By Corey Poole
Photos: Randy Stelly shared two pictures with the Natchitoches Parish Journal. One shows him meeting Muhammad Ali and the other shows him meeting George Foreman. These two boxers faced off in a historic boxing event in 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire called “The Rumble in the Jungle.” With a crowd of around 60,000, Ali won when he knocked out Foreman in the eighth round.
Whatever the mind can conceive, a person can achieve. Natchitoches resident Randy Stelly availed himself to the opportunity to meet Muhammad Ali, a legendary boxer who called himself, “The Greatest.”
“We’re only six degrees removed from everyone on Earth,” said Stelly.
Ali, 74, passed away today, June 4 at a Phoenix area hospital where he was being treated for respiratory complications.
Stelly interviewed Ali in 1980 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Houston during a breakfast in one of the most exclusive restaurants at the time.
His friend Congressman George “Mickey” Leland, an anti-poverty activist, asked Stelly to do the interview to find out what Ali’s positions were on the 1980 summer boycott of the Moscow Olympics. The state department was considering making Ali a special envoy for the event. The boycott was a way for the U.S. to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Stelly gained an invitation to the breakfast through his friend Lenora Carter, publisher of the Forward Times, an African American publication in Houston.
While most people asked Ali questions about his accomplishments and athleticism, Stelly asked for his thoughts on the Iranian hostage crisis. Stelly said Ali was impressed by his political question and told Stelly to meet with him after the breakfast.
The crisis involved 52 American diplomats and citizens held hostage for 444 days after supporters of the Iranian Revolution took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
According to Stelly, Ali was against the seizure of the embassy, but supported the revolution itself.
Looking back on his audience with “The Greatest,” Stelly said he feels blessed for the opportunity to meet with him. However, Ali’s passing has made him realize there’s a price for earning all that glory. Ali paid a price for the fame and fortune he received and the punishments he took in the ring cost him later in life.
At 70 years old, Stelly exercises every morning with 11 laps and 200 pushups. Close in age with Ali, Stelly said, “No matter how great the body, I still think I’m blessed to be as active as I am today.”