Scarborough's Dunn remembers Ali

Dunn fought Ali for the heavyweight title at Munich in 1976, picture Youtube
Dunn fought Ali for the heavyweight title at Munich in 1976, picture Youtube

As the world mourns the passing of Mohammad Ali, the Scarborough News looks back to an interview with Richard Dunn, who fought the legend himself for the heavyweight title 40 years ago.

Speaking to the Scarborough News in 2011, the former European Heavyweight Champion remembered his victory over Joe Frazier.

“My manager said ‘if you win this one, you’re challenging Ali, I thought it was a joke," said Dunn, of Scarborough.

"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.

After being asked whether he genuinely believed he could win the fight, Richard added: "Yes I did.

“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.”

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.

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.