Mumbai: A winner of national level boxing contest once and state level competition seven times, this unsung hero and little known boxer is also the one who accepted World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali’s challenge not once but twice.
72-year-old Haroon Yaseen Khan, in boxing since he was 12, exhibited courage and determination to jump into the ring and face Muhammad Ali’s punches in Mumbai at the time when others were unwilling and reluctant. But, when it came to fighting with the government, he found the battle tougher than boxing ventures.
“The government has always been parsimonious to me. It never recognised my talent and skills, even though boxers and athletes much junior to me were rewarded”, Haroon Yaseen Khan is quoted as saying by Urdu daily Inquilab.
“In 1995, the state government announced to allot me a residential flat under Chief Minister’s quota. Twenty years on, I am yet to get its possession”, he said adding that he and his wife went to state secretariat, Mantralaya, many times but to no avail.
He however said that the two exhibition fights he had with Muhammad Ali – one in Mumbai in 1980 and the other in Dubai in 1982, are more than any honour to him.
“I still remember the day when on January 30, 1980 at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium, Worli, Muhmmad Ali challenged and asked if anybody is ready to face his punches”, Haroon Yaseem Khan, then 36, recalled.
“There was a crowd of over 80,000 people. Among them were many boxers. But, no one stood up. I looked at my father for his nod and raised my hand”, he said.
Muhammad Ali called him and advised him to reconsider the decision.
“I told him, I know you are World Heavyweight Champion. But, I am also a boxer and confident of my power. I am ready to fight with you”, he said.
Haroon recalled, in the first round, Muhamad Ali was jesting and treated him like kids. Then began the demands coming from the stands, “Stop kidding Ali… We have come here to see the speed and punches you are famous for.”
“The public demand forced Ali into action and in the next one and half minute, my entire face was defaced”, Haroon Khan recalled.
“I could somehow complete the third round when Muhammad Ali himself stopped the fight, praising me and my decision to accept his challenge”, he said.
He said he cried whole day after his son Fazal Khan, who lives in the United States, informed him last Friday that Muhammad Ali is no more.
Muhammad Ali is no more. But, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), part of the government in 1995 when Haroon was promised a residential flat, is in power once again. So, will it fulfill the promise its erstwhile government had made to Haroon Khan twenty years ago?