THE man dubbed The Greatest was well-accustomed to the bright lights of Las Vegas and emerging victorious in title bouts, but boxing superstar Muhammad Ali made an unlikely trip to Basildon in 1986.

The legend headed to south Essex during the build-up to American fighter Tim Witherspoon’s world heavyweight championship clash against Frank Bruno.

Witherspoon used Basildon’s Crest Hotel, now the Holiday Inn on the modern-day Festival Leisure Park, as his base ahead of the fight at Wembley Stadium, while he also prepared at Pipps Hill Country Club.

Peter Lucas, Basildon Council’s head of public relations, convinced the reigning world heavyweight champion to visit south Essex by using his contacts to get in touch with fight promoter Don King.


The Greatest - Muhammad Ali with a young fan in Basildon in 1986

Ali met countless young fans during his time in Basildon, while David Harrison – who was chairman of the council at the time – also spent time with the icon.

Ali – who referred to David as “Mr Mayor” for the rest of the evening – invited David and his wife back to his hotel the following day.

He said: “We met Ali, along with Tim Witherspoon, Don King and Don’s son Carl.


World heavyweight champion - Tim Witherspoon sweats it out during a training session at Basildon’s Pipps Hill Country Club

“It was then that I took the opportunity to try and get a donation for my charity of that year, St Luke’s Hospice.

“Don King called over to Carl and said ‘get the man a cheque for $1,000’.”

The Pitsea-based Scott Cameron was among those to meet Ali and, at 18, he went on to become kickboxing world champion.


Proudly holding the photograph - Scott Cameron was just five when he was picked up by Muhammad Ali at Basildon’s Festival Hall in July 1986

Scott said: “I remember the whole thing as clear as day.

“Ali picked me up twice during the afternoon. It was amazing – a moment I have never forgotten.”

A 10-year-old Peter Tibbs also met Ali and had the moment captured on camera.


A moment to remember - Peter Tibbs was 10 when he was taken to the Crest Hotel, where he met the sporting great, by his sister and brother-in-law

Ali, who died at the age of 74 in 2016, saw Witherspoon overcome Bruno at Wembley before returning to the United States.

Scroll down to see more eye-catching photos taken during the sporting icon's time in Basildon.


‘Mr Mayor’ - Muhammad Ali meets Basildon Council chairman David Harrison


Victorious - Tim Witherspoon, who stayed in Basildon, celebrates after flooring Frank Bruno at Wembley


Standing with a boxing legend - Peter Tibbs, dressed in his England football kit, was lucky enough to get a photograph to treasure with Muhammad Ali



Up close - Muhammad Ali kisses eight-month-old Wayne Harper in Basildon


Speaking out - Muhammad Ali made the unlikely day trip to south Essex during the build-up for American fighter Tim Witherspoon’s world heavyweight title bout against Frank Bruno


In action - Muhammad Ali goes head-to-head with Larry Holmes six years ahead of coming to Basildon