Muhammad Ali visited Jamaica

Muhammad Ali visited Jamaica 

Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga (second left) with the late Muhammad Ali (third right) and boxing promoter Don King (left) during their 1987visit to Jamaica for the Martin Luther King Human Rights Award at the Wyndham Hotel, New Kingston. At extreme right is the Rev Al Sharpton. (Photo contributed)

Muhammad Ali, the former world heavyweight champion who died in Phoenix, Arizona last Friday, visited Jamaica on two occasions, in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ali’s first visit to Jamaica was in 1974. He came as a member of a delegation of the Nation of Islam, headed by Minister James Muhammad, younger brother of Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Chicago-based organisation. The delegation also included Minister Louis Farrakhan.
They took a one-month tour of Jamaica as guests of Prime Minister Michael Manley. Ali received the Key to the City of Kingston at Jamaica’s National Stadium.

The trip was especially important as it not only followed Ali regaining his world heavyweight title from George Foreman in Zaire, Africa, after Foreman had won it from Joe Frazier in Kingston in 1973, but also Ali’s suspension from the so-called Black Muslims by Elijah Muhammad for his lifestyle, as well as following rumors of abuse of his wealth by the organisation.

Muhammad Speaks, the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, gave the visit extensive coverage, including the presentation of the Key to the City of Kingston by then Mayor of Kingston Ralph Brown. Ali was also feted at Jamaica House by Prime Minister Manley.

Ali returned to Jamaica in 1987 with boxing promoter Don King for a lavish function at the then Wyndham Hotel in New Kingston, where King received the Jamaica-America Society and United States Information Service (USIS) Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award for supporting African-American rights groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Ralph Abernathy-led Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

They also visited then Prime Minister Edward Seaga at his Temple Meade home in St Andrew, in addition to being guests of honor at the presentation of the award to King at the Wyndham.

King’s delegation also included his wife, Henrietta; African-American tennis star Arthur Ashe; black activist the Rev Al Sharpton; heavyweight boxing champion James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith; and Joe Jackson, father of the famous Jackson Five, whose hugely successful ’Victory’ promotional tour was organised by King in 1984.

It was King’s second visit to Kingston, as he was in Jamaica for the Frazier-Foreman clash for the heavyweight title, dubbed the ‘Sunshine Showdown’, at the National Stadium in Kingston on January 22. Foreman won the fight in less than two rounds, scoring a technical knockout at 1:35 of the second round to dethrone Frazier and become the new undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

Foreman successfully defended the title twice. He knocked out José Roman in the first round on September 1, 1973, then knocked out future hall-of-famer Ken Norton. However, his reign ended with the third defence, which was against Ali in one of the most famous fights in boxing history, dubbed ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’, in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) in October 1974.


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