When Mohammad Ali visted Calcutta

Bengal Amateur Boxing Federation (BABF) president Asit Banerjee, one of the fortunate boxing aficionados to have met Mohammad Ali, cherishes the time he spent with the legendary boxer.

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mohammad Ali affectionately holding two children inside Nakhoda Mosque in Calcutta.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The ‘City of Joy,’ which is known for its love for sports and sporting legends, hosted the great Muhammad Ali about 26 years ago. However, Ali’s trip to Calcutta was remembered for a ‘religious programme’ than any boxing-related activity.

After Ali’s visit to the city in 1980 was cancelled in the last minute, the great boxer toured Calcutta 10 years later on an invitation to attend an Islamic event.

Bengal Amateur Boxing Federation (BABF) president Asit Banerjee, one of the fortunate boxing aficionados to have met the iconic world heavyweight champion, still cherishes the day he interacted with Ali.

“It was December 25, 1990. And that was my second meeting with him. In 1983, I had interviewed him in Karachi for a sports magazine,” said Banerjee.

Banerjee, who has been associated with boxing for about five decades, said Ali’s greatest qualities were his self-confidence and humility. “When I addressed him as the greatest, Ali reacted strongly, ‘How can a man be the greatest! Allah is the greatest.’”

“When I asked why people called him the greatest, Ali replied, ‘This is publicity stunt. I only believe in killing the opponent, even before meeting him,’” said Banerjee, who has an autographed picture of Ali.

Banerjee, who runs a boxing centre in the city, said he was greatly inspired by Ali’s statement. “I take cue from Ali’s words and tell my wards to ‘kill the opponent.’ That is the kind of self-confidence one must possess.”

Banerjee said when he insisted Ali to name some great boxers, Ali had placed Jack Johnson and Joe Louis ahead of him. “That was Ali’s humility,” said Banerjee, who is planning to organise a prayer meeting and a seminar in memory of the legendary boxer.

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