India is an Asian country known for its unique tradition and culture. The home to the famous ‘Taj Mahal’ boasts its food items, religion, temples, dress styles, and natural resources as some of its biggest assets, which have captivated the eyes and hearts of millions of people around the world.
But unknown to many, India has a national treasure, who achieved one of the rarest feats in sports history – to throw hands with the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali.
Kaur Singh, a former heavyweight boxer, will go down in the history as the lone Indian boxer to have clashed with Ali in the ring. Unfortunately, his efforts and contribution to the sport remained unsung.
38 years ago, lady luck smiled on the side of the Indian heavyweight, when he was chosen to share the ring with ‘The Greatest’ in a friendly match in New Delhi.
On his way to a visit in Southeast Asia in 1980, the biggest figure in boxing, Ali, decided to stop over in India for two days. When Rajiv Gandhi learned about this, he talked to Ali and convinced him to show his boxing prowess to the Indian community. With his immense popularity, over 50 000 fans trooped to New Delhi to see the boxing legend in person.
One of them was Kaur, who considered Ali as his hero. Back then, Singh has already an impressive boxing resume. He had won gold medals in two national championships and was one of the country’s representatives in the upcoming Asiad. In an unexpected turn of events, the Boxing Federation of India has called his name to go up against the boxing legend in a friendly match.
“We were in New Dehli that time, practising at the national preparatory camps for the Asian Games. Muhammad Ali was our hero. We had placed his one big picture on the wall of our rooms at the hostel. I could not believe that I was chosen for the friendly match. It was a four-round bout. Obviously, Ali had won but I still rejoice when I remember his brief appreciation of my fighting style,” Kaur shared.
Two years after the unforgettable clash with Ali, Singh added another chip to his collection after winning the gold medal in the 1982 edition of the quadrennial meet. For his great performance in Asian games, he was given the Arjuna Award in the same year before receiving the Padmashri in 1983.
Singh decided to hang his gloves up and served the military, where he captured another recognition. In 1988, the Indian Army awarded him the Vishisht Sewa Medal (VSM). But luck was not always on his side as the life of the former heavyweight champion experienced a complete turnaround 26 years after his memorable meeting with Ali.
From being an ex-heavyweight champion to a retired army veteran, Singh now works as a farmer in his native village of Khanal Khurd in Sangrur. As a father, Singh did not allow his children to pursue the same path after the Indian government did not grant him his cash incentives, following a gold medal finish in the 1982 Asiad.
Now, Kaur is currently suffering from a serious heart problem, which has put him into a deep financial trouble due to the medical expenses. However, he remains positive whenever he recalls his experience with Ali.
“Despite the financial crunch I have been for so long, I forgot all my pain whenever I remember the legend’s appreciation.”
His fight with Ali, his podium finish at the Asian Games, and his experience in 1984 Olympics may all be a thing of the past now, but Kaur’s legacy should be celebrated and remembered forever.
(Featured Image Source: The Times of India/YouTube and Neil Leifer’s Photo)