the reports on the event the build up to Ali's boxing match in Chennai was huge due to promotional campaigns run by organisers to create more excitement among the people. The match was organised by Tamil Nadu State Amateur Boxing Association and Apeejay. The proceedings from the event went to a city-based boxing institute.
Thousands of fans were excited as they got to see Ali in flesh trading jabs with former weight champion Jimmy Ellis at the Nehru Stadium
Ali, who knew the pulse of his fans, kept the audience hooked as he “floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee,” as he engaged Jimmy and budding local boxers in the ring.
The most defining moment for Tamil audience was when movie god and then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) shook hands with Ali.
One of the audience who was present at the event recalled the moment when MGR, in his sixties at the time, jumped over the rope to get inside the ring.
"I remember that when was trying to get into the podium, his dhoti got stuck between the ropes. So he jumped in! He was more youthful than Ali then! I still remember," one of the persons who attended the event was quoted as saying in the NewsMinute.
Another interesting moment of his Chennai stay came at a press meet, when a journalist touched Ali's raw nerve. Partab Ramchand, a journalist, questioned his status as “The Greatest”, which earned him a chance to stand directly opposite the boxing legend. Maybe an experience, which was until then, entitled only to Ali's opponents.
“You see my face? Ain’t it pretty? You see any scars? Now are you convinced that I am The Greatest?,” Ramchand recalls Ali's words in a write-up for Times of India. He also remembered that he was trembling as he stood there fearing a playful jab from Ali.
The boxing legend, Ali, passed away on Saturday in Phoenix, Arizona after losing a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 74.