Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Tony Becca | Goodbye, Great One

Published:Monday | June 6, 2016 | 12:00 AMTony Becca
Spray flies from the head of challenger Joe Frazier (left) as heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali connects with a right in the ninth round of their title fight in Manila, Philippines, October 1, 1975. Ali won the fight on a decision to retain the title.

It was a deafening noise. They were shouting and chanting something or the other. It was during the Cricket World Cup of 1987 and I was sitting inside the Hilton Hotel in Lahore, Pakistan, opposite the entrance awaiting the former Pakistan captain, Intikhab Alam, who was coming to take me to dinner.

As the noise got closer, I realised what the crowd was saying. The people were chanting "Ali, Ali, Ali."

Suddenly, they were at the door, a thousand or more Pakistanis, and in the middle of the crowd was a tall, handsome man, with dark glasses, shuffling along and being carried along by the small army of people.

I realised first time that it was none other than Muhammad Ali, the Greatest.

"Mr Becca, Mr Becca," shouted the now excited manager of the hotel as he ran towards me, "where is your photographer? I need him now, right now! In need him to take a photograph of Muhammad Ali."

"He is in his room, sleeping, I suppose," I responded.

"Get him. Please. I need him," he said.

Dellmar (Headley George Samuels) was down in a second, camera and all.

We all went upstairs - the manager, Dellmar and I. Dellmar took some pictures of Ali signing some documents for a Muslim occasion.

Apart from one occasion when he came to Jamaica, that was the closest I got to Ali, to the greatest sportsman this world has ever seen.

That was also the occasion on which, after all his constant family's denial, I was convinced that he was suffering from the early stages of Parkinson's disease.

Ali is the greatest ever sportsman, for his skill in his chosen sport of boxing, for his skill in spreading the gospel of boxing, and sport in general across the globe. For his skill of making - through his poetic utterances - each of his boxing matches an occasion, and for his confrontation with the US government over his stance on his non-participation in the Vietnam War.




"I am the greatest!" he told the world from early in his career, from before, as a young fighter, he knocked out the vicious, the awesome and the fearsome Sonny Liston, not once but twice, in round six when Liston refused to answer the bell for the seventh and in round one with a wicked punch that ended the fight.

From that moment, as Cassius Marcellus Clay, and later as Muslim Muhammad Ali, the cult got bigger and bigger as he moved from phrase to phrase such as "Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee", "What's my name?", and "Uncle Tom".

And the fights got bigger and better also.

The fights against Liston were two of the best, then there were three hell-raisers against his arch-rival, Joe Frazier, the man he once said was "too dumb to be the heavyweight champion of the world", and George Foreman, who he beat in the 'Rumble in the Jungle'.

He lost once and then beat Frazier twice, once in the 15th round in the 'Thrilla in Manila'.

That was when Ali, the greatest, said: "Frazier is the greatest fighter in the world, next to me."

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad Ali, as Cassius Clay, won the 1960 Olympic light heavyweight title and the heavyweight championship of the world on three occasions, in 1964, 1974 and in 1978.