After going one round with boxing legend Muhammad Ali, Far North man Valley Taylor promised "The Greatest" that one day he'd visit the champion at his home in Louisville, Kentucky.

However, despite "catching him with a good one" in the ring, Mr Taylor's fear of flying meant he didn't get over to see Ali, but he flew out yesterday to attend Ali's funeral which is being held in his hometown today.

Mr Taylor, a keen boxer, was at Western Springs, Auckland, in 1979 when Ali was putting on a boxing exhibition, doing a round or two with several NZ heavyweight boxers.

Mr Taylor said Ali then invited any indigenous Maori members of the crowd to come up for a round, and asked him to get in the ring.


"He asked me to give him a couple of good bangs and I caught him with a really good one - though he did stick his jaw out for me to hit. I then saw this mean stare on his face - a bit like the Maori pukana but worse - and I didn't want to hang around so I ran for the ropes to get out," Mr Taylor recalled.

"Ali had fast feet, but I tell you my feet were faster that day - as I ran for the ropes. I didn't want to see what he was going to do to me next. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me - apart from meeting my wife - and I'll never ever forget it.

"I didn't get the Ali shuffle that day, I got the Ali stare ... and that was enough for me.

"I went because I wanted to shake Ali's hand, but I didn't think I'd end up getting that close."

Mr Taylor thinks he is the only Maori to have gone a round with Ali. He said he stayed in touch with Ali over the intervening years and had promised that one day he would visit him in Louisville, but admits his aviophobia - fear of flying - prevented him, until now.

Mr Taylor hasn't got a ticket to attend the funeral service and if he can't get one before he arrives in Kentucky, he will join the hundreds of thousands expected to line the route for Ali's funeral procession.

"I had no hesitation getting in the ring with Ali, but I'm terrified of flying. I'm putting that fear aside to pay my respects to a great man - the greatest ever. I wouldn't do it for anybody else.

"It's just because of him, though. I'll go to the doctor's to get something to help me," he said before he left.