Frazier, Louis, Marciano, La Motta, and Robinson were all superb athletes and professional boxers. The latter two boxers had four legendary encounters that were so intense that in the third fight ringside audience members were sprinkled with blood from the ensuing carnage. But as commentators suggested in ESPN’s 50 Greatest Athletes, greatest is defined in the athlete’s professional and personal life. Ali may have been a draft dodger, but his advocating of civil rights and U.S. isolation were a testament to America’s notion of freedom of speech and independence. As a service member I cannot support going against government orders, but Ali would not fight for a country (at the time) where he was considered a second-rate citizen, and against a country that never caused him physical or mental harm. Sure Ali knew that communism was not the American way, and he loves capitalism and freedom like anyone else. But not at the cost of following and fighting in a war that was so heavily protested that people publicly self-immolated themselves in Washington D.C.
Michael Mann (director of my favorite modern crime sagas: HEAT) directed a lackluster adaptation of Ali, which was simply called: Ali. The movie told the usual depicted aspects of Ali’s life and career such as.
- The first encounter (and loss) to Joe Frazier
- His three-year ban from boxing.
- His conversion to Islam
- The Rumble in the Jungle
Of course all of the aforementioned events are relevant, and can be portrayed in a highly dramatic and action-packed manner. However Mann shot the film as though simply super imposing one of the world’s best athletes on screen was good enough. I suggest watching Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story for sheer entertainment value and enlightenment. The documentary is 6 hours long and contains interviews with the policeman that introduced a 12-year-old Ali to the boxing gym after someone stole his bike. There is footage of his amateur fights and his light-heavyweight 1960 Olympic win in Rome. His fight where Ken Norton broke his jaw in the first round (a fight Ali still finished) is in glorious restoration for your viewing pleasure. The famous encounter with the Beatles rock band is as random as it is entertaining and a showcase of transcending racism.
I am not sure if there is a market for another Ali film, but at least three well-written feature length movies could be derived from this documentary alone. Pun intended: Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story is a sensational knockout.