Brian London pays tribute to Ali “The Greatest”

London (right) shakes hands with Ali in 1966

London (right) shakes hands with Ali in 1966

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Blackpool’s Brian London has hailed the late, great Muhammad Ali “the best fighter I ever fought”.

The funeral of boxing’s most iconic superstar will take place in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday.

Revered as a champion of civil rights as well as boxing, Ali died in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday night, aged 74.

He had been admitted to hospital with a respiratory condition, having suffered Parkinson’s disease for 32 years.

He was crowned world heavyweight champion for the first time in 1964 and for the third in 1978 - the only boxer ever to win the crown on three separate occasions.

August will see the 50th anniversary of London’s unsuccessful attempt to take Ali’s world title on these shores.

The Blackpool boxer, who had been British and Commonwealth champion in the late 1950s, was knocked out in the third round of a one-sided contest at Earls Court, London, where a dominant Ali landed 11 punches in just three seconds.

Now 81 and a Blackpool resident for 65 years, London said of Ali’s death: “It is terrible news. It’s a very, very sad day.”

He said: “I didn’t see it on TV on Saturday morning - someone told me in the street.

“I couldn’t believe it because, apart from the Parkinson’s, I thought he was still fit. I didn’t know he had been ill and in hospital.

“Ali was the best fighter I ever fought. That night in 1966 was a bad fight for me, that’s all I can say.

“He was a heavyweight, yet be boxed like a middleweight. He was tremendous. He was great.”

Asked in the immediate aftermath of their fight whether he wanted a rematch with Ali, London had said: “Only if he ties a 56-pound weight to each leg.”