Boxing: When Jürgen Blin took on Muhammad Ali

As of: December 26, 2023 8:47 a.m

He came from the bottom and was allowed to box against the “biggest.” 52 years ago today, Jürgen Blin challenged the mighty Muhammad Ali. He lasted seven laps. At the beginning of May 2022, Hamburger Boxidol died.

By Bettina Lenner, Andreas Tietje and Tim Tonder

Things aren’t exactly going well for Jürgen Blin’s boxing career when the offer of a lifetime arrives. He boxed twice for the European Championships in the heavyweight division, both times he lost very unluckily. In June 1970, as a blatant outsider, he challenged the knockout king José Manuel “Urtain” Ibar in front of 20,000 spectators in Barcelona – and disenchanted the Basque over 15 rounds, who was nevertheless awarded an extremely dubious points victory.

A year later, Blin also dominated the fight against the new European champion Joe Bugner in London – and lost again on points on foreign territory. 52 years ago today, on December 26, 1971, the fight finally took place in Zurich that Blin did not classify as his most important; but it pulls him out of his frustration and makes him famous.

More hard worker than World class boxer

Blin takes on Muhammad Ali. The American lost to Joe Frazier a few months earlier and needs to be built up again for a world title fight. Blin, who is somewhat well-known in Europe but cannot really pose a threat to Ali, is a suitable candidate. “That was quite a surprise. You can’t describe it, it was a huge deal. Ali was an icon. But I wasn’t one to shy away,” Blin told the NDR Sportclub.

“I went into the fight with the mindset of step on the gas and fire up, maybe you’ll hit him hard. Attack is the best defense.”
—Jürgen Blin

The nimble German doesn’t hide in the ring, throws punches and shows no fear. “It was pure adrenaline,” he described: “I went into the fight with the attitude of step on the gas and fire up, maybe you’ll hit him hard. Attack is the best defense.” Nevertheless, the German heavyweight champion from 1968, always more of a hard worker than a world-class boxer, is clearly inferior to Ali in boxing and physical terms. The first knockout of his career followed in the seventh round.

“I went too fast and was hollowed out. If I had boxed more calmly, it might have lasted longer. But what the heck. Not everyone can stand seven rounds against Ali, he usually knocked out his opponents in the second or third round,” Blin described.

“The dream of beating him didn’t exist”

The man from Hamburg is not disappointed about the defeat and the knockdown: “It was more of a relief, I guess. Because the dream of beating him didn’t exist. I knew full well that I had no chance,” he explained: “He was bigger “He was heavier and had better technique. But I really wanted to box him.” While “The Greatest” continues his legendary legend, Blin enjoys his memories and his largest fight purse of 180,000 marks: “That was a lot of money back then and half a house again,” he says.

The next day he worked again as a butcher in his own shop: “I was a semi-professional and had four weeks of unpaid vacation before important fights. But if I boxed on Friday or Saturday, I was back at work on Monday and made my sausages.”

Enormous stamina and unconditional will

Enormous stamina and unconditional will are the qualities that characterize Blin. Today the southpaw with his fighting weight of 85 kilos would be classified as cruiserweight. But thanks to his courageous fighting heart and his great morale, he also celebrated international success in the heavyweight division despite his physical inferiority and the resulting lack of hardness to hit. In June 1972, Hamburg’s Boxidol won the European Championship title in its “biggest fight” (original sound Blin) against Urtain at the third attempt. “I was never talented, I always had to work hard. I wanted to get out of the dirt by force,” he said.

Left home at 14

Dirt, that’s what Blin, who was born on Fehmarn, means his parents’ house. His father was a milker and a serious alcoholic, which meant the family had to move frequently. The son receives a beating and has to look after the cows in the morning. At school he is bullied by new classmates. At 14, he ran away from home and signed on a ship. “I couldn’t take it anymore, I just wanted to get away from home. I started as a cabin boy with 100 marks a month,” he said and assured: “I never want to be under 15 again. It’s very difficult to do everything myself “I paid a lot of money. If I had gone overboard, no rooster would have crowed.”

Back in Hamburg, he gets an apprenticeship and accommodation with a master butcher. For Blin it’s a twist of fate: opposite the butcher shop there is a boxing gym. He invests all his energy and all his ambition there. In 1964 he became the German amateur heavyweight champion and switched to the professional camp. “I’ve seen the whole world through boxing. I wouldn’t have been able to do that with my job as a butcher,” he said.

Post-career setbacks

In 1973, when he was in his early 30s, Jürgen Blin ended his boxing career. Eight years of heavyweight have left their mark. A lined face, a damaged nose. Above all, “but also gratitude,” emphasizes Blin. He still has to cope with setbacks. Blin earned a lot of money during his playing days and now owns six snack bars in Hamburg. But when he guarantees the business activities of two of his three sons, he loses his hard-earned fortune in one fell swoop.

Finally, the biggest blow follows: Blin’s son Knut, also a professional boxer who won the International German Championship in 1990, falls to his death in 2004 from the twelfth floor of a psychiatric clinic on Lake Constance. “Manic depression. We couldn’t help him,” said Blin, who credits his son with the talent that he himself lacked: “Knut would have been a really good guy.”

“Ali is forever an icon”

He had irregular contact with Muhammad Ali, who died in 2016, after the fight. “We saw each other again every now and then. But then we didn’t anymore because he had Parkinson’s and was so sick,” Blin said in 2011, remembering: “Before the fight he was ice-cold and made his jokes. But after the fight that was it “Okay. He was very athletic, I have to say, even during the fight. He’s an icon forever.”

On May 7, 2022, Jürgen Blin died at the age of 79 as a result of kidney disease. Until recently he had trained young boxing talents in Hamburg.

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Sports club | Aug 7, 2011 | 11:30 p.m