Dele Adetiba, iconic Nigerian sports broadcaster, has described Muhammad Ali, the great boxing legend, as ‘larger than life”.
Reputed to be the only Nigerian journalist to have interviewed Ali in a live studio session, Adetiba told TheCable that the pugilist was actually bigger in real life than the way he appeared on television.
He said as a result of Ali’s height, the fighter had to lower his head when he wanted to enter the Lagos studio of Nigerian Television (NTV), now known as Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), where the interview held.
“When you see him from a distance, he looked so ordinary. Looking at him on TV, I didn’t realise how big he was until I was next to him. I am almost 6ft tall, with me standing next to him, I realised he was really big,”Adetiba said.
“He was about 6ft 3/4 inches. When he came to the studio, he had to bend before he could enter. Otherwise, he would have knocked his head on the studio door.
“Ali was truly bigger than he looked. Most people of his size could have had, maybe a wide chest, small waist and then you will know that this is a big man, but he was well proportioned.”
Adetiba said Ali’s scope of operation went beyond punishing opponents in the boxing ring.
“He wasn’t trying to beat anybody but all he did was to show his expertise and avoiding punches,” he said.
“He was having exhibition fights with people that could not beat him; that were too far below him.
“When he moved, you will realise that he would have covered the entire ring. Chasing him, you will just have a long chase and by just one stride he had taken, he’d have covered one third of the ring. He was a massive fellow.”
The veteran journalist, who also spoke about some other qualities that the late fighter had, said there was more to Ali than boxing.
“He was larger than life, both physically and to some extent mentally… He was intimidating in every way, but he was a warm, friendly person,” he said.
“He was beyond boxing in the sense that he had a personality that was bigger than boxing. His style was different.
“He was intelligent enough to write poems and rhymes. He loved to taunt people. There are people who went to spar with him so that he could be beaten.
“I wanted somebody to shut his mouth when he was in his prime but when I look back now on the kind of things he had done, I just know that there’s none like him.
“So, just talking about his boxing prowess alone will not be complete, he was much more than that.”
Adetiba explained that during his heyday, Ali was not deliberately cynical as people thought based on his use of language and the manner in which he allegedly pulled down his opponents.
“What people may have not said or know about him, which I did not find out in time was that a lot of what he said was in jest,” he said.
“Some of his words felt he enjoyed ridiculing people. He called one of his opponents Uncle Tom. He called Frazier a gorilla.
“It was all just publicity stunt. Many times he was joking. I can look at this from the perspective of somebody who didn’t believe in Ali. I almost hated him at that time; looking back now, I realise that I was wrong, but he was right. In many cases, you will realise that he was able to be friends even with people he fought.
“So, he was a bigger person. Looking back now, I can say Joe Frazier was by far a lesser man compared to Ali because until he died, he never really let go off the animosity and rivalry.
“But to people like Ali, it was all just sport. He didn’t hate anyone. He was a friend to all. Ali had power; Ali had style; Ali was like a show man; Ali was a thinking person.
“Ali was able to come into a fight and change depending on what he met. Ali could have been successful in whatever he could have put his hands in life. He was just a brilliant mind.”