Mumbai: The death of legendary Muhammad Ali has shocked the entire world of sports as it lost arguably its greatest showman forever. After fighting with Parkinson’s disease for 32 long years, his fight for survival finally ended at a Phoenix hospital in the US late on Friday night. He was previously known as Cassius Clay before converting to Islam.
Quite naturally, a tinge of sadness grasped the Indian boxing fraternity. Former Indian Olympian boxer Akhil Kumar felt that a legend never dies and he will occupy a spot at the centre of every sportsman’s heart. “You will be remembered as a Legend…Truly a Hero for me and many others…#RIP Muhammed Ali,” Akhil reacted to a query from this journalist.
However, there were also a handful of veteran Indian journalists who happened to meet Ali in person during the champion boxer’s visit to Kolkata in 1990. Among those journalists, Zafar Ali Khan and Tapan Dam got lifetime opportunities to spend some hours with the legend. It was a result of initiative by the then Mohammedan Sporting Club supremo Mir Muhammad Omar, whose elder brother Osman Dada used to share a great rapport with the three-time world champion.
“When I met Ali, he appeared to be brash person, but as soon as discussion started, he looked comfortable. It was a dream come true moment for me and so I pressed for some snaps (see featured image) and he obliged instantly without much ado…He also used to show some magic that mesmerised me,” Khan told SportsCrunch on Saturday.
Another veteran, Dam, gave some other insights on Ali. “I met him at a five-star hotel in the city and went straight to his suite as there were no such security issues as it is now. I did an interview with him and could sense that he was unwell…That’s when I came to know that he has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” Dam told SportsCrunch.
The veteran journalist also revealed that Ali made it a point to visit the Kalighat temple during his visit as he was very secular and had no hatred for any religion. “If I am not mistaken, he was the first Muslim to enter the Kalighat temple, which is purely a Hindu place of worship,” he recounted.
Meanwhile, prayers poured in for the legend who died after prolonged illness at the age of 74.
India’s Olympic medal winners Vijender Singh and Mary Kom also expressed condolences following Ali’s demise. “Muhammad Ali was a legend and a legend never dies. All that he did for the sport will never be forgotten. In fact his work even outside the ring has immortalised him. He did so much for so many,” Vijender was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
Five-time world champion Mary Kom was also at loss for words. “It’s a huge, huge loss for boxing. I personally feel a sense of loss because he had inspired me and so many others like me. He will always be remembered for being a powerful boxer and an equally powerful personality. It’s a very sad day for the sport,” Mary Kom was quoted as saying by PTI.