Kaur Singh, only Indian boxer to have fought Muhammad Ali, dies

Kaur Singh, an Asian Games gold medallist boxer and the only Indian to have fought against the legendary Muhammad Ali, died Thursday at a private hospital in Haryana’s Kurukshetra. He was 74 and had been suffering from multiple health issues.

Kaur Singh is survived by two sons and a daughter.

Coming from a farming family from the Khanal Khurd village of Sangrur, Kaur Singh joined the Army in 1971. He was at the front, in Barmer sector of Rajasthan, in the 1972 war against Pakistan and was later awarded the Sena Medal. It was during his stint in the Army that, Kaur Singh’s boxing journey began. He made his debut at the senior national boxing championship in 1979 and won gold. He repeated the feat for four consecutive years, till 1983. In between, he won the gold at the Asian boxing championships held in Mumbai in 1980.

He emerged as a national hero in 1982, when he won the gold medal at the Asian Games in New Delhi. Following his achievements. His Asian Games gold earned him India’s second-highest sporting honour, the Arjuna Award in 1982.

A year later, in recognition of his contribution to boxing, he was awarded the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth-highest civilian honour.

He also represented India in the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles.

Interestingly, Kaur Singh had faced off with Muhammad Ali in a four-round exhibition match held in New Delhi in 1980.

He took retirement from boxing in 1984. Kaur Singh, who retired from the Army in 1994, was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal in 1988 in recognition of his outstanding service.

After retirement, Kaub Singh took to farming at his village. Locals recall how his intervention helped canal water reach their village and how he helped the hamlet get many other facilities.

In December 2020, Kaur Singh joined several others from Punjab in returning his Padma Shri and Arjuna Award to the Centre in solidarity with the farmers who were protesting against now repealed agri laws.

A biopic on Kaur Singh was slated to be released in 2020 but was postponed to July 2022 for a limited release due to the pandemic. Actor Karam Bathh played the legendary boxer and the film depicted how the veteran boxer struggled to accept prize money from governments.

The Boxing Federation of India (BFI), the country’s governing body of the sport, paid tribute to Kaur Singh. “Boxing Federation of India deeply mourns the demise of Boxing Legend & Padma Shri, Kaur Singh Ji . Our heartfelt condolences and prayers to his family & friends,” tweeted BFI.

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann expressed sorrow over the veteran boxer’s demise. Punjab sports minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer also condoled Kaur Singh’s death.

Mann said Kaur Singh had made India proud by earning fame in the national and international arena of boxing. “From Khanal Khurd village in Sangrur, Kaur Singh shined like a star in the world of boxing and won a gold medal in Asian Games,” Mann said. The life and contribution of Kaur Singh will inspire budding players to work hard and excel in sports, Mann added.

Earlier this month the Punjab government announced plans to publish life stories of four legendary athletes in the school curriculum. Kaur Singh is one of them, along with hockey icon Balbir Singh Senior, legendary athlete Milkha Singh and Olympian Gurbachan Singh Randhawa.

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