Kolkata: Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, who passed away at the age of 74 in the US late on Friday, had described Jack Johnson as the greatest boxer of all time during a visit to the city during Christmas in 1990.
Ali, who had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for 32 years until his death, was here on a personal visit and stayed in the city for three days.
Veteran boxing administrator Asit Banerjee, who saw Ali from close quarters during the visit, says it was an “emotional” feeling which he “cannot describe in words”.
“I had met him in Karachi before, but 1990 was an emotional experience. I considered him an icon and here I was meeting him again. I could touch him, sit and talk to him. People called him ‘The Greatest’, many called him ‘God’ but I cannot express the feeling in words,” Banerjee told IANS.
Banerjee said the three time World Heavyweight boxing champion had then denied he was the ‘Greatest’ boxer of all time.
“In 83′ (during the meeting in Karachi) he was full of force. He asked me, ‘who says I am the greatest’?, I said, ‘You have only said it sometime back’. ‘That is all publicity. It is about scaring the opponent. Defeating them before the bout’ Ali had said,” Banerjee recalled.
When Banerjee popped the question in 1990, Ali had promptly uttered the names of Jack Johnson and Joe Louis.
Johnson was the first African-American boxer who was crowned world heavyweight boxing champion and Louis held the same title from 1937 to 1949.
“In 1990 he told me that he believed Jack Johnson is the greatest. You want to know who is No.2? It is Joe Louis. And if you really want to put me up there, write my name at three.’ Think of it. It is coming from perhaps the greatest ever. Yes they were legends in boxing but then you cannot compare Muhammad Ali,” Banerjee said fondly remembering the day.
“I have a book of him. I had taken it along with me that day. When I asked him do you still love boxing, I could see tears in his eyes. He caressed a picture in the book and later signed it for me.”
Pradip Kumar Banerjee — India’s football captain at the 1960 Rome Olympics — too recalled seeing the ‘People’s Champion’.
“It is sad to hear about the tragic news. He used to move so quickly around the ring and throw such powerful punches. He was the greatest of all,” he said.