Gallery: When Muhammad Ali came to London — rarely seen pictures of "The Greatest" in the Big Smoke

Joe Hall
Follow Joe

Muhammad Ali's global status and following is illustrated in the long list of locations to stage his fights that stretches far beyond heavyweight boxing's traditional orthodoxy of Las Vegas casinos or New York's Madison Square Garden.

From Bavaria to the Bahamas, from the "Thrilla in Manila" to "The Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire, Ali's career spanned the globe both metaphorically and literally.

Yet, beyond the US, it was London that was the most common destination for "The Greatest", who fought in the city three times throughout his career – twice against Sir Henry Cooper and once against the aptly-named Brian London.

Read more: Muhammad Ali dies aged 74

Ali shared a special bond with the British public throughout his career. He joked with Brian Clough, chatted with Michael Parkinson, fooled around with football fans and even twice made a surprise visit to Brixton.

Below are some photos that captured his time on these shores:

1963: Ali — then still called Cassius Clay — relaxes in a London hotel room ahead of his first fight against Cooper. "If Cooper gives me jive, I'll stop him five!", the American boasted.

1963: The first Cooper fight was held at Wembley, but attracted a crowd of just 35,000. Below, Ali's manager Bill Faversham surveys the arena.

1963: Cooper knocked down Ali at the end of fourth round with his signature left hook, "'Enry's 'Ammer", but in the following round Ali recovered and opened a cut in the Englishman's eye which prevented him from continuing.

"Cooper hit me so hard that my ancestors in Africa felt it," said Ali of the fourth round punch.

1963: Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee claims he opened up a tear in his fighter's gloves following the fourth round knock-down and got the referee to agree to glove change which bought his man a vital two minutes of recovery time.

1966: Muhammad Ali returned to London to fight Cooper for a second time in 1966, this time as a World Heavyweight Champion following his defeat of Sonny Liston two years earlier.

1966: The pair pose for a promo shot. Despite their brutal encounters, they developed a friendship later in life.

1966: "The British public took to him before the American public did", Cooper once said.

1966: Below, Ali is mobbed by British fans at his hotel in West London.

1966: Ali, or the "Louisville Lip" as he was often called, was as comfortable with the British press as he was with the journalists back home.

1966: Ali takes a stroll through the City:

1966: Ahead of the second Cooper fight, Ali visited Notting Hill Carnival organiser Rhuane Laslett at her home in Tavistock Square.

1966: Laslett had set up a children's play group in the area to which Ali paid a visit.

1966: Local newsletter The Grove wrote of the visit: "Muhammad gently sat down on the floor and talked with the children, signing countless autographs. Half an hour passed quickly, and party dresses got crumpled and carefully brushed hair got wildly ruffled. But no one minded, least of all Muhammad himself. It is not often you have the chance to climb all over the World Heavyweight Champion."

1966: Ali trained for the second Cooper fight at a Territorial Army gym in White City.

1966: Ali poses with Jack 'George' Achilles, the head chef of Soho restaurant Isow's enjoyed by the Champion.

1966: Ali meets an eight month old girl at training:

1966: While a two-year old beats a crowd to his signature:

1966: The Cooper re-match was held at Arsenal's Highbury stadium with a crowd of 45,973 in attendance.

1966: A cut eye once again cost Cooper in the second fight, with the referee stopping the fight in the sixth round while the hometown hero was up on the scorecards.

1966: Ali stayed in London for his next fight three months later against Brian London at Earl's Court.

1966: New King of the Capital, Ali looks down on the City from the top of the Post Office Tower — now the BT Tower.

1966: London was brutalised by Ali and finally succumbed to a knock-out in the third round after taking 11 punches in just three seconds.

1966: Ali heads home in a black cab after the bout.

1974: Ali visited London in December 1974 shortly after regaining his world title by beating George Foreman in "The Rumble in the Jungle".

While in the City he addressed a Nation of Islam meeting at the New Victoria Theatre in London:

1977: Ali chats with two police officers while on a morning run in Hyde Park.

1979: Ali is grabbed by a fan as he leaves the Classic cinema in London's Haymarket after watching a film he appeared in, "Bangladesh I Love You".

1999: Lennox Lewis, Harry Carpenter and Ali at that year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards ceremony. The main gong was taken home by Lewis who that year become the first Briton in a century to be named undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

2012: Ali made his final visit to London for the London Olympic Games and was a guest at the Opening Ceremony.

(All picture credit: Getty Images)

Related articles