Dunn’s memories of legends Ali and Frazier

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Thirty-four years on from his final appearance in a professional boxing ring, Richard Dunn is still best remembered for his battle with boxing’s most famous icon, Muhammad Ali.

Naturally enough, our conversation was to venture there, but not until Richard had taken off his shoes and sat comfortably on his bed at his home by the Yorkshire seaside.

Living now in Scarborough, the former European Heavyweight Champion still loves talking boxing, and even at 66 I could sense the reverence in his voice as we spoke of Joe Frazier, who passed away earlier this year.

“I never met him, but he was a hell of a fighter,” said Richard.

“He was ferocious, tenacious. He was only a little guy but he was very strong. I was very sad to hear he had died, he was a great fighter.

“That last fight he had with Ali, I don’t know how they did it. They were so fit and strong. I was fit, but I couldn’t have done what they did.”

Frazier was of course best remembered for his awesome trilogy of fights with Ali that go down in boxing lore as perhaps the greatest heavyweight contests of all time. But what is it really like to fight Ali?

“I didn’t even know about it until just before my fight for the vacant European title with Bernd August,” Richard said, still sounding a little surprised nearly 36 years later.

“My manager said ‘if you win this one, you’re challenging Ali’, I thought it was a joke!”

“What an incentive though. I went out there like a lunatic and smashed him in three rounds. He was a very handsome young German lad, 21 and 6’7”, but he was grotesque after I’d finished with him. And then it was on to Germany to fight the big ‘un.”

The ‘big ‘un’ Richard refers to is of course the self-proclaimed ‘Greatest’. Muhammad Ali was the Heavyweight Champion of the World before Dunn had even begun his amateur career.

There was no more famous man on the planet, and the burly Yorkshireman, who had just won the vacant European crown, was to be his next challenge.

I asked Richard if he genuinely believed he could win the fight.

“Yes I did,” he confidently stated.

“I was fit and strong, even though I’d only had about six weeks rest after my last fight. It was great fun, he even sent spies to watch me train.”

“He had fought Jimmy Young before me and looked poor and out of shape. I thought he was about ready to go. As it happens he was dead on the weight and sharp against me.

“He lost to Leon Spinks in his next fight though, a guy who’d only had eight fights.”

Dunn fought courageously against his opponent on that night back in May 1976.

Despite being knocked to the canvas five times, Dunn kept coming forward and pushing the champion onto the back foot, before being stopped in the fifth round.

Dunn’s voice had a hazy nostalgic quality to it as he took delight in describing the ‘electric’ atmosphere inside Munich’s Olympiahalle, and he spoke of how Ali’s reputation for running his mouth in the ring was well deserved.

He added: “He was always talking to me, all through the fight”, before switching from a thick Yorkshire brogue into his best ‘Ali’ voice:

“You’re gonna have to work hard if you wanna take my titles, boy.”

Laughs punctuate our conversation at this point before Richard tells me how his own replies weren’t quite as delicate.

“I remember listening to Ali fight on the radio at an old café I used to go to, I never thought I’d actually fight him.”

Richard is still fighting now, as a matter of fact.

In December 1989, while working off-shore at an oil-rig, he had an accident that nearly cost him his life.

A 40ft fall left him with both legs and the base of his spine shattered.

“The first thing my doctor said to me when I woke up in an Aberdeen hospital was that my working and walking days were over.”

Dunn’s reply to his doctor wasn’t dissimilar to the verbal reposts he threw at Ali in the ring. “I’ll be walking again in six months,” he added.

It actually took him 15, but he gradually learned to walk again with a huge amount of hard work and determination.

Twenty-two years on he’s still recovering, and is currently learning to walk without the use of his stick. Something he admits to finding it hard in the seasonal weather.

Richard will always be remembered for his famous contest with Muhammad Ali, and a few years ago was even offered £35,000 for the gloves he wore in that fight.

But the only Yorkshireman to ever fight the ‘Greatest’ remains as down to earth as ever, and a credit to the boxing community.