February 01, 2010

Facing Ali

There has been a large amount of work dedicated to Mohammed Ali and his career but this documentary looks at the man and the times through the eyes of the fighters that faced him over the course of his amazing and controversial career.

The movie interviews 10 former fighters that were pivotal in Ali’s career; George Chuvalu, Henry Cooper, Ernie Terrell, Joe Frazier, Ron Lyle, Kenny Norton, Ernie Shavers, George Forman, Leon Spinks, and Larry Holmes. The interviews are intertwined with digitally re-mastered archival footage of their fights.

From a historical standpoint the first hour of the film does an excellent job of placing Ali in the social, racial, and economic context of the 1960s. (This half of the film could be a useful source for an Am. History course) However, after his 3 year suspension from boxing and return in 1973 the film shifts into a fight by fight chronicle of his comeback and eventual decline. It was actually a little painful to watch his final fight with Holmes.

The one failure of the film is in my opinion it's lack of emphasis of the the Frazier -Ali rivalry that produced three of the greatest fights of all times and made that era the pinnacle of the sport.

These 10 fighters were products of the depression (except Spinks perhaps) and each used boxing to escape their hardscrabble conditions. As one fighter noted, nobody from the middle class goes into boxing. Each fighter was acutely aware but at the same time grateful that they were allowed to be bit players in the larger drama which was Mohammad Ali. As Ron Lyle succinctly put it, “If it wasn’t for Ali you wouldn’t be here talking to Ron Lyle today.”

To the films credit the intimate focus on these men highlights that they each have their own life stories which are as compelling and in some cases as personally tragic as the man remembered as The Greatest.

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