Muhammad Ali’s extraordinary visits to Saxton Road in Abingdon

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Boxing legend Muhammad Ali formed a friendship with Paddy Monaghan from Saxton Road in Abingdon and visited him more than 20 times over the years.

Not surprisingly, he attracted a crowd every time, including on these two occasions in 1974 and 1983.

Mr Monaghan, a former bare knuckle fighter, and the boxing legend became friends in the 1960s.

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Following Ali’s death in 2016 Mr Monaghan said he was “like a brother” to the three-time world heavyweight champion.

Oxford Mail:

In the days when heads of state and film stars waited patiently in line to shake the hand of Ali, ‘The Greatest’ always found time to visit Paddy at their housing estate in Abingdon.

Chauffeur-driven cars were hardly a common sight in Saxton Road, but residents in the council estate knew well enough why the best-ever boxer’s Rolls-Royce would be parked outside number 111.

Oxford Mail:

On some 20 occasions, the most famous pugilist on the planet crossed the Atlantic to see Paddy, who he came to regard as one of his closest friends.

When Ali passed away after a battle with Parkinson’s disease, Mr Monaghan’s son Tyrone, 50, told the Oxford Mail the moment he broke the news to his father – who is currently suffering ill health.

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The father-of-three said in 2016: “I walked into my dad’s bedroom and he knew. I told him Muhammad had died and he said ‘no, no, no’.

Oxford Mail:

“Muhammad used to call my dad brother and dad used to call him brother. He was family to us.”

The bond that remained unbroken for more than 40 years was one of the most unlikely friendships in sport.

It began when Paddy, a father-of-five, led a single-man campaign for the return of Ali’s boxing licence in 1967, when The Champ refused to be drafted into the American forces at the time of the Vietnam war.

“It all started when my dad set up a petition. It was in the days before the internet so it was all by hand,” Tyrone said.

“He went to London and gathered signatures. My dad who is dyslexic learned to read from my grandma and started the petition because he used to read about Muhammad when he was known as Cassius Clay.

Oxford Mail:

“When Muhammad got his licence back he sent my dad a letter and he got to meet him in Royal Lancaster Hotel in London.”

Paddy’s petition had deeply impressed his American idol, and their friendship blossomed from there.

He was in the Ali corner during the bout with Al “Blue” Lewis in Dublin in 1972 and for Ali’s second titanic battle with Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in 1974.

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Tyrone recalled one visit from Ali which saw them spa in the family’s back garden as a 16-year-old in 1983, while Oxford Mail photographers snapped away.

“He walked in and jokingly bit his bottom lip like he did and said ‘Tyrone, I’m gonna whoop your ass’.

Oxford Mail:

“Even though by that time Muhammad was a lot slower, I still couldn’t see his jabs and I was fighting heavyweights when I was a welterweight.

“He was absolutely amazing.”

Although crowds flocked to their home when Ali arrived, one some occasions no one knew The Champ was in town.

Tyrone added: “Because we grew up with it we were just used to it. It was no big deal.”

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This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Andy.ffrench@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailAndyF