I first met Muhammad Ali in 1970 at Deer Lake. He didn't have a camp there then, but was in the process of building it. I went up there to meet with him, not to spar with him. I had told him that I was a boxer - an amateur boxer. He said, "If you're an amateur boxer, put your hands up." I hear the "bang bang" and he says, "Come on, man, you're doing pretty good!"
At the time he was putting on a boxing exhibition in Reading, Pennsylvania, but he didn’t have anyone to box with, so he asked me to do it. I'd done about 20 amateur fights, but I knew he wouldn't hurt me. When we went down to Reading, I got in the ring and boxed a little bit. I ended up with a black eye, but I never let anybody fix it. I kept that black eye – I was proud. Then he invited me back, and kept on inviting me back, and the next thing I knew I was travelling with him. Those were the happiest days of my life.
When I met him he wasn't like a hero, he was just another fighter, the champion of the world. I just admired the guy; I wanted to be around him. I asked him one day, "Would you go to the prison with me?" He said, "I ain't going to no jail!" and I replied, "No, to talk to the prisoners over there, and come to the schools and stuff like that". He said, "Yeah, I'll do that for you, man". So he came down to my town, Easton, Pennsylvania, a little town where nobody went. And I brought him there. You know how big I was? I could have run for office and made it! And he did that for me.
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We became very good friends, up to the day he passed. I saw him do good, and I saw him do bad. He would give from his heart, not because he was supposed to give back, but I've seen him give up a lot and do a lot for everybody. He did a lot for Bundini Brown, Gene Kilroy, Walter Youngblood, Tim Witherspoon… He gave me a pair of boxing gloves and shoes when I first met him. I had none of that stuff; he told Kilroy [his business manager] to make sure I had everything. Ali was a great man.
LARRY HOLMES is a former professional boxer and one of the few to have defeated Muhammad Ali. He spoke at the launch of Tag Heuer's Carrera Muhammad Ali Special Edition Timepieces, which draw inspiration from the 1957 Heuer Ring-Master, a stopwatch featuring interchangeable rings for timing various sports; tagheuer.com
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