‘What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali’ – Fighter of skill, man of principle
He may have called himself “The Greatest” but Muhammad Ali didn’t let boxing define him. That’s the upshot of a documentary premiering this week on HBO.
In “What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali,” a film that airs in two parts on Tuesday, May 14, the story of the four-time heavyweight champ’s challenges, confrontations, trials and triumphs is told through archival footage and recordings of the late fighter’s voice, painting an intimate portrait of a principled man who sacrificed much for his convictions and became a symbol of humanity and a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Olympus Has Fallen”), the film chronicles the life of the former Cassius Clay from his childhood in Louisville and his conversion to Islam to his participation in the 1960s civil rights movement, his refusal to enter the draft during the Vietnam War (which cost him his first title) and, of course, his battles in the ring.
What comes through is a man of supreme confidence who didn’t need boxing and would have been happy to walk away from it had circumstances dictated.
“He had that quality and it’s rare,” says executive producer Glen Zipper. “And I think that confidence is another thing that enabled him to the be the champion that he was. There were some fights where the odds were so daunting that it would have been easy to get in your own head and have a battle with yourself in terms of, ‘Can I really pull this off?’ But I think he always believed he could win while he still had the skills to back it up.”
Sadly, it was that skill that would also be his demise. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984 after years of poundings, Ali would suffer a gradual decline and eventually perish at age 74 in 2016.
In the film, Ali’s worsening condition is apparent as his speech begins to slow in the late ’70s and he becomes a shadow of the dynamic man and fighter he once was.
“If you take a little bit of a lesson from Muhammad Ali and the amount of work and the amount of passion he put into attaining his dreams and goals, I think we can all take a little bit of that and apply it to our own lives,” Zipper