Monday, August 31, 2009

Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story

I recently watched Muhammad Ali -- The Whole Story (1996), an incredible six hours journey through the life of Muhammad Ali. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The only boxer who could go toe-to-toe with Ali was Ken Norton. No one else could handle Ali without getting beaten badly. When Ali was in his prime, only Joe Frazier and Ken Norton beat him. There are differences, however, in how Frazier and Norton won their fights. For example, Joe Frazier may have beaten Ali, but Frazier could not avoid getting hit. As a result, every time he and Ali fought, Ali's face looked clean as a whistle, while Frazier's face looked like it had been through a meat grinder. Meanwhile, Norton actually broke Ali's jaw in one fight.

2. Ali was successful at every stage of his career. He won an Olympic gold medal; won numerous amateur boxing awards; and beat every single serious professional contender through the age of 37 years old. When he went professional, he won the heavyweight championship three times, something no one else has ever done.

3. When George Foreman was younger, he seemed like nothing more than a surly thug. At one point, we see Foreman walking with his entourage in Zaire prior to the "Rumble in the Jungle." Someone, presumably a fan, asks to shake Foreman's hand, but Foreman's friend keeps her away and then happily reports he told her "she could shake my hand." Foreman sees what has happened and keeps walking. It is impossible to imagine the gregarious Muhammad Ali behaving similarly towards any of his fans. It is also incredible how Foreman completely reinvented himself in his old age, transforming from a reserved thug to a grandfatherly figure who sells fat-reducing cooking grills.

4. Before Larry Holmes became heavyweight champion, he was Muhammad Ali's training partner.

5. Were it not for Muhammad Ali, we would all be talking about Joe Frazier. When Frazier was young, he wasn't just an incredibly tough boxer--he was also gregarious and fun. Whereas other boxers took Muhammad Ali's comments seriously, Frazier played along with Ali. At one point, Frazier even tried to up Muhammad Ali's star power by singing a poem, and he displayed a surprisingly soulful voice.

6. When Ali was young, he was so quick, no one could hit him. After fifteen rounds in the ring, Ali's face would be unmarked. That's why he kept saying, "I'm pretty." Richard Pryor once remarked, "His punches are so fast you don't see 'em until they're coming back." It's hard to really understand the power and grace of Ali's speed until you see someone trying to hit him and failing miserably.

7. Ali's poetry: "I'm so bad, I make medicine sick."

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