Jack Hirsch catches up with Muhammad Ali’s brother, Rahaman Ali, who fought on the New York undercard for the Fight of the Century
Rahaman (often misspelled as Rahman) Ali warned Boxing News what to expect, that his client was not a man of many words. This, of course, is in sharp contrast to his famous older brother. Rahaman, though, has written in-detail in his new book, My Brother, Muhammad Ali, which can be ordered online from Rockbrashpromotions.com. There are many fascinating stories in the book that can’t be found elsewhere.
As revealing as the book was, there was not space for it to contain all of the intimate details that went on behind the scenes that historic March 8, 1971 night at Madison Square Garden. Rahaman, 7-0 (3) at the time, had his own contest to worry about against rising British heavyweight Danny McAlinden. Of all the fights on the largely forgotten undercard this is the one that people most remember. Unfortunately, it did not turn out well for Rahaman, as he lost a six-round decision.
What do you remember most about the night of March 8, 1971?
It was so exciting. It’s a part of my life that I’ll always be thankful for. So many famous people were there. The atmosphere was amazing. It was an honour to be able to box on a show like that alongside my brother.
Tell us about your fight with McAlinden on the undercard.
I was very upset about it at the time. I thought that I won the fight, but the judges did not see it that way. I learned from Muhammad that things don’t always go your way, that it is a part of life. I moved on quickly after the loss.
During the weigh-in there was such a big scene outside of Madison Square Garden that, for security reasons, Muhammad had to stay in the arena until his fight. Were you with him during that time?
No, I left the Garden. There was no reason for me to hang around. I had to rest up for my own fight.
It was reported that heavyweight Roosevelt Eddie, who was scheduled to box on that evening’s undercard against Ken Norton, yelled at you at the weigh-in, claiming you were given preferential treatment by being allowed on the scales first.
I don’t remember that or much else about the weigh-in. It was so hectic that day, so much was going on. I was not given preferential treatment because I was Muhammad’s brother. People loved Muhammad Ali, but it’s unfortunate that there were a few who were jealous of him as well. What I learned from my brother is to love people and not take things too personally.
Everyone recognised your brother. Were you recognised when you walked the streets as well?
I was very recognised. My brother and myself both loved the people and appreciated all the good wishes they gave us. We drew strength from them.
Where did you sit to watch the main event and what did you make of the decision?
I was a few rows from the ring. Muhammad won the fight. He landed more punches, the better punches. He won all three fights. My brother was the greatest boxer that ever lived. No one else had his skill and athletic ability. He could do things inside of the ring that no one else could. He joked around about being the greatest, but he really was.
What did Muhammad say when you first saw him after the fight?
I did not talk to him until the following morning. He was in his usual good mood and was joking around saying it’s good to be alive. My brother had an amazing ability to make other people around him feel good.
What did he really think of Joe Frazier?
My brother loved him, thought he was a great fighter and a great man. Don’t believe for a moment that he had any animosity toward Joe Frazier. My brother would sometimes joke around about Joe, but there was never any malice intended. Sometimes things are done and said in the heat of competition, but it should never take away from the respect we have for one another.
And your feelings towards Joe?
The same as my brother’s. I thought very highly of him, not only as a fighter, but as a man. Joe was such a decent and kind-hearted individual.
One month after the loss to McAlinden you returned and boxed four weeks in a row, winning them all. Do you feel your own achievements are overlooked?
You are so kind to mention that. I was not the boxer Muhammad was, but am proud of my career. I enjoyed boxing and found a promoter that offered me some fights that I gladly took.
Previously, Muhammad always watched your fights but he did not watch your fight with McAlinden. It was rumoured you were upset by that. Is that true?
Not at all. Muhammad was the best brother a man could have. He was also my best friend. He looked out for me so much that I could never thank him enough. He gave me money, bought me cars and a house. I loved him [voice chokes up] and miss him dearly. I wish he were still here. We were inseparable.
Do you feel that losing your fight that night was a bad omen for what would happen to your brother against Frazier?
I personally hope it did not have a negative impact on my brother being that we were so close. [But] it was the last time we ever boxed together on the same show.