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Posted at: Jun 5, 2016, 1:35 AM; last updated: Jun 5, 2016, 1:35 AM (IST)

When Punjab’s Kaur Singh traded punches with the legend

Gaurav Kanthwal

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 4

In the legend of Muhammad Ali, the boxer’s short trip to India in 1980 may not figure even as a footnote but it remains a cherished piece of history in Indian boxing. Veteran journalists say it was on the insistence of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that Ali’s trip to India was arranged. 

Ali, a colossus inside the ring at that time, featured in three four-round exhibition bouts with the Indian boxers during that trip in New Delhi. One of the lucky ones to have traded punches with the legend was Kaur Singh, a heavyweight in Indian boxing at that time. Post the exhibition bout with Ali, Kaur went on to win a gold medal in the Asian Boxing Championship held in Mumbai in 1980. He followed it up with another gold in the Asian Games in 1982. The other two Indian boxers Ali fought with in New Delhi were Maluk Singh, a gold medallist in the Asian Boxing Championship in 1980, and Brij Mohan.

Kaur, now 60 and residing in Chhoti Khanal Khurd village in district Sangrur, has faint memories of the bout. “I think it was just before the Asian Amateur Boxing Championship in Mumbai,” recalled Kaur. “We were attending a national camp in Patiala and were called to a stadium near Pragati Maidan in New Delhi. The bout took place during the day, and a lot of people gathered to have a look at him. It was not a bout exactly; it was just a spectacle for the crowd.”

The boxer doesn’t remember much about the ‘fight’ that took place some 35 years ago, but he’s pretty sure about one thing — he couldn’t get anywhere near Ali despite being taller than him. “He was shorter than me but his ring craft and movement took him out of my reach,” Singh said in his hazy voice over the phone.

A veteran journalist who saw the ‘fight’ recalls that Ali hardly threw a punch at Kaur. “Ali kept fending him off with an occasional right. He hovered close to the ropes, chit-chatting with the youngsters who had gathered around the ring,” he said. 

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