Ali visited Vancouver several times during his remarkable life, most famously for his 1972 fight against Canadian George Chuvalo at the Pacific Coliseum.
Greg Douglas, a veteran sports journalist who helped promote the Ali-Chuvalo bout, remembered the 12-round fight as “a great night in the history of Vancouver sports.”
“It was electric,” he said. “It stole the local sports limelight. The pre-fight was an event. Chuvalo was the sentimental favourite. There was no way he was going to beat Ali. It just wasn’t going to happen.”
WATCH: Vancouver sports journalist remembers Muhammad Ali
Ali was arrested for draft evasion in 1967 and didn’t fight for four years until his conviction was overturned and he had become a hero to a new, mostly anti-war generation. He was battling his way back to the top when he faced Chuvalo in Vancouver.
Ali vowed to be the first to knock Chuvalo down, only to see the Toronto fighter he once called the Washerwoman absorb his blows without falling for another 12 rounds.
“I recall that the fight started — a right uppercut landed flush on Chuvalo’s side of the head, and he barely blinked,” Douglas said.
“After observing a big right cross in Round 5, Ali stood stationary in his corner for a minute, and dared Chuvalo to hit him. In the sixth round, Ali let fly with everything he had, but Chuvalo never went down.”
Chuvalo never went down in 93 pro bouts.
The result of the fight was never really in doubt with Ali earning a lopsided victory.
But Douglas says Ali’s larger-than-life personality captured the city’s imagination.
“The city was turned inside out and upside down. We had Muhammad Ali at the Pacific Coliseum. It wasn’t going to get any better than that.”
The fight was backed by Vancouver stock promoter Murray Pezim and organized by Pacific Coliseum manager Mario Caravetta, who was friends with Ali’s legendary trainer Angelo Dundee.
One of those in attendance that night was 10-year-old Dale Walters, a young Burnaby kid with a passion for the fight game.
After the fight, Walters — likely with the help of Burnaby’s Davey Brown, who refereed the bout — made his way into Ali’s dressing room, according to Douglas.
Walters went on to a prominent boxing career of his own, winning bronze at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles to give Canada its first Olympic boxing medal in 52 years.
WATCH: A look back at Muhammad Ali’s visits to Vancouver – including what was once the BCTV studios
– With files from The Canadian Press