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A look at books and movies inspired by Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali’s life not only captivated the average sports fan but captured the imagination of a number of writers and film directors.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai | Updated: June 5, 2016 10:30:48 am

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Ali’s 1975 bout against number one contender Chuck Wepner proved to be Sylvester Stallone’s inspiration to make the fictitious Rocky films. However, it was not the character of Rocky Balboa, but his opponent Apollo Creed who drew inspirations from Ali. Said Ali after watching the sequel to the original film: “That’s me, all right. Apollo sounds like me. Insulting the opponent in the press, to get him psyched out. That’s me exactly.”

Ali did initially claim his disapproval of Rocky being portrayed as a white actor on screen, and his own image being presented as the antagonist. Nonetheless, at the 1977 Oscars, he had a mock bout against Stallone where he announced, “I’m the real Apollo Creed. You stole my script.”

WATCH: What made Muhammad Ali ‘The Greatest’

The Trials of Muhammad Ali

This 2013 documentary essentially focuses on the Muhammad Ali exploits outside the ring. Based during the time that Ali was hitting his prime, the production first touches upon Cassius Clay’s decision to convert to Islam and become Muhammad Ali. Following that segment is the depiction of Ali becoming one of the most controversial figures in history when he refused to join the US army at the Vietnam War. Thereon, Ali’s motivational speeches and humanitarian work against racism is depicted through archival footage.

I Am Ali

Upon its release, Ali’s daughter Hana claimed that the legendary boxer would have enjoyed the film since it exhibits his ‘loving side.’ This 2014 documentary focuses on behind the scenes footage and a series of audio recordings that were made throughout his lifetime to portray a picture of what Muhammad Ali was outside the sport. Interviews from friends and family discusses anecdotes that shape up Ali’s persona, including an instrumental episode in Ali’s life when, as a 12-year-old, his bicycle is stolen and he decides to take up boxing to avenge the theft.

When We Were Kings

Based on the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ 1974 heavyweight championship match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, this 1996 documentary starts off with the build-up to the big fight in Kinshasa. Ali is shown expressing his beliefs about Africans and African-Americans, a feat that strikes a fond chord with the locals of Zaire. The documentary also includes interviews with journalists and filmmakers alike who were present to watch the match. Then there specific events from the historic match itself in this Academy Award winning documentary.


This biographical film has Will Smith, playing Muhammad Ali present the journey of the pugilist from his first heavyweight championship bout against Sonny Liston, to the historic ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight in Kinshasa. Smith had initially rejected the role, but agreed when Ali himself approached the actor and requested him to play the role. The film earned Smith nominations in both the Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards.


King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero – David Remnick

This 1998 publication covers just over five years of Ali’s life – yet an important period that shaped up the adventure that would be ‘Muhammad Ali.’ Starting from the 1960 Rome Olympics, where Cassius Clay emerged on the boxing scene as a trash talking rookie, the book goes on till just after his second bout against Sonny Liston in 1965, where he proclaimed himself ‘The Greatest.’ Clay’s experiences of friendship, along with boxing during the timeframe come to the fore. Then there is the heavyweight title, his tryst with Islam, and his becoming Muhammad Ali.

Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times – Thomas Hauser


Awarded the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in 1991, the book is often considered the one true biography of the legendary pugilist. Thomas Hauser documents the accounts of over 200 individuals – family members, friends, adversaries, sparring partners, world leaders, pretty much anyone who was associated with the showman, telling a comprehensive and highly detailed tale of Muhammad Ali.

The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali

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Penned by the People’s Champion in his own words in 1976, with the help of Richard Durham, the autobiography essentially details Ali’s thinking behind the decisions he took that shaped up his career. Not necessarily the best in the sports autobiographies domain, the book does give a glimpse inside the mind of Ali. Then there is the documentation of the thrilling ten-page conversation Ali had with his adversary Joe Frazier during a car journey.

Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison edits the 2015 edition of the book.

The Fight by Norman Mailer

Before the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ bout, author Norman Mailer travelled then Zaire to study the vibe the upcoming match was presenting. He was also there observing proceedings in Ali’s camp, and at the ‘indestructible’ George Foreman’s camp. Then he was there at the bout itself, documenting each and every detail of a match that is often rated as ‘arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century.”

Superman vs Muhammad Ali by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams

An oversize 1978 comic book. Muhammad Ali takes on Superman in a match that is broadcast on intergalactic television to thousands of planets to decide the true champion of Earth.

More than for Ali’s stature, the comic book did wonders in generating fame for Superman, and till date remains one of the most famous Superman comics.

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