Chennai: Chennai man Rocky Brass accomplished something the likes of Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman couldn’t achieve: evade a Muhammad Ali punch. Brass talked his way up for a micro bout with Ali when the three-time world champion visited Chennai in 1980. “The fight wasn’t on the schedule but there was commotion when Tamil Nadu Chief minister MGR came to the venue. I asked Ali whether I could come up to the ring. He beckoned me in immediately,” the 59-year-old Anglo-Indian said.
The efforts of Brass, 21 years then, to land a punch on Ali proved futile. Incredibly, Ali also failed to hit his target with a straight left. “The greatest boxer in the history of the sport unleashed a rapid-fire left, but I somehow managed to duck it. I could hear the whizzing sound of his flying hand over my head. Had he connected, I would have been floored. For me, he was simply too tall to land a punch,” he said.
Brass was the bantamweight champion of Tamil Nadu when he took on the most famous heavyweight of all time. “Sharing the ring with Ali was a dream and I wouldn’t let it fade away until I die. It was God’s gift to me. My life is bookmarked by the Ali meeting and I never get tired of speaking about it,” he said.
Ali paid rich compliments to the young tyro after the bout. “You are one of the most promising boxers in India. I felt over the moon. In fact I got a job — though it was at the lowest level — in railways thanks to Ali’s kind words. I moved up the ladder in railways pretty quickly and I’m now a mail guard. I will retire next year but there is no sell-by date for my Ali memories,” Brass said.