Other Sports

‘Gimme a punch’

TAKE THAT! Muhammad Ali has some fun at the expense of the author during a visit to Chennai in January 1990.  

It’s every sports lover’s dream to meet his hero.

And mine came true on a cool January morning 26 years ago when my dad and I had the privilege of having a breakfast meeting with ‘The Greatest’ when he came to Chennai (then Madras) on a private visit to one of the numerous charities he supported.

The debilitating condition brought about by Parkinson’s was beginning to show as Muhammad Ali walked with measured steps and when the famed ‘Louisville Lip’ spoke, the slur was noticeable as he exchanged pleasantries in a quiet and genial manner.

But the ad-libbing and wisecracks came thick and fast once we were acquainted. And the mischievous grin was a constant.

Autographs galore

After quizzing me on what I did and also on some trivia on his career (which I answered correctly much to his delight), the charismatic superstar signed all my collectibles with a remark ‘that’s my twin’ as his shaky hand scrawled over my portrait of the great man.

Famed for not refusing an autograph, he must have signed at least 50 other fans that morning. My tally was some dozen signatures on various cuttings taken from The Sportstar.

After gingerly sipping and relishing a cup of filter coffee, he espied me fiddling with the camera. And started to adjust his safari suit and push back his hair. Ever the showman!

The highlight of the occasion was the photo session. When asked to pose in a pugilist stance, he mumbled ‘Gimme a punch’ and feigned a stagger as I gingerly touched his cheek!

When his left jab came at me, I instinctively mugged with a shocked look. And the moment was captured for posterity!

Looking back, I now think what it would have been if he had decided to land one on me with either the thought of George Foreman or Joe Frazier running at the back of his mind!

Seeing the motley crowd that had gathered around us, he delighted the young and old alike with some simple tricks with coins and handkerchiefs. However, an ignorant bystander who queried who the foreigner was floored by the glare that I gave him!

After 40 odd minutes, his partner whispered that it was time to take leave. The imposing figure hugged my dad and me and waved goodbye with a simple message ‘Keep smiling, do what you like best’.

It remains one of the most exciting and satisfying mornings of my life.

A true champion and a gentleman has moved on. Rest in Peace, GOAT!

(V.V. Ramanan is Deputy Sports Editor of The Hindu)

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 4:55:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/%E2%80%98Gimme-a-punch%E2%80%99/article14384638.ece

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