Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 12th 2016 Contents A41
June 12, 2016 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
In July of 1971, event promoter
Nicholas Simonette was asked by
the then chairman Arthur Sealey
of the T&T Boxing Board to pro-
mote an event which would bring
American boxer and World
heavyweight champion Muham-
mad Ali to Trinidad for a boxing
Simonette, who recalls being
quite busy at the time, said no.
One month later, having changed
his mind, Simonette spent $30,000
on the event but came out at a loss
as few people came out to see a
man praised internationally as the
greatest boxer of all time.
Forty-five years later, Simonette,
now 92 years old, sat with the Sun-
day Guardian at his Diego Martin
home, and said he was very glad
he had changed his mind.
Days after Ali s death on June 3rd,
Simonette recalled the events which
saw "the world s greatest boxer"
spend three days in T&T.
In 1971, Simonette was the gen-
eral secretary of the People s
National Movement (PNM), and
had held the position for six years
at the time.
A native of Cedros and teacher
from Point Fortin teacher, Simonette
joined the PNM in its early days
and was appointed to the Senate in
1951 and served for 15 years.
In 1971, in addition to his role in
politics, he was a promoter of local
entertainment events. "I had pro-
moted lots of local and regional acts
at the time and was a well-known
promoter," he explained.
"The head of the boxing board
told me that Muhammad Ali was
interested in coming to T&T and
asked me if I would bring him in.
He was doing promotions in coun-
tries around the world.
"I said no. My hands were filled,
I was very busy."
Later, Simonette mentioned to
then Prime Minister Eric Williams
that he had declined to be involved
in the event.
"Dr Williams said I should go
ahead with it. He felt it was a good
idea to bring Ali to the country at
Simonette said he did not know
the reasons for William s opinion,
but acknowledged that the event
had taken place during a period of
Ali spent three days in the coun-
try, just one year after the capital,
Port-of-Spain had been consumed
by riots and citizens fed up with
discrimination and what they felt
was poor governance.
In 1966, two years after winning
the heavyweight title, Ali had
refused to be conscripted into the
US military, citing his religious
beliefs and opposition to American
involvement in the Vietnam War.
He was eventually arrested, found
guilty of draft evasion charges and
stripped of his boxing titles. Months
before his visit to Trinidad, Ali had
successfully appealed in the United
States Supreme Court, to overturn
Simonette took Williams advice
and paid $30,000 to bring Ali to
"The money was a great amount
to put out at the time."
Simonette also had other expens-
es related to Ali s visit, including
arranging accommodation for the
boxer at the Hilton Trinidad for his
The boxing organisation arranged
the venue at the Queen s Park Oval
and selected Tobagonian Carl "Big
Carl" Barker, a soldier.
At the time the Boxing Board was
housed at the Police Barracks at St
James because the sport was con-
sidered to be violent.
Simonette can t recall the day Ali
entered the country, but remembers
that his flight came in at 10 am and
he went straight to the Hilton for
a welcome ceremony hosted by Dr
The following day was the boxing
display with Ali, who arrived with
entourage which included American
boxers Alfonso Johnson and Eddie
Brooks and world famous boxing
trainer Angello Dundee.
"I thought he (Ali) had a very
good sense of humor and I saw that
he liked engaging with young peo-
ple. He spoke a lot to my son and
my youngest daughter," Simonette
said. Simonette said it was a bright
and sunny August afternoon, when
he took his wife and six children to
The turnout was poor. Not many
people came to see the display.
"It was a number of things. Some
people couldn t afford it but also
the tickets were printed late.
We had expected hundreds of
people to come and see but the
turnout wasn t near our expecta-
He said approval of the Oval
didn t come through until the last
minute and this also affected atten-
The tickets to see Ali and Noel
cost TT$2, $3, $5, with those wish-
ing to sit closer to Ali paying as
high as TT $50.
"It was an exciting thing. He was
an exciting figure and while he was-
n t himself political in nature, his
movements had political impact,"
Simonette, who was a fan of box-
ing said Ali showed off his tech-
niques and footworks while Barker,
who was a big and strong heavy-
weight pugilist at the time displayed
his defensive manoeuvres in his
attempts to keep Ali at bay.
Ali was fast on his feet and had
a lot of style," Simonette said.
In all Ali, who won an Olympic
gold medal in Rome, sparred nine
rounds with his American partners
Johnson and Brooks and local boy
Financially, the event was a dis-
appointment to Simonette, but he
felt the decision to bring Ali to T&T
was a good one.
"It was good for the citizens to
see him but it was also good for the
Ali, who was a muslim, met with
the head of the Muslim Association
of T&T, Shaffique Rahaman on his
"I took it as part of life, the loss.
It wasn t something I dwelled on.
"I know many people wanted to
take part as spectators but could
not afford the tickets.
He also described Ali as being
deeply into the Islamic religion.
"At the time the spread of islam
had just begun. In T&T however,
there were no muslims in govern-
ment at the time.
Financially, it was one of the
worst events Simonette ever put
on, but it is still something he was
"It met the needs of the Muslim
community in T&T. Here was a
famous muslim man, admired all
over the world, who had come to
T&T. It was a great thing for that
Simonette s still has tokens of
Ali s visit, including a signed dollar
of an unidentified currency.
Two photos, a newspaper clipping
and a postcard given to Simonette s
On the postcard, Ali, known for
hi good-natured humor, wrote "You
are ugly. Smile."
Muhammad Ali who
visited T&T in 1971.
promoter and PNM
...as Simonette recalls event a financial loss
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