In a recently published book, Liam Neeson reveals how Muhammad Ali once flirted with the actor's then girlfriend Helen Mirren. Neeson says he was so star-struck by the boxing legend he didn't care that he was trying to "pull" his girlfriend right in front of him, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
Neeson, a huge boxing fan who was himself an accomplished amateur fighter, is club president of All Saints. He recalls stories of the boxing world in a recently published book celebrating the 50th anniversary of the club.
In a forward to 'All Saint - 50 Golden Years' by sports writer Denis O'Hara, the co Antrim-born actor, tells how he met some of the greatest boxers in the world but the meeting which stood out was with Ali 30 years ago.
“Emblazoned also on my mind was meeting Ali in London in the early 1980s," writes Neeson.
“He was promoting a movie called, Freedom Road, and myself and my lady friend, Helen Mirren, were invited with some British celebrities to meet The Greatest in his hotel.
“When he shook my hand my knees literally went weak and, feeling shy and intimidated, and also knowing I could never be in his company again, I blurted out: 'I love you, Muhammad'.
“He signed his name for my dad and proceeded to flirt with Helen in such an overt way that I guess I should have been annoyed. But all I could think was, 'Wow, Muhammad Ali is trying to pull my girl. How cool is that!'.”
When the Oscar-nominated actor got an OBE from the Queen in 2002, he said, “I've not been so nervous since I met Muhammad Ali.”
Neeson also recalls several high-profile fight nights he'd seen in the US.
“I also enjoy watching boxing and have attended many championship fights.
“I saw Evander Holyfield outpoint George Foreman in Atlantic City. Tears streamed down my face that night as I watched the legendary Archie Moore (in Foreman's corner) lifting the ring ropes to ease the exit of Muhammad Ali after he was introduced to the audience.
“Ali had beaten Moore in four rounds in the early ‘60s and here he was sick and shuffling, being aided by an elder ex-opponent.
“The nobility and dignity of that gesture will stay with me forever,” said Neeson.
Of his own days in the ring, he said: “I wasn't a great amateur boxer but I was quite good. I won the title for the Down & Connor five times, and was Ulster Champion three times. I won 30 of 40 fights.
“I had the honour of boxing on cards with the great Jim McCourt, Charlie Nash, Mickey Tohill, Gerry Hamill and the writer/director Terry George. I was also fortunate enough to get to know Freddy Gilroy, the British and Empire Bantamweight champion when he retired after his classic thriller with Johnny Caldwell in Belfast in the early ‘60s.
“He gave me a pair of bag gloves which he trained with in his early days, which I then used myself. I enjoyed the training aspect of boxing. It's given me a lifelong appreciation for physical fitness. I've got a heavy bag in my gym and I hit four or five times a week.”
Neeson said he is awed by boxers, not actors.
“I have met and worked with many movie stars over the years yet it still doesn't compare with the joy I have experienced in meeting former fighters such as Terry Downes, Henry Cooper, Barry McGuigan, Oscar De La Hoya, Gerry Cooney, Emile Griffith, John Duddy and, of course, Muhammad Ali.”
Source: Belfast Telegraph.