“I’m the greatest!” crowed Muhammad Ali, and proved it over and over. Was there ever a more entertaining figure in the world of boxing than he? Not to this fan. In fact, at his prime Ali was the most riveting sports figure the world has ever seen. He had it all, as the title of the new one-hour documentary Ali: The Man, The Moves, The Mouth proves over and over.
The great Bert Sugar narrates the film, which highlights every major fight of his career. Among other, non-fight related topics, there is some great footage of him meeting the Beatles. We also see the moment when Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, when he joined the Nation of Islam in 1964. His religious beliefs led him to vociferous opposition to the Vietnam War, which he paid dearly for. In 1967, Ali was stripped of his Heavyweight Championship title, and convicted of draft evasion. He would not fight again for nearly four years.
When he did regain his boxing license in 1970, Ali won against Jerry Quarry, and Oscar Bonavena. These matches paved the way for “The Fight of the Century,” with Ali vs. the then undefeated Joe Frazier on August 8, 1971. Frazier won this bout, but Ali continued to fight. Champion or not, there was probably nobody more famous either inside or outside of the ring during the ’70s.
There is classic footage of Ali verbally sparring with Howard Cosell, which is priceless. As the decade wore on, his fights became events. There were hugely hyped bouts with Ken Norton, two more against Joe Frazier, and maybe the most famous match of all, “The Rumble in the Jungle.“ Anyone who was around in those days has to remember his famous “rope-adope” technique against George Foreman during that one, which took place on October 30, 1974 in Zaire.
Ali regained his title that night, but in a way it was just a prelude to the equally famous “Thrilla in Manila” with Joe Frazier. Books could be filled with some of the outrageous things Ali has said over the years. Here’s just one example of him hyping up what was to come in Manila: “A thrilla and a chilla and a killa when I get the gorilla in Manila!”
Nobody but Muhammad Ali could get away with something like that. He won that match, and other big ones until he went up against Leon Spinks in February 1978. Ali retired following this victory on June 27, 1979, but returned in 1980 to face Larry Holmes in an attempt to win a heavyweight title an unprecedented four times.
Angelo Dundee refused to let his man come out for the 11th round. Sadly, this bout has been cited as a contributing factor in Ali’s development of Parkinson’s Disease. Ali’s final fight, a loss by unanimous decision after 10 rounds, was with Trevor Berbick in 1981.
This retrospective highlights Muhammed Ali’s brilliant ring moves and colorful rhetoric over the years in a highly entertaining fashion. There will never be another like Ali, and my only complaint about this documentary is that I wish it were longer.