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Remembering Muhammad Ali: The Visit to Moscow

Summer Olympics of 1980 were held in Moscow, the great Russian capital but preparations for this event started two years earlier in May 1978. Dobrynin, the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, invited one of the most famous athletes and boxing world champion Muhammad Ali to USSR. Proposal was supported by Soviet government and also gladly accepted by Muhhamad Ali that  quickly later after invitation arrived to Moscow with his wife, coach and a lawyer.

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Ali was Muslim in his faith so one of his wishes was to visit Uzbehistan, one of the Soviet republics that was mostly populated by Caucasian Muslims. Being a world-famous star that he was Uzbeks warmly greeted him so he even had to break his sporting diet due to offerings that Uzbeks offered him. Interesting fact is Muhammad Ali gained over eight pounds in weight after his USSR visit.

Charles Bierbauer, recalled Ali’s trip to Soviet Union and how later in his tour thought Soviet Union he returned to Moscow and announced his wish to meet all of the Soviet heavyweight boxers. The meeting was naturally quickly organized due to mutual wish to exchange ideas and boxing tricks both by Soviet boxers and Ali. Some of the photos were saved by livejournal member dubikvit that we will show you here.

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There was one thing Ali didn’t expect, that was a invitation to Kremlin and meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev himself. Meetling lasted only around 15-20 minutes but it was meaningful and Ali left the meeting with a brand new watch on his wrist as a gift from Soviet leadership.

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Ali later said for an interview:

“I’m very impressed by a meeting with Leonid Brezhnev. I find it hard to find the words… I am a simple American boxer, but I was honored to meet Mr. Brezhnev. I used to hear that the Russians are always threatening Americans, but I am convinced that this is not true. Brezhnev is a supporter of world peace”. Leonid Brezhnev, who during the WW2 fought against Nazis, gave Ali the book “The small land”. Ali called this gift “the best in his life”. “I’ll ask my friend Soviet Ambassador to the USA Dobrynin to translate this book for me”, Ali told reporters.

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At a press conference, Ali stated:

“It’s hard to believe, that such a peaceful country wants war. And Brezhnev, I never thought he was such a quiet and calm person. It is difficult to imagine that he can be the person who would start a war. I have not seen a hitchhiker on the road, and I have not seen a single beggar on the streets of Soviet Russia. I had never felt so safe: no risk of being robbed. I was told that there is no freedom of religion in the Soviet Union, but Muslims, Christians and Jews worship freely here. I think the relationship between our people is bad just because of false propaganda”.

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On June 21st, Ali returned to New York by “Aeroflot” airlines. At a press conference he said:

“I was a little nervous when I landed in Russia. I thought I’d see the country in ruins, with a crowd of gloomy people who think like robots, and intelligence agents, who would follow my every step. Instead, I saw a country populated by a hundred nationalities, who are living together in harmony. I saw only one policeman, who was carrying no weapons. There is no crime, no prostitutes and no homosexuals.”

In remembrance:

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Great people know no borders!

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