Top SA trainer salutes Ali

2012-01-17 16:26

Johannesburg - A special picture takes pride of place in the gym of one of South Africa's top boxing trainers.

It shows Nick Durandt holding a glove and a 51-year-old Muhammad Ali delivering a mock blow to his face.

"This guy will be remembered as the greatest of all the great boxing personalities,” says Durandt, pointing to the photograph in his gym in Norwood, Johannesburg.

Durandt first met Ali, who was 70 years old on Tuesday, in the early 1990s when the former heavyweight champion visited South Africa as guest of honour during a Moslem group's celebration programme.

"I actually spent two weeks with Ali's contingent on their visit round Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban and got to know him pretty well," Durandt said this week.

"I later saw him several times on visits to the United States and he was always kind and friendly whenever we met."

The last time he saw Ali, about four years ago, Parkinson's Disease had taken its toll. "But his mind was as sharp as ever," Durandt said.

"He was more than boxing's greatest. He will be remembered as one of the most notable and recognisable sports legends.

"He is a very smart and intelligent guy and it is a bitter irony that such a supreme physical specimen should have been struck down by the disease.

"The dignity with which he has borne his illness for so long matches his great ability as a fighter."

Durandt, who has handled nearly 100 champions, also got to know Ali's daughter Leila when she came to South Africa to defend her women's title.

"Like her father," he said, "she showed her appreciation by coming to Las Vegas to support a couple of my boxers who were fighting in the United States."