Boxing-Ali returns to Garden to cheers and daughter's win

Published: Sunday, November 12, 2006, 21:30 [IST]

NEW YORK, Nov 12 (Reuters) Muhammad Ali returned to Madison Square Garden to cheers of ''Ali, Ali, Ali'' and watched his daughter Laila defend her world super middleweight title.

The cheers continued for Laila, who used a left-right combination to bust the nose of challenger Shelley Burton in the fourth round, retain her WBC women's crown and improve her record to 23-0.

Minutes before her fight yestrday, Ali and his entourage entered the famed arena, the former world champion looking frail and shaking violently from his Parkinson's disease.

When the fighter known simply as ''The Greatest'' was spotted the crowd of 14,260 began the familiar chant, which grew until it thundered through the building where 35 years ago Ali fought the first of three epic battles against ''Smokin''' Joe Frazier.

With his fourth wife, Lonnie, at his side, and longtime friend and companion Howard Bingham and Arthur Mercante Sr., the referee from that first Ali-Frazier clash among the retinue, mobs of fans clustered around trying to get a close look at Ali and using their cell phones to capture his image.

Celebrities also flocked to his side, including the actor Dustin Hoffman, who sat beside the former champion and planted a kiss on his cheek.

Laila Ali fought conservatively at first, but soon it was clear she could land her big right at will, stunning her fellow-American challenger several times.

As the fourth round was drawing to an end, the 28-year-old Ali landed a left-right combination flush to the nose of Burton, who stooped over as blood poured out and referee Arthur Mercante Jr. called the fight off with two seconds left in the round.

''I was pleased with my performance,'' said Ali, second youngest of Ali's nine children. ''I wanted to knock her out cold but unfortunately the fight was stopped.

''I'm still high from fighting in the Garden.

The women's champion said it was a special night.

''It's always great to have him watching me fight.'' Ali improved her record to 23-0, with 20 of her wins coming within the distance. Burton dropped to 8-3-1.

REUTERS SAM RN1025

 

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