Crowds thronged Chennai’s Nehru stadium to witness the legend in action in 1980.

When Muhammad Ali came to Madras and held hands with MGRImage: DIPR, via The Hindu
news History Saturday, June 04, 2016 - 10:33

As the entire globe mourns the death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, we take you back 36 years to January 1980, when the world-class boxer came to Chennai to fight a bout with Jimmy Ellis. What’s more, we got to see Ali and MGR, hold hands on the stage, an electrifying sight to see the star-politician and inspirational boxer together.

According to a report on The Hindu, crowds thronged Chennai’s Nehru stadium to witness the legend in action in 1980.

Organised by Tamil Nadu State Amateur Boxing Association and Apeejay, the exhibition bout that saw Ali taking on former heavy weight champion Jimmy Ellis, reported The Hindu.

The run-up to the match itself saw The Hindu ’s pages splashed with advertisements enticing spectators to the match.  The tickets were priced at Rs. 100, 70, 50, 20, and 10. Connemara Hotel, which hosted the boxer in one of its luxury suites, also issued an advertisement with an accompanying sketch of the sportsman in deep sleep.

The News Minute spoke to Rabu Manohar, a senior lawyer now based in Chennai. He attended the match in 1980 and was 17 years old then.

"We actually went to see MGR, MGR was our hero then. But it was amazing to see Muhammad Ali. I remember that he went around the stadium in a jeep, and all throughout they were playing the song "Muhammad Ali the black superman song."

He also narrates a funny incident. "I remember that when MGR 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." says Manohar.

According to another lawyer based in Chennai, who was 10-years-old in 1980, an elephant was aso brought to the show when Ali fought Ellis.

Ali is reported to have been inspired by the crowds which thronged the airport to meet him, and told his wife the same. According to The Hindu ’s report dated Februrary 1, 1980, “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 newspaper further reports,

In a dramatic twist to an otherwise smooth press meet, the pugilist faced off with a reporter who questioned his weakness on the left hook. Challenging the reporter to join him on the podium 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.”

It wasn't just Ellis that Ali took on, a school boy was also allowed to take a few swings at Ali then. Here is a picture


Image Source

Here is another picture from his 1980 visit. 

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