When ailing boxing great Muhammad Ali made a flying visit to New Zealand, predictably he caused a sensation.
Ali was 37 and was still world heavyweight champion when he visited Upper Hutt in February 1979. His trip was organised by the late Heretaunga boxing coach Alan Scaife who had earlier taken a team of Kiwi kids to Pennsylvania to fight a Muhammad Ali amateur boxing team. Muhammad Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died. He was 74.
Scaife suggested the American team return the trip to New Zealand and bring Ali.
The champion duly obliged and was mobbed by fans who gathered to meet him at Wellington Airport. "Like an elderly statesman, he came through the terminal concourse doors," The Evening Post reported at the time. "He picked up a little girl, whispered in her ear that he loved her and kissed her." Ali then moved among the crowd, singling out Maori men, baiting and sparring and giving fans a showboating performance they would remember the rest of their lives, the paper said. He then turned on his famous outspoken charm for his enthralled Kiwi supporters. "Nine people out of 10 in the United States don't know this place exists," he said. "Like Columbus discovered America, I've discovered you." Image 1 of 16: World heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali is shown trying to evade kicks by wrestler Antonio Inoki in 1976. Image 2 of 16: Muhammad Ali is shown before the Ali Humanitarian Awards ceremony, 2014. Photo / AP Image 3 of 16: Muhammad Ali, centre, with his sister in-law Marilyn Williams, left, and wife Lonnie, walks through the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in 2012. Photo / AP Image 4 of 16: Boxing legend Muhammad Ali suppports the NYC 2012 bid during a NYC2012 press conference. Photo / Getty Images Image 5 of 16: Muhammad Ali at 5th Street Gym, Miami, Florida, in 1970. Photo / Neil Leifer Image 6 of 16: Muhammad Ali hugs kiwi Mitchell Butler after he presented a gift to Ali from the people of NZ in 2005. Photo / Getty Images Image 7 of 16: Muhammad Ali and his daughter Rasheda in 2005. Image 8 of 16: Muhammad Ali and South Pacific Television commentator Tony Palmer recording the champions comments from ringside at the stadium in 1976. Photo / NZ Herald Image 9 of 16: Muhammad Ali lands a right on Joe Frazier as referee Carlos Padilla JR looks on during the Manila fight in 1975. Image 10 of 16: Muhammad Ali stands over Geogre Foreman after knocking him down in the eighth round in 1974. Image 11 of 16: Two boys shadow box with Muhammad Ali on his walk on Queen St walk in Auckland in 1979. Photo / NZ Herald Image 12 of 16: Japanese pro wrestler Antonio Inoki kicks the back of Muhammad Ali's leg during their boxing-wrestling bout at the Budokan Hall in Tokyo, June 26, 1976. Photo / AP Image 13 of 16: Boxer Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) takes on the Beatles in Miami in 1964. Photo / Getty Images Image 14 of 16: Boxer Muhammad Ali (aka Cassius Clay) exulting in victory over Sonny Liston in 1965. Photo / Getty Images Image 15 of 16: Black Muslim leader Malcolm X, joking with tux-clad Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali) in 1963. Photo / Getty Images Image 16 of 16: Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston after a short hard right to the jaw in 1965. Photo / Getty Images
Image 1 of 16: World heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali is shown trying to evade kicks by wrestler Antonio Inoki in 1976.
Ali was then whisked to Upper Hutt where he signed a visitors' book at then-mayor Rex Kirton's office and performed his famous centre-ring "shuffle".
Later in the day the champ won over teenagers at Heretaunga College by calling their deputy headmaster, boxer Les Nation, a weasel and sparred with a startled teacher when the bell rang. Ali spent that night attending a charity fundraising dinner in Trentham, and golfed the next day. He then flew to Auckland, where he staged an exhibition night with fellow boxers Jimmy Ellis and Joe Bugner.