India's champion boxer Vijender Singh mourned the death of Muhammad Ali and also rued the missed opportunity of meeting the legend, who passed away at 74 in Arizona on Friday,

Vijender Singh and Akhil Kumar
Vijender Singh and Akhil Kumar

"I had the pleasure of seeing Ali from close quarters. He was at the 2007 World Championships in Chicago. I couldn't meet him but the sheer sight of him in the flesh gave me goose bumps. It was like seeing God," Vijender told mid-day on Saturday from New Delhi.

"Many athletes try to copy their idol, but Ali was one sportsman who could never be copied. He was just too good. His footwork, technique, swagger were unique and no boxer comes even close. His death is a huge loss to the sport and more so, to me personally, because he also won an Olympic medal before turning Pro just like me. I see myself in his footsteps," he added.

Vijender Singh will be at a press conference in New Delhi on Monday to announce his opponent for the WBO Asia-Pacific Championship title fight this July in India. Another India boxer — Akhil Kumar — paid an emotional tribute to Ali. "While growing up, there were just two heroes in boxing for me — Muhammad Ali and Rocky Balboa.

Balboa is fictional and today Ali is dead, so for me, reality has died today," Akhil, who is Deputy Superintendent of Police, Hisar, Haryana said from the National Institute of Sport in Patiala. "Ali taught you how to mentally break an opponent. He fought in the super heavyweight category, but he was so light on his feet that he'd be quicker than most lightweight boxers.

Regret not meeting Ali

Akhil Kumar "I tried to copy Ali with my open stance and did achieve a fair bit of success. I also tried to be brash just like him. My one regret in life is that I could never meet him, but he will live on in my heart and boxing style forever."

Ali's well-documented quotes were not lost on Akhil. "For me, one of his most inspirational quotes is, 'I hated every minute of training but I said 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion,'" said Akhil, adding, "As every boxer will tell you, training is very tough and many tend to hate it; me too, but I never quit."