Muhammad Ali Ends China Tour, Says He Will Return
PEKING (AP) _ It was like the old days for Muhammad Ali. He drew big crowds, sparred playfully with all comers, and put on the Ali shuffle in the ring.
But he said the most moving experience of his 10-day tour of China was praying with 1,000 fellow Moslems in the great mosque of Xian, which dates from 742 A.D. during the Tang dynasty.
″To be there with my brothers, people so different and from so far away, was unforgettable,″ Ali said Monday by telephone from Shanghai, where he ends his trip today.
Invited by the Communist government and hailed in the press as ″the king of boxing″ and ″a 20th century legend,″ the former heavyweight champion was making his second visit to China.
His first in 1979 helped revive boxing in China, banned as too dangerous two decades earlier because of a death in the ring. China now hopes to train Olympic boxers.
″I was surprised that so many people knew me,″ said Ali, 43, whose slurred speech and wooden expression betray the debilitating Parkinson’s disease from which he suffers.
Accompanied by his wife Veronica, veteran manager Herbert Muhammad and other aides, Ali was mobbed by fans wherever his limousine arrived for an engagement. He attracted throngs of autograph hunters.
To roars of approval from 500 students at Peking Sports Institute, 20-year- old lightweight Wang Wei sparred with the champ in a makeshift ring and said it was the greatest day of his life.
Another amateur at the session disclosed that his coach told him to aim for the stomach as Ali was not in good health.
Ali, who took off his suit coat and tie for the one-minute bouts, resembled his old self when he donned a pair of boxing gloves.
He swung his right in circles for uppercuts that were not meant to land, danced away from opponents and faked a knockdown at the hands of one small foe.
″They’ve got great potential,″ he said of boxers in Peking and Shanghai. They’re not big, but they can take a punch and they are determined and courageous. I hope to come back with a program to train Chinese boxers.″
The Communist view in 1959 was that good comrades should not hit each other and some still feel the sport is too violent.
But Ali, holder of the world crown in 1964, 1974 and 1978, defended boxing at a news conference for 50 Chinese reporters in Peking last week.
″If we stopped all the things that caused accidents, cars would be first. Airplanes would be second,″ he said, calling for better referees and ringside physicians and evenly matched bouts.
″If I had to do it all over again, I would do everything the same way,″ he declared.
The English-language China Daily printed his greeting: ″Thank you for the good things you say about me. I love you very much.″
To the China Youth News, he wrote: ″Now that you are open to the world, never lose your culture, because others will try to give you their culture. It will be a great fight.″
″Muhammad Ali has won fame for Moslems the world over and Chinese Moslems take pride in his achievement,″ Imam Ma Liangji said at the Xian mosque.
Ali also met China’s martial arts champion, Zhao Changjun, a Moslem, and watched him demonstrate the ancient skill.
″I promise to come back and stay longer,″ Ali said.