Honoured to have met boxing great Muhammad Ali

I was very touched and honoured to have met former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali on July 6, 2005, during his visit to Singapore.

It was photojournalist Howard Bingham who introduced me to the boxing great.

I am forever grateful and indebted to Mr Bingham for arranging this prized meeting with the legend.

The venue was the luxury suite at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore.

I couldn't believe my eyes when the legendary boxer extended his hand to me and greeted me with his beautiful smile.

It was truly an honour for me to see Ali in such close quarters and talk to him, although I could feel that his body was ravaged by the debilitating Parkinson's disease.

We talked mostly about boxing, and I stayed for almost an hour, while his beloved wife Yolanda "Lonnie" Williams patiently sat through our conversation.

Both Ali and Lonnie were so kind and full of hospitality despite the late hour.

I had with me the book written by Thomas Hauser, titled Muhammad Ali: His Life And Times. While Ali was signing the book, I whispered into his ear "Rumble in the Jungle" and the magic words "George Foreman".

Ali instantly lit up and gave me a mock jab.

We had a friendly sparring session thereafter.

That encounter with the jovial Ali was indeed one of the most memorable moments in my life.

I still cherish those moments I spent with Ali, who was known for the famous quote: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see."

A man of natural warmth, Ali was simple and good-natured.

I was devastated when I heard about Ali's death last Saturday ("Boxing great Muhammad Ali dies at 74"; ST Online, June 4).

However, I consider myself fortunate to have obtained his prized signatures and to have taken pictures with the great pugilist.

What I admired most about Ali was his fighting spirit.

As Ms Hana Ali, one of his eight children, aptly put it: "All of us were around him (during his final minutes on his death bed)... All of his organs failed but his heart wouldn't stop beating. For 30 minutes... his heart just kept beating. No one had ever seen anything like it. A true testament to the strength of his spirit and will."

As Muhammad Ali embarks on his final journey on June 10, I thank him for gracing us with his time.

Goodbye, Ali.

A. Thiyaga Raju