• Monday, Jan 24, 2022
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When Muhammad Ali of Bengal met the real one

  • Published at 06:14 pm April 18th, 2020
Ali
The file photo shows the late Muhammad Ali posing for photographs holding the neck of Abdul Halim with his left hand and pretending to give a right hook Shamsul Islam Almazi

A boxing ring was set up at Bangabandhu National Stadium (then known as Dhaka Stadium) for the exhibition match

It was February 19, 1978.

It was a day after Muhammad Ali landed in Dhaka and Bangladesh earned its first international medals through the hands of Abdur Rouf and Abdul Halim, the latter better known as the “Muhammad Ali of Bengal.”

Halim was initially picked for a fun fight against the greatest boxer ever, but the plan had to be shelved after Ali lost the heavyweight title to Leon Spinks only three days prior to his visit.

The then 12-year old boxer named Mohammad Giasuddin was selected for the mock fight but Halim is still carrying the memory of those days and a stunning photograph with Ali that can still be found on the cover of his smartphone.

“It was like springtime for all sportsman of the country and for boxers it was like Eid. I felt like I was flying because I was supposed to face him in the exhibition match. Then we heard that Ali lost to Leon Spinks and we all doubted whether he would visit Bangladesh,” said Halim.

A devastated Ali also thought that he could not face his fans in Bangladesh before Reginald Massey, then chairman of Seven Stars Film, convinced him that his defeat would make no difference.

But Ali was in no mood for any fight with a senior boxer.

The National Boxing Stadium in Paltan, named after Muhammad Ali, was inaugurated at the end of Ali’s five-day trip.

A boxing ring was set up at Bangabandhu National Stadium (then known as Dhaka Stadium) for the exhibition match.

Halim, then around 25 years old, got his chance to get close to Ali after the end of the mock fight where Ali also showed his acting skills to get knocked out by Giasuddin to entertain thousands of spectators.

“The sports journalists and photographers were ready to capture Ali of Bengal and the Ali of world in a single frame. I stepped into the stage after the match and told Ali that the photographers are waiting. He held my neck with his left hand and gave a boxing pose on my face. The rest is history,” said Halim.

Halim was carrying a copy of Life magazine that had Ali in the cover story and photographs containing his family members and the punch that knocked out George Foreman.

He got Ali’s signature in the magazine too but the magazine got lost while he was out of the house to serve as District Sports Officer.

During his 12-year playing career (1968-80), the height (5’2’’) was a disadvantage but Halim overcame it with his passion and playing style to clinch national titles five times, including gold medal in the 1st Bangladesh Games.

Halim, also a former national coach, informed that Bangladesh’s first entry abroad was an “invitational” competition titled 3rd Kings Cup Boxing Tournament in Bangkok in 1977 where some 11 boxers, including himself, took part but only Abdur Rouf Khan won a medal (bronze) in heavyweight event.

Despite boxing his whole career in flyweight division, Halim made an exception during the 8th Asian Amateur Boxing Championship in Jakarta in 1977.

He reduced weight to 105 pounds in a very short time for a better shot at winning a medal for Bangladesh.

He competed in light flyweight and earned the country its first medal in the Championship.

Halim said he narrowly lost the semi-final battle by a single point before Rouf bagged another bronze in light heavyweight event.

“Meeting Muhammad Ali for a boxer is like meeting Pele for a footballer. Winning first medal in an international championship for independent Bangladesh is still my best memory,” said Halim.

The national award winning athlete concluded, “We couldn’t sleep well since the day we heard about his visit. Even when I slept, I met him in the dream. It makes me laugh even today when I remember those days.”

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