As a 12 Year Old I Knew Ali Would Knock Out Foreman

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Muhammad Ali was a champion in, above, and beyond the boxing ring.
As a young boy growing up in Africa, Ali and Pele were my sports super heroes.
When I was 12, I started training myself seriously -- with big dreams of one day becoming as great as Ali was in boxing or as phenonenal as Pele was in soccer.
I do humbly confess that I never became even remotely as good as either.
Still, growing up with Ali and Pele as my idols yielded great positive outcomes. I became health conscious, a much better athlete and an even a somewhat decent soccer player.
Working out has been a life-long habit which I even imposed upon my younger siblings. Some of them confessed, years later, that even though they were grateful adults who owed their fitness to my harsh regime, they really "hated" me when they were kids. My younger brothers Ocen and Opio --twins-- recalled having to wake up for early morning workouts when they were seven years old.
My own admiration for Ali grew tremendously after the "Ali boma ye!" or "Rumble in the jungle" fight when he confounded the experts and knocked out George Foreman. It was in Kinshasa, the capital of what was then Zaire --now the Democratic Republic of Congo-- then run by despot Mobutu Sese Seko.
That was in 1974 and I was 12. My family was living in Tanzania, exiled from Uganda after Idi Amin tried to kill my politician father, Otema Allimadi.
Money was very tight at that point. Although things became better later, I remember there were some days when we only had tea with a slice of bread each for dinner.
Yet even under those trying circumstances my father understood the importance of the Ali-Foreman fight to a young boy who never asked him for much and who otherwise spent most of his time in bookstores or at the library.
So my father, may he rest in peace, dug deep into his pockets and gave me the money that enabled me to watch the fight at a movie theater in Dar-es-Salaam, then the Tanzanian capital, where it was televised.
I was a big reader by then and already politically conscious. I was aware of how years earlier Ali had been stripped of his belt and boxing license because of his refusal to be drafted for the Vietnam war.
Tanzania was a strong supporter of Vietnam and I was kept informed of the conflict through The Daily News, which was then the main newspaper. The paper also educated me on the liberation wars in Mozambique, Angola, what was then Rhodesia, South West Africa, and South Africa.
I followed Ali's preparation for the fight on the sports pages. As the date approached I remember arguing with an older relative who insisted that it wasn't a question of whether Foreman would win but rather if Ali would be killed.
But 12 year old kids don't believe their hero can ever lose. So when Ali knocked out Foreman I remember dancing and hugging total strangers outside the theater.
Heroes like Ali helped lessen the hardships of exile.
My family eventually returned to Uganda when Amin made the mistake of invading Tanzania. President Julius Nyerere made a speech in Parliament and said "If a snake enters your house what do you do? You cut off its head."
After a counterattack by Tanzania, a few months later the snake, Amin, was fleeing on a cargo plane to Libya.
I soon moved to the United States to attend college and now make New York City my home; Uganda, meanwhile, is run by another despot general, Museveni.
In the 1990s, after I had become a journalist, as my good fortune would have it, I got to interview Ali.
I told him how, as a 12 year old kid, I was so certain he was going to knock out Foreman.
Seated next to me, Ali leaned into my ear and in his raspy voice said "You were more certain than I was."
We both had a good laugh.
Rest in peace champ!

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