If Judge Ryan Keefer isn't fine, he'll go out in nine. If he's full of tricks, he'll go out in six.
"I shook up the world! I shook up the world!"
I was a screwed-up kid growing up. As a white, middle-class youth, my first musical influence was Jimi Hendrix. My first sporting influence was Muhammad Ali. I remember seeing Ali fights on network television on weeknights, hosted by Brent Musberger. I had an Ali "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot" set of sorts that my grandparents bought me when I was a kid. It was the bomb, yo. I was around and aware of Ali's reclaiming the heavyweight championship for the third time, but wasn't familiar with the first two, and this appears to be the primary reason for the making of Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami.
For those not entirely familiar with the mystique of the first fight between Ali (then Cassius Clay) and Sonny Liston, Clay was a bright young face in the sport of boxing. He had won the gold medal as a heavyweight boxer in Rome in 1960. He was handsome and charismatic; Clay seemed to be a little modest at first, but as he grew in stature and became more aware of his charisma, he became more boastful. As a professional fighter, Clay's origins were a little bit shaky. He was undefeated, for sure, but some of those wins were against aging or semi-professional fighters, and he was knocked down in a couple of those fights. His fighting style was something that others hadn't seen before, one where he used his quickness to great advantage in securing those wins. Liston, however, was a brute. He had knocked out Floyd Patterson in the first round to win the heavyweight championship and did the same thing in their rematch. He was big, strong, and expressionless, and his rumored ties to the mob only strengthened the perception that he was an imposing figure in sport.
Clay was arrogant, cocky, and couldn't wait to fight him. The perception among the conventional (read: mainly old and white) press was that Liston would tear Clay apart. Clay was openly discussing when he would knock out Liston, calling him a grizzly bear. Clay would go to Liston's fights and yell and challenge him some more until a title bout was granted. Then the boxers weighed in for the bout, Clay's hysterics climbed to a peak, and everyone thought he was scared and wanted out. Of course, we all know what happened in the bout: Clay pretty much schooled Liston, and Liston presumably put a chemical on his gloves that temporarily blinded Clay, who soldiered on through it and led Liston to quit and not answer the bell for the seventh round.
Made in Miami explores some of the mythology of the fight, but what the producers of the PBS-produced feature attempt to also get across is Clay's fondness for the city that Will Smith immortalized in music. Ali trainer Angelo Dundee and fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco recall Clay in Miami as he toured the city more and more, and journalists like New York Times writer Robert Lipsyte and Miami Herald writer Edwin Pope recall what Clay was like at the time and recall experiences with him around town or with others. Others in the Miami or African American community discuss Clay's burgeoning friendship with Nation of Islam members Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, and, of course, the additional perspective about the fight is covered. Clay's time in Miami is tenuously tied together by the "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong" story as well.
Unfortunately, for those who are familiar with Ali or his fights, there's not a lot here that's revelatory. I own Thomas Hauser's biography, and Hauser appears as a participant on the documentary, and quite frankly I think my extensive knowledge of the first Liston fight and some of the events around it are pretty good as it is, the only thing of note was the discussion about Ali's relationship with Malcolm X, and the boxer's push to keep him in the church. But past that, most of what is discussed is old hat, even to someone who's just watched an ESPN or HBO special about either fighter.
Personally, as a fan of Ali, I'd take a pass on Made in Miami. The definitive documentary on an Ali title fight was in the excellent When We Were Kings; this feels like walking down a pretty familiar road, despite all the best intentions. Guilty.
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