Ali – The Story of Muhammad Ali
This biographical film about the legendary Muhammad Ali begins in 1964 when Ali, known by his original name Cassius Clay, had just won the Olympic gold medal and is training for an upcoming fight with Sonny Liston, who is heavily favored. Clay is training vigorously and through the training, there are clips of Liston beating his opponents unmercifully. Throughout his training, Clay befriends activist Malcolm X and thus, begins to become more and more intrigued with the Nation of Islam.
At the prefight weigh-in, Clay taunts the Heavyweight Champion Liston by calling him a big, ugly bear. Fight day finally comes and Clay dominates the early rounds. Midway through the bout, Clay complains of his eyes burning and can hardly see, implying that Liston puts something on his gloves that was transferred into his eyes through repeated contact. Clay doesn’t feel he can continue the fight, but trainer Angelo Dundee refuses to stop the bout so Clay continues even though his vision is impaired. When Clay’s eyes clear up, he dominates the remainder of the fight and defeats Sonny Liston to become the youngest World Heavyweight Champion ever. After the fight, Clay and Malcolm X embark on a spiritual trip to Africa.
With his newfound status as Heavyweight Champion, Clay is invited to visit the leader of the Islam religion, the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, and Clay is formally granted the name Muhammad Ali.
After the Liston bout, Ali meets Sonji, a lounge singer. They get married, but only Sonji agrees to convert and embrace the Muslim faith. Although Sonji converted to Muslim, she refuses to adhere to the strict demands of the religion, leading to a divorce. Ali marries his second wife, Belinda Ali, who he had known prior to marrying Sonji. Ali also develops a friendship with polarizing sports anchorman Howard Cosell.
In a rematch, Ali defeats Liston again and dominates the heavyweight ranks until he is stripped of his title, boxing license, and passport because he refused to be drafted into the United States Armed Forces. Islamic leaders urge Ali to go forward with the draft and take a role of entertaining the troops and making public appearances, but Ali refuses and is sentenced to jail. Due to his refusal to follow the wishes of the Islamic Nation, he is no longer allowed to represent the Muslim religion. Furthermore, with his boxing license stripped, Ali is now penniless. After three years of appeals, Ali’s suspension is overturned and he is once again allowed to fight. Throughout these three years, one of his trainers, Bundini Brown, developed drug and alcohol addictions and sold Ali’s championship belt. Ali forgives him and allows Brown to work with him on his comeback.
Ali’s first comeback fight is against Jerry Quarry, which he wins easily. This sets up the “Fight of the Century” with Smokin’ Joe Frazier, who defeats Ali in a 15-round decision and hands Ali the first loss of his career. Up-and-comer George Foreman then defeats Joe Frazier to become Heavyweight Champion. At this time, Ali makes the decision to fight George Foreman in Zaire for a chance to become World Heavyweight Champion for a second time. This championship match was dubbed the “Rumble in the Jungle”.
Ali embarks for Zaire and is met with a hero’s welcome as he greeted with the chant of “Ali Buma Ye” wherever he goes, which means “Ali, kill him”. George Foreman suffers an accident during training and the fight is postpones for a few weeks. During the delay, Belinda Ali returns home and Muhammad Ali begins an affair with reporter Veronica Porsche. After reading about the rumors of infidelity in the newspaper, Belinda Ali returns to Zaire to confront Muhammad.
When the championship match begins, Ali looks terrible as he just leans on the ropes and allows Foreman to swing and throw as many punches as he can. This was the infamous “Rope a Dope” strategy by Ali so Foreman would tire himself out throwing punch after punch; the strategy works to perfection as Foreman has punched himself into exhaustion. At this point, Ali takes command of the fight and wins the coveted World Heavyweight Championship for a second time. The movie ends with Ali victoriously standing on the rope cheering with his beloved African fans.
Contributing author: Bob Shifko
Ali – Real Life, Reel Differences
- The poem Ali quotes in the movie before the Frazier fight, “Ali comes out to meet Frazier, Frazier starts to retreat, If he goes back any further, He’ll end up in a ringside seat…” was in fact the poem he used before the first Liston fight and began, “Clay comes out to meet Liston, Liston starts to retreat…” and ends with the lines, “Never did they think, When they laid down their money, That they would witness, The total eclipse of the Sonny”.
- In the movie, Ali was in camp preparing for his first fight with Joe Frazier when he receives a call from Howard Cosell informing him that the Supreme Court had ruled in his favor regarding his refusal to enter the Vietnam draft. In reality, the fight with Frazier took place on March 8, 1971 but the Supreme Court did not even hear the case until April 19 and did not rule on it until June 28, 1971, three months after the fight took place. In fact, one of the reasons the fight was scheduled in March and not later that year had to do with the pending Supreme Court case and the concerns that Ali would lose and be sentenced to jail, which would have prevented the fight from happening.
- In the movie, Ali’s second wife Belinda flies out to Zaire prior to his fight with George Foreman to confront him about his affair with Veronica Porsche (who later became his third wife). Ali first noticed Veronica in Zaire when she went along as a show girl, but the argument that Ali and Belinda had actually happened in Manilla, Phillipines before Ali’s third fight with Joe Frazier a year later. Ali had taken Veronica to visit President Marcos in full view of the press. Belinda flew to the Philipines, had her argument, then flew straight back to the US.
- The movie depicts a very close relationship between Ali and Cosell, to the point where Cosell calls up Ali to inform him of the Supreme Court decision. In reality, Cosell and Ali had a very respectful business relationship but as close as portrayed in the movie.
Where Are They Now?
Muhammad Ali developed Parkinson’s disease in 1984 due to the repeated trauma from boxing. Despite this disease, Ali remained active for several years, even acting as a guest referee on Wrestlemania in 1996. He has traveled to Iraq and met with Saddam Hussein to negotiate the release of hostages in 1991. In 1996, he had the honor of lighting the Olympic flame in Atlanta. In 2012, he was titular flag bearer for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, as he was wheelchair bound and not physically able to carry the flag due to the disease. In February 2013, rumors where swirling that Ali could no longer speak and was close to death. Those rumors where eventually discounted and Ali is still alive and living with his 4th wife, Lonnie.
The following is ESPN’s documentary featuring Ali, from their SportsCentury series.
[UPDATE Friday, 6/3/2016] Muhammad Ali passed away late on Friday, June 3, 2016 at the age of 74. Will Smith, the actor who portrayed Ali in the movie, will be one of the pallbearers for Ali’s funeral. Sports Illustrated put together a special tribute in remembrance of Ali which includes every Sports Illustrated cover featuring Ali, along with a collection of Ali photos from Neil Leifer’s collection – some of the most powerful and emotional shots taken of the undisputed champion of boxing.
Angelo Dundee continued to train professional boxers until his death in February 2012 at age 90. Three weeks before his death, Dundee attended the 70th birthday of Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky
Joe Frazier had mounting legal and money troubles due to failed business ventures and extravagant lifestyle after his boxing days. He did continue to train young fighters at his gym in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania until he put the gym up for sale in mid-2009. Joe Frazier died of liver cancer in November 2012.
George Foreman initially retired from boxing in 1977. However, he surprised the world by coming out of retirement in 1987 at the age of 38. Foreman stated he was returning to boxing to earn money for a youth center he had created, while most felt he wanted to fight Mike Tyson, the Heavyweight Champion at that time. By 1989, Foreman became well known for advertising and marketing, with his name on everything from grills to mufflers. Foreman became the oldest heavyweight champion at the age of 45 when he defeated Michael Moorer on November 5, 1994. George Foreman has 12 children, 5 sons and 7 daughters.