Tuesday, January 17, 2012



MEETING ALI  1972:  By Brian Zelley
With the birthday of Muhammad Ali, many boxing fans and alumni of boxing 
recall meeting Muhammad Alia aka Cassius Marcellus Clay at some 
event, some club or at a Boxing tournament.

My personal meeting with Muhammad Ali took place in 1972.
I had seen him in an exhibition in Vancouver the night George Chuvalo 
defeated Charley Chase in a Canadian heavyweight fight.
Also, I saw him at the gym in North Vancouver  training for a bout
with George Chuvalo.  At that time, a fellow amateur boxer named
Dan Wright and I were hanging our with one time 
welterweight contender Manual Gonzalez and his trainer from
Houston, Texas Billy DeFoe.
Also at some of the gatherings was Ray Ormandy,
a cousin to John Ormandy who helped Dan and I start the 
Nanaimo Boxing Club in 1971.

Manny was scheduled to fight Canada's CLYDE GRAY 
in the semi-main event to ALI - CHUVALO so we took Manny and Billy 
to the gym for training during the same time that Ali was training.

Of interest, for Dan Wright and myself, there was never any plan to 
visit Ali, but due to a number of circumstances, there was an opportunity
 to meet him face-tp-face and in the privacy of Ali's penthouse suite
at the Hotel Georgia.

It was after dropping Manny and Billy off  and walking them
 to the ninth floor to say goodbye until the next day.
On our way out we happened to run into a well known 
boxing promoter (in future years) and he wanted to know
 why we were on the floor .  So we told him and he asked us
if we would like to see MUHAMMAD ALI.
Now we had all ready seen him at the gym, but this was
an opportunity to visit him in person.  So he gave us some Ali
 photos and told us where he was staying.  But, there was
no guarantees that he would give us the time of day.
That's when I remembered the story of 
a young Cassius Clay knocking on a hotel door  to 

So, we left the 9th floor to go to the top floor and Ali's penthouse suite.
We knocked on the door, and the door opened, and a larger than life 
MUHAMMAD ALI stepped out to talk to WRIGHT and  ZELLEY.

After a bit of small talk, I mentioned to Ali about the Willie Pastrano
 moment  and his meeting a young Cassius Clay so many years ago.
Those few brief comments created an instant change in the
face of Ali from a serious athlete spending a few moments
with possible fans to a great big smile and a grin.
Then while still in the hall Muhammad opened the room door wide 
and said come on in.  So we did,
Then we got to chat about serious stuff like  about
Luis Rodriguez and other boxers.
Before leaving he asked to sign the photos that we had in our hands.

It was after this meeting with Muhammd Ali
and Manuel Gonzalez that I would have my last
fight and I would win big time in one of my
most perfect fights ever.
"The post fight pose of the last fight"
My performance was aided by my 
days with Manny Gonzalez who 
showed me some great moves of moving
only inches instead of feet to make them miss
and be in range to score punches with ease.

Part of our experience was included in the 
Nanaimo Daily Free Press when I visited sports editor Mark Kiemele
but we did not talk about the visit with Ali because at the time
it was a private moment  and not a hot media story. 

(Note:  For those that do not know who Billy DeFoe is:
Think of Willie Pep, the all-time great featherweight champion,
then think of former lightweight champion Joe Brown.
And, a name behind those two great champions was 
Lou Viscusi, but Billy was a trainer, and after Joe
lost his title to Carlos Ortiz, Billy became the 
full time trainer of Joe Brown then known as "Old Bones"
Back in Houston Texas there was a whold gym full
of talented fighters including Cleve Williams and
a young Manuel Gonzalez who had a classy style
handed down by the likes of Pep and Brown.
Then in the mid-Sixties, the stylish Manny
turned puncher when he faced top contender 
Garland Rip Randall and the rest is history. 
Manny got a not-title fight with the great Emile Griffith
 and won the decision.  It  led to a title fight and a lot of other
top fights with the world's best welterweights in
the mid to late Sixties with Billy Defoe in the picture)

A Facebook Site
The above site was established some time ago
but has not been active, but with Ali expected 
to arrive in Victoria, BC, Canada
May 26,  2012
attempts will be made to activate the site.



  1. Great story, Brian and one to cherish! Thanks for sharing it. What a moment! Shawn :-)

  2. Forty years later, the legend known as MUHAMMAD ALI is expected to arrive
    in Victoria. British Columbia, Canada on May 26th. This will give some folks
    an opportunity to meet Ali at some function with a room full of athletes,
    entertainers, news media and VIP's. Likely, it will a moment to remember
    for many. But, nothing is like meeting him in person behind closed doors
    where discussion and chit chat is natural and not under the glare of the
    spotlight of the media.