Jürgen Blin versus Muhammad Ali: “The duel with Ali, that was the fight of my life”

Kaum the gong had faded for the second round, it went haywire in the ring. The outsider from Germany kicked off wild birds and attacked the towering favorite from the USA. Jürgen Blin stormed forward without breathing space and visibly put Muhammad Ali in a mess. With two-handed hooks he attacked his opponent, who tore up his forearms protectively, seemed for moments as if on the run and almost stunned. Ali’s facial expression seemed to ask: “What does this bug want from me?”

The attacker from Hamburg, however, pursued with courage. Even if most of his blows missed the target or ricocheted off Ali’s cover, there were occasions where they got through to the head or body. Finally Blin swung out into a mighty swingarm, but Ali dodged it smoothly. There was such force in the blow with the left leading hand that Blin stumbled through the air hole himself. Applause from the astonished Swiss audience rewarded the fearless German at the end of this round.

Muhammad Ali is attacked by Jürgen Blin, but his blows fizzle out

Quelle: picture alliance/KEYSTONE

It was an unequal duel that took place 50 years ago, on Boxing Day 1971, in the Hallenstadion in Zurich. In one corner of the megastar Muhammad Ali, who has just returned to the ring after a forced break of several years and was not yet in top form. In March he suffered his first loss in the professional camp against Joe Frazier.

Opposite him was a Germanic pugilist who had only come to the honor of this duel because two other contemplated opponents had failed. The matter seemed hopeless from the start, Ali’s victory programmed. Nevertheless, the Hanseatic underdog was still in the lead after the fourth round. But then the fighting changed gradually. Ali pulled himself together, shifted up a gear, took command.

“I wasn’t really gone,” recalls Blin

On lap seven, the American hit his head with a not too heavy right hand over the hanging cover from Blins. The German staggered a few steps back, crashed into the ropes and finally fell to the ground. “To be honest, I have to say that I didn’t necessarily have to be counted at that moment,” says Blin, looking back. “I felt the hit, but it wasn’t really gone and I could have continued when the referee was at three.”

Ali won the fight by knockout in the seventh round

Ali won the fight by knockout in the seventh round


Jürgen Blin let himself be counted and suffered a highly honorable defeat in the fight against the most popular professional boxer of all time. “I was walking at a high pace and by then I had already pretty much run out of powder,” is his view of what happened today. It was clear to him from the start that he would never be able to knock Ali out, “but if I had boxed defensively, I would probably have finished earlier.”

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Pain-free defeats are rare in sports. It even tasted sweet, and it turned out to be a pure stroke of luck. As someone who crossed his fists with boxing genius Ali, Blin was an interesting protagonist for organizers in Germany and Europe who was gladly signed.

The shine had an effect beyond the end of the sporting career. When he later ran bars in Billstedt, at the Berliner Tor and in the main train station, the curious came to watch the former ring hero pouring beer. “I made around a million from boxing, but not bad with the bars either,” says Blin.

A young man is fighting his way up – to the European Championship title

That was the financial result of a picture-book career that reflects the basic narrative for this martial art: the chance to literally box yourself up as an underprivileged. Jürgen Blin, who grew up in really poor circumstances, managed to do just that. The father: milker, drunkard, tyrant. The family had to change location within Schleswig-Holstein several times because “the old one” had been fired somewhere again.

At 15, Blin fled to Hamburg to go to sea – the main thing was to get away from the misery at home: “I just wanted to get out of the dirt.” The first trip was to Monrovia. His job: helper in the galley, cleaning vegetables, cooking, serving, washing up. When he soon got into raging seas with his “boat” on the Atlantic, he thought the end had come, they would drown.

At least he was spared that. But experience was enough for Blin. He got hired, began an apprenticeship as a butcher and came into contact with HBC Heros, Hamburg’s glorious boxing club. He quickly caught fire and noticed: “Man, you have a talent for something.” With the first successes in the amateur camp, his self-confidence grew, Blin felt that boxing is his thing, maybe the way to change his life in a positive way. That should be true.

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Anyone who visits Jürgen Blin in his single-family home in the Boberger Dunes today will first be directed to the cellar. There, the 78-year-old has put together a museum collection with photos, newspaper clippings and utensils from his time as a professional boxer from 1964 to 1973. An extremely valuable memento has been lost: the European Championship belt from 1972. The Hamburger had captured it against the Spaniard José Manuel Urtain, a Basque lumberjack, who found no more challengers in his special discipline “stone chipping” and who was forced to switch to fistfight.

In the sports palace in Madrid, the German won on points. “The win was deserved, but not nearly as clear as the first time,” said Blin today. Almost two years earlier he had clearly mastered Urtain in the 15 rounds, which were still common in title fights at the time, and had hit the ground several times. “My point defeat was a mess to the power of three,” Blin is indignant even today. It was the era in which it was said in the boxing business that in professional fights in the country of a defending champion you had to win by knockout, otherwise you would be lost. The judges were considered to be corruptible.

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Jürgen Blin, however, lacked the steam in his fists, he did not have a destructive blow in his repertoire. He skinned a lot, scored often, but rarely lasted. The “Box-Beatle” Norbert Grupe was counted six times after Blins hits and still only lost on points. Blin won only nine of his 48 professional fights early. Not a particularly terrifying record for a heavyweight.

Actually, Blin boxed in the wrong class

“My opponents were almost always bigger, had more range and often weighed 25 kilos more than I did with my 85.” Today he would be in the best of hands in the cruiserweight division, which at that time did not exist as a division between light and heavyweight. The ring tactic resulted from his physical measurements: “I couldn’t do anything other than constantly fire.” Blin does not even attest to a special talent: “Basically I was a pure will machine.” He didn’t care what strengths and weaknesses his opponents brought with them: “I always attacked from the first gong. For me there was only one thing: victory. “

Back then, in Zurich, he couldn’t be reached with the best will in the world, although Blin says today: “Ali wasn’t even the toughest opponent in my career – I found Joe Bugner and Gerhard Zech stronger.” the Hamburger four legendary ring battles within three years, of which he finished two victorious, twice the verdict was undecided. He lost his recently captured European title to the tall Brit Bugner.

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He met Muhammad Ali twice in later life. 2002 at an obscure product presentation in the Saxon city of Riesa. The boxing god was already marked by Parkinson’s disease. Five years later, Blin was sitting next to Ali in Berlin when his daughter Laila became world champion in the super middleweight division. There is a photo that shows the two Exchampions, their heads close together, in conversation. For many years it hung in Jürgen Blins pub in the main train station, today it adorns the aforementioned basement room. Because one thing is clear to Jürgen Blin with all North German understatement: “The duel with Ali, that was the fight of my life.”

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