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Frampton v Gutierrez: Barry admits he still lives with pain of the tragic death of opponent Ali, 35 years later

 

By David Kelly

It has often been said that unlike other sports you don't play boxing, there is much more on the line than simply silverware and financial rewards - and one man who knows that only too well is former World featherweight champion Barry McGuigan.

On the night the Clones Cyclone took the WBA World featherweight title from Eusebio Pedroza in June 1985, it was three years on from his ill-fated fight with Young Ali at London's Grosvenor Hotel.

Following the stoppage win for McGuigan, the Nigerian collapsed and was stretchered from the ring. Placed on a life support machine, Ali would return home where he sadly passed away.

In the moment of victory over Pedroza, standing in the ring McGuigan remembered the young Nigerian: "I want to dedicate this victory to the young lad who died when he fought me... I said that I didn't want it to be an ordinary fighter that beat him, but a World champion."

McGuigan recalls the heartbreaking event in a new book by Elliot Worsell, who has spoken to many men in regard to ring tragedies for his book Dog Rounds: Death and Life in the Boxing Ring.

"I hit him right on the nose, his eyes just rolled back. It was a haunting moment. I knew he wasn't going to get up from that," recalls McGuigan.

Like him, Ali - real name Asymin Mustapha - was 21 and fighting to support his pregnant wife. But while Barry and wife Sandra could look forward to the arrival of son Blain, Ali would never meet his unborn child.

"I thought, 'Do I really want to be involved in this?'. I never wanted to hurt somebody like that. I didn't think I was cut out for the sport. But I wasn't qualified for anything else," he says.

But he still struggled when he first stepped back in the ring, four months on from the tragedy.

"I still think of Young Ali every day, wondering about his wife and child," says McGuigan.

"I think about how things could have been different. And I still pray for him as often as I can."

McGuigan had to live with what happened to Young Ali and fight on, his next opponent Jimmy Duncan being stopped in the third round before he would go on to lift the British featherweight title.

But there was no time to celebrate his achievement, as soon afterwards McGuigan received news from Nigeria that Ali had died following six months in a coma.

Thankfully, the British Boxing Board of Control's rules regarding medical examinations and precautions on fight nights are now second to none in the sport, with harsh lessons learned, not only from the death of Young Ali but also the injuries suffered by former Commonwealth champion Michael Watson following his 1991 loss at the hands of Chris Eubank.

McGuigan would go on to enjoy the rich rewards from a glittering career, and of course has guided the career of two-weight World champion Carl Frampton as well as rising Scottish star Josh Taylor and Coalisland's WBO European middleweight champion Conrad Cummings.

While his passion for the sport remains undiminished, McGuigan admits he still feels the pain of what happened to Young Ali.

"It was horrible. How could I not feel guilty?" he says.

"Here I was, a popular young boxer, someone who people admired, and I'd killed someone. I took Young Ali out, without hesitation, and finished him when I sensed he was hurt. That's what distressed me.

"It's something I'll struggle with for the rest of my life."

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