As the world mourns Muhammad Ali, who has died today, we look back through the Herald archives to celebrate his legendary achievements. In 1979, Ali made a visit to New Zealand and made a strong impression on a young Lance Revill.

The crowd at Western Springs on February 25, 1979, were steamed up. They had packed into the Auckland stadium baying for a fight, but so far Muhammad Ali had failed to show his legendary heavyweight might against his opponents, fellow champs Jimmy Ellis and Joe Bugner.

"He was pitter-patter with them and they weren't even hitting him," says Lance Revill, who was sitting 12 rows back in the stands with his father.

The Ali roadshow had been greeted with feverish excitement when it hit our shores. Boys shadow boxed with Ali on Auckland's street, cars screeched to a halt and elderly women stopped to shake his hand.

Advertisement

Revill was 25. He had boxing experience, winning bronze at the Commonwealth Games five years earlier in the light middleweight division, but was taking a break from fighting at the time. That did not stop him forking out to see his idol at a special dinner and the following night at the stadium show. "I was quite in awe," says Revill.

After the disappointing exhibition bouts, Ali singled Revill from the eager bunch of fans circling the ring.

"Ali pointed at me and said, 'Shall I take the Great White Hope?'." Wearing a paisley shirt, brown boots and bellbottoms, Revill was not dressed for the fight of his life. Nonetheless, he slipped off his boots and stepped into the ring in his stocking feet.

"Getting gloved, I was thinking, 'What the hell am I doing?' Then a stroke of madness came over me. I thought, 'I'm going to have a go at this bugger. I'm going to open up on him to see what he's really like and give the crowd a bit of a thrill'."

Revill unleashed a flurry of punches, each connecting with Ali's bulk. Ali taunted his young opponent. "Punch harder."

"Right on the bell I threw an uppercut and caught him on the chin," says Revill.

Ali on the streets of Auckland. Photo / Archive
Ali on the streets of Auckland. Photo / Archive

Exhausted after the 3min round, Revill slouched over the corner ropes begging for his gloves to be removed.

Ali bounced back, with a point to prove. The 37-year-old former champ came up behind Revill, hit him on the back and called for "one more".

"He was out of shape and taking it easy," says Revill. "I went out there like a buzz saw and caught him. He got pissed off and wanted another round."

In round two, Ali showed his power. He had Revill on the ropes, throwing combinations, whacking him about the head.

Officials rung the bell early when it was obvious that Revill was taking a pummelling. The crowd finally got their show, and Revill walked away with a growing lump above a black eye to verify his story at the pub.

"I was in with the ring with the greatest fighter in the world.

"To do two rounds with him - I can't believe it."

This article was originally published on November 7, 2010.