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  • The Day Muhammad Ali Wanted to Knock Me Out


    09/04/20

    (ATR) I have never seen such huge hands. Much less, on the tip of my chin.

    Ali surprises me with a hook to the chin.(Raul Lopez)
    Muhammad Alí surprised me on the fifth and last day of his first visit to Havana.

    In September 1996, he had arrived on the Caribbean island at the head of a humanitarian mission with half a million dollars in medicine for hospitals.

    I had accompanied him since he arrived at the airport and in all his encounters with the Cuban Red Cross, doctors, patients, and athletes, for my chronicles in the main Cuban newspaper.

    So at one point, when he was visiting the Neurology Institute where they told him about how Parkinson's Disease was treated in Cuba, I asked Alí what would have happened in a match with Teófilo Stevenson, the three-time Cuban Olympic champion.

    "Tie" he told me very softly, that I could barely hear and it was Lonnie, his wife, who confirmed his gentlemanly answer.

    It was then that Ali, in a loving gesture, and unexpectedly, pressed his left arm on my back while his impressive right fist, threatening, brushed my jaw.

    Two months before, in July 1996, those shaking hands held the Olympic torch of the Atlanta Games with which Ali lit the cauldron of the Centennial Games before an audience of 3.5 billion viewers who saw it live on TV.

    In the Olympic Village Ali was always with his gold medal. (IOC)
    Of that embrace of Ali in Havana, of those hands, I remember now that it's been 60 years since he won his historic gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the Olympic Games in Rome, on September 5, 1960. He was then Cassius Clay.

    That day, the Kentucky idol defeated Zbigniew Pietrzykowski of Poland, three-time European champion and 1956 bronze medalist, by unanimous decision at the Palazzo dello Sport.

    Previously, he had beaten Belgian Yvon Bacaus before the limit, in the second round, and Soviet Melbourne-56 Olympic champion Gennady Shatkov and Australian Tony Madigan, 5-0 both times.

    Upon his return to the United States, he turned professional. On October 29, 1960, he starred in his first victory of his spectacular career. "The Greatest" was born in his duels against Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, George Foreman, Leon Spinks, and others,

    “I can still see him dancing around the Olympic Village with his gold medal around his neck. He was drinking with it. I was going to the cafeteria with him. He never took it off. Nobody pampered his medal as much as he,” recalled Wilma Rudolph, triple Olympic champion at Rome 1960.

    Despite his hands shaking, Ali gives me his autograph.(Raul Lopez)
    Then, the mystery arose around his disappeared Olympic medal, a story that continues to generate controversy: if Ali threw it into the river in protest when he was discriminated against in a cafeteria in his town, or if he had really lost it.

    Days after Ali lit the cauldron at the opening of the Atlanta Games, during a basketball game at the Olympic tournament, then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch presented him with a replica of his 1960 medal. Thirty-six years later he had the medal on his chest again.

    Ali returned to Havana with another humanitarian mission two years after his first visit, also in September. At the gates of the National Hotel, several blocks from the Havana Malecón, I was waiting for him with my photos of the memory of his first trip. I wanted his autograph.

    When he saw me, he hugged me again. And in about 40 seconds he stamped his trembling signature on the photo where we saw each other with a strong handshake. His unforgettable hands.

    Homepage photo: IOC

    Written by Miguel Hernandez

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