Muhammad Ali: Richard Dunn and his place in story of '˜The Greatest'

Nick Westby met Richard Dunn on the eve of the late Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday four years ago. Here is the full story.

Monday, 6th June 2016, 4:47 pm
Updated Monday, 6th June 2016, 5:48 pm

Halifax-born Richard Dunn gave the Louisville Lip as good as he got.

All the taunting and whimsical jibes of Muhammad Ali were met with a defiant response from the gritty Yorkshireman.

Dunn even wrote a poem and recited it to the greatest of them all ahead of their bout in Munich, on May 24, 1976.

“Muhammad Ali, I think yer a square, I’m gonna retire you to a rocking chair.

“At 34, you ain’t so young, yer gonna get whupped, by Richard Dunn.”

Dunn recalled the verbal sparring. “He spoke a lot and I spoke a lot back. Unfortunately, there’s not much of what I said that can go into print. He was a master at it.”

There was not much Ali did not master in a monumental, era-defining career. As Dunn found to his frustration, Ali proved far superior in the ring, knocking down the Yorkshire boxer five times in five rounds.

Ali’s fight with Dunn – sandwiched between more storied contests with the greats of the division and, indeed, of boxing history – is unlikely to be the first that springs to mind.

Yet for Dunn, even though it ended in defeat, it is the fight for which he is best remembered, purely for the status of his opponent.

It was also a fight for which Dunn was handsomely rewarded, not to the tune of the millions of pounds or dollars boxers receive nowadays, but enough to let the then 31-year-old splash out on his family.

“I still remember it fondly,” said Dunn, who was featured in a documentary on Ali’s birthday on ITV. “I don’t think about it until someone mentions it and I start talking about it again.

“But it certainly was a fantastic occasion.

“I’d worked hard to get there. It certainly didn’t come easy.

“I’d won the British, Commonwealth and European titles – not many British heavyweights have done that.

“But I enjoyed every minute of that fight. It was a fantastic place to fight, the Olympic hall in Munich.

“Ali wasn’t fit against Jimmy Young (in his previous fight) and I thought if he came in at the same standard against me I’d have had a chance. But he came in absolutely 100 per cent.

“I was nervous, but no more so than in any other fight.

“I wasn’t any more nervous than if I was fighting an amateur,” said Dunn, one-time heavyweight champion of Europe, Great Britain, and the Commonwealth.

“It was a great occasion to be involved in, but I wish I was remembered for all of my fights.”

Ali and Dunn’s stories remain intertwined. Parkinson’s disease, which ravaged arguably the greatest sportsmen of his generation for the best part of three decades, is an affliction whose charity Dunn supports today.

He is the president of the Parkinson’s Association in Scarborough.

“It is a terrible illness,” he says.

“Ali has had a long battle with it, but you can’t put it all down to boxing.

“I’m not president of the association necessarily because Ali suffers from Parkinson’s.

“Even if I hadn’t have fought him, I’d have still said ‘yes’ when asked to be president, because it’s a worthy cause. Ali has done really well with it.”

Dunn is still regarded well. He has a sports centre in Bradford named after him and he is president of Scarborough Amateur Boxing Club.

“I don’t get to the gym much any more, I’m not as able-bodied as I used to be,” he says.

“I go to our meetings and we’ve got some very good kids at the gym.”

Dunn won 33 of his 45 fights, 12 by knockout, retiring from the ring in 1977.

But it was his five rounds with Ali for which he is most frequently remembered.

•Nick Westby was talking to Richard Dunn on the eve of the late Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday four years ago.