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So many people have been recounting so many Muhammad Ali stories in the past week since his death and rugby league great Dean Bell has one, too.

It’s a story from Ali’s visit to New Zealand in 1979 when he came face to face with two teenagers, one of whom would go on to create a legend in his own sport including becoming Warrior No 1 the day he led the original Auckland Warriors into the then-Winfield Cup in 1995.

The tale with the accompanying image is covered in Bell’s biography Dean Bell – Warrior. Here’s a transcript:

Not afraid to mix it with anyone, the young Bell also had a certain good-natured cockiness about him, never better illustrated than during a chance meeting with the man known as ‘The Greatest’. It’s the story behind an eye-catching photo which appeared in the New Zealand Herald during Muhammad Ali’s visit to New Zealand in the late 1970s.

“I’d been to the movies with my cousin Wayne and we noticed a commotion on the other side of the road with a big crowd gathered,” says Bell. “So, we went to check out what was going on. We soon realised what it was – The Man himself, Muhammad.

“So, we just started walking in front of him, perving on his wife. She was a real pretty sort. We were only 17 or so and couldn’t help ourselves.

“All of a sudden from behind us Muhammad Ali said, ‘Hey, you two boys in front of me – I want to fight you!’ We spun around. We were startled. ‘What? What?’ ‘I want to fight you. You’ve been perving on my lady, haven’t you?’

“In a cheek way, Wayne said, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ So a reporter who was there told us all to gather around and do a bit of shadow boxing. The next day it was on the front page of the Herald. I remember throwing one punch which caught Ali’s hand and I was amazed just how enormous his hand was.”

Bell’s shadow boxing exhibition earned some admiration from the great man, although it wasn’t about to earn him a professional boxing contract.  

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