Thirty-five years ago, the self-proclaimed "greatest" heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) visited the South Asian nation of Bangladesh, then only seven years old at the time, born of a deadly civil war in 1971. In February 1978, after he had lost the heavyweight title to Leon Spinks, Ali journeyed to Bangladesh with his wife Veronica for a week-long tour.
According to a documentary made of his trip called “Muhammad Ali Goes East: Bangladesh, I Love You,” Ali initially balked at the idea of traveling to the other side of the world, fearing the public's reaction to his recent defeat in the ring. (Ali wore dark sunglasses not only to protect himself from the sweltering Bengal heat, but also to hide the swelling in his eyes -- a brutal gift from Spinks.) However, Ali need not have worried.
Some 2 million delirious fans greeted Ali's arrival at the airport in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. During his stay in Bangladesh, Ali went to some of the country's most scenic areas, including the Sundarbans, a world-famous mangrove forest, tiger preserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site; the splendid Sylhet Tea Gardens; the beautiful lakeside town of Rangamati; and the coastal district of Cox's Bazaar. The champ even received Bangladeshi citizenship, courtesy of a passport, which prompted him to quip: “If I get kicked out of America, I have another home.” Perhaps the highlight of Ali's visit occurred at Dhaka Stadium, where he staged a “boxing match” with a 12-year-old Bengali boy who “knocked him out” (to huge cheers and laughs). Ali was also awarded a plot of land in the aforementioned Cox's Bazaar and had a stadium named in his honor. In the documentary, Ali speaks of returning to Bangladesh and building a home there, declaring “If you want to go to heaven, come to Bangladesh.” #RIPChamp #GreatestAthleteOfAlltime #JhalNYC