While New Zealand is a tiny nation tucked away at the bottom of the world, three of the most recognisable faces in world sport stopped off in New Zealand to showcase their skills, in recent times.

In February 1979, Muhammad Ali arrived in the country to support the Muhammad Ali Boxing Club amateur team, who were returning the visit of a New Zealand invitational side to the USA the previous year.

Ali, who had recently regained his WBA heavyweight title from Leon Spinks, brought along two other world class heavyweights in Jimmy Ellis and Joe Bugner, for the highly anticipated 'Muhammad Ali Down Under' exhibition bouts and Team Ali verses New Zealand at Western Springs in Auckland.

'The Greatest' also visited Wellington and was mobbed by enthusiastic fans wherever he went in the country.

His multitude of New Zealand fans held on his every word, which was a mixture of his well known humor and some words of wisdom.

It was 20 plus years before another GOAT (Greatest of All Time) candidate paid a visit to our shores.

In January 2002, Tiger Woods, with his Kiwi caddie in tow, arrived in a private jet to play in the New Zealand Open.

Thousands of golf fans flocked to the Paraparaumu links course to follow the fortunes of the world number one in his first trip to NZ.

The event, which was televised around the world, did an amazing promotion of our little country.

While Tiger Woods didn't produce fireworks on the course, finishing off the pace from winner Craig Parry, his visit inspired a new group of young kiwis to pick up golf clubs and take up the great game.

Woods, who returned to New Zealand in 2006 on a personal visit, gave his management team in the states plenty of anxiety, when he engaged in a celebrity stock car at Huntly raceway.

Organised by Woods' then caddy Steve Williams, the 12 laps race also featured All Black captain Tama Umaga and V8 stars Greg Murphy and Paul Radisich.

Back-to-back visits of football superstar David Beckham, in 2007 and 2008, were a mixture of outstanding success and financial failure.

Beckham, who was then in the twilight of his playing career with the Los Angeles Galaxy, thrilled football fans at the Cake Tin in Wellington against the Wellington Phoenix on December 1, 2007.

The Phoenix, who were the new boys on the block in their first season in the Australian A League, attracted a massive 31,853 spectators to the game.

The world football superstar thrilled the fans with a well directed goal in his sides 4-1 victory.

Twelve months later, the Galaxy were in Auckland in an encounter that cost the city ratepayers nearly $2 million.

The Auckland Regional Council came up with a plan to put Auckland on the world football map.

The match at Mt Smart Stadium matched the American MLS franchise up against the so-called Oceania All Stars.

The dire financial result was a classic example of people engaging in an enterprise that they had little understanding of.

The ARC football venture went belly-up because the ticket prices were set too high, against a team of no-names.

The Galaxy appearance in Wellington saw the game entry fee start at $25, while in Auckland, the tickets ranged from $45 up to $180.

The result was a disaster for the hoped televised publicity, with the spartan crowd going for the cheap seats behind the goal line, while the stands sat mostly empty.

The only good that came out of the aftermath enquiry, was a salutary lesson for municipalities not to get involved in activities outside their core functions.

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian