By : Erik Gruenwedel | Posted: 26 Dec 2009
Rated ‘R’ for some language.
In the cinematic annals chronicling the career and social impact of Muhammad Ali, most films focus on the cultural icon’s knack for showboating with poems, jokes and oral mandates before and after dispensing ring adversaries.
In Facing Ali, 10 prominent foes — many who lasted the full 15 rounds against Ali — recount the collective rounds of misery, and in doing so, present not only a fascinating perspective from the other side of the ring, but also act as verbal historians to a man now addled by Parkinson’s disease.
In addition to household names George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes, the doc features commentaries from George Chuvalo, Sir Henry Cooper, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton (“A fight with Ali gave me a life,” he says), Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks and Ernie Terrell.
The pugilists weigh in on the turbulent political times in the 1960s and ’70s, when Ali sought refuge in the Muslim faith and his African heritage, and denounced the Vietnam War and other social injustices.
Cooper, who fought Ali (then named Cassius Clay) in London’s Wembley stadium in 1963, recounts with pride punching the young “novice” fighter to the ground.
“His nose was bleeding in the first round, and he kept looking at the referee [wanting a break], so I showed him a left, I showed him another left and then when he couldn’t get back any farther, I hit him with a left hook,” Cooper says.
While Cooper eventually lost the fight after Ali exposed a cut above the fighter’s eye that required more than 40 stitches, Cooper remembers Ali fondly, saying, “Ali always paid me a great tribute when he said ‘Cooper hit me so hard, he didn’t only shake me, he shook my relations in Africa.’”