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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
The week Ali charmed Ireland
Muhammad Ali in one of his three bouts against Joe Frazier
Muhammad Ali fought Al 'Blue' Lewis at Croke Park

Anybody with even a vague knowledge of boxing would be able to reel off at least a few of Muhammad Ali's more famous battles in the ring.

Right through from his wresting the world heavyweight title from the seemingly unbeatable Sonny Liston in 1964, to regaining his crown in the 'Rumble in the Junge' against George Foreman 10 years later, to the 'Thriller in Manilla' win over Joe Frazier in 1975.

But your average Ali fan may not be aware that the Greatest actually fought in Ireland on one occasion.

The date in question was 19 July 1972 when Ali was plotting his return to the top of the heavyweight scene after his points defeat by Frazier a year earlier.

Ali arrived in Dublin eight days before the fight and Cork-born journalist Dave Hannigan has produced a splendid work which chronicles a truly memorable week in Irish sporting history.


Not since the late President John F. Kennedy was in Dublin in 1963 has a visitor been given as big a welcome
Cork Examiner, 12 July 1972

Inevitably, the boxer made his presence felt during his stay in the Emerald Isle.

With the somewhat hapless fight organisers trying everything in their power to sell tickets for the bout against durable Detroit man Al 'Blue' Lewis, Ali photo opportunities included a visit to the Irish parliament when he met the then Prime Minister Jack Lynch.

Predictably Ali made his mark among the Irish parliamentarians as the Cork Examiner recounted the following day.

"Not since the late President John F. Kennedy was in Dublin in 1963 has a visitor from abroad been given as big a welcome at Leinster House as that accorded to Muhammad Ali," reported the newspaper.

Included in the week was a memorable interview which the fighter gave to RTE Television.

Ronald Reagan had blocked Ali's attempt to get a licence in California
Ronald Reagan: Crossed Ali's path

The entire transcript of the interview, which gives a fascinating view of Ali's view on US society at that time, is included in Hannigan's work.

The list of celebrities who came into contact with Ali and his large entourage during the week included actor Peter O'Toole, film director John Huston and even, Ronald Reagan who was in Dublin on the last leg of a European tour.

Ironically, Reagan, who was then Governor of California, had done much to prevent Ali regaining his boxing licence after the boxer had been stripped of his world title for refusing to serve with the US Army in Vietnam.

To Hannigan's credit, the book doesn't ignore Lewis' part in the Ali roadshow.

The final highly-moving chapter focuses on the ex-convict's memories of the week and the subsequent slings and arrows of his life up to now.

Such is Ali's appeal, any book connected with him is bound to intrigue but the author has performed a particularly impressive job in recounting a week which many fight fans will hitherto have known little about.

The Big Fight, published by Yellow Jersey Press, is priced at 10.

See also:

14 Jan 02 | Ali at 60
15 Jan 02 | Ali at 60
17 Jan 02 | Ali at 60
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