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TSS Product Review: Ali-Made in Miami

BY Michael Woods ON August 18, 2008
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The sad state of USA Boxing getting you down?

Feeling adrift, because Oscar can’t lock down a foe for his Dec. 6 penultimatum?

Finally reached a snapping point because you have to choose between Chris Arreola, and…wait, I’m thinking of one….um, Travis Walker as your two nominees as best American heavyweight?

Maybe a dose of vintage Ali will boost your spirits, and transport you back to a time when a boxer was getting into gear as the most famous athlete the world over. “I am the greatest,” the greatest of all time bellowed to a slack-jawed audience, many of whom were still on the fence, teetering between contempt and idolatry, back in 1964, a time in America when leaders were fair game for assassination and a race war seemed a foregone conclusion.

A new DVD out on the market, called “Ali: Made in Miami” serves up a welcomed dose of Ali, as he was settling into that scintillating persona, sharpening and resetting his skills to meld into the pro game from the amateurs at the 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach starting in the fall of 1960.

The clips and soundbites are presented within the context of those turbulent times, when segregation could still sting a young man who returned to his nation from the 1960 Olympics with a gold medal that would not gain him entrance into some restaurants in racist enclaves. The film was put together by Alan Tomlinson and Gaspar Gonzalez, who operate out of WLRN, a PBS station serving South Florida.

Ali was still Cassius Clay then, and the producers make the case that the Clay to Ali transformation was hastened and informed mightily by the boxer’s stay in Miami. We hear from the usual members of the Muhammad Mafia, like FOTSS Angelo Dundee, Ferdie Pacheco, and biographers Tom Hauser and David Remnick, so many of the anecdotes will not be fresh meat for anyone who has soaked up the available print and documentary accounts of this greatest American hero. But there is still plenty of new, or at least, less weathered material in the program. Those unaware of the specific regions where a visible line between races existed might be surprised to know, for instance, that Clay felt the lash of racist tendencies in Miami, as when he was informed in a department store that blacks were not permitted to try on clothing.

The first Liston fight gets thorough treatment, so we hear the usual buildup about what a murderous thug Sonny was. There is a clip of Ali stalking Liston, with a noose in his hand, an image that begged for an explanation, but alas, none comes. That is one of the few noticeable missteps in the production.

Clay was a bright light for blacks as they agitated for rights and privileges withheld from them, and was seen as a potential bridge between the races, until he immersed himself in the teachings of Elijiah Muhammad and Malcolm X.  Clay’s embrace of Muslim teachings drew him away from his comic persona, but Clay didn’t abandon his showman’s instincts as he readied himself for Liston. The bout was a “baby in with a brute,” or so many of the “experts” believed, but we know that the brute succumbed to a technical magician. “I must be the greatest,” Clay roared afterwards. “I am the king of the world. I’m pretty. I’m a bad man. I shook up the world. I shook up the world.”

When Clay condoned the murder of Malcolm X, former Liston haters suddenly went on a pro-Sonny kick, and rooted for the glowering one to regain his heavyweight title.  It was not to be; Ali snapped a blink-quick right that put Sonny away, down for the count on May 25, 1965. That bout gets a pretty quick go-over, and then the fighter’s skirmish with the Army is examined. The boxer’s conscientious objection to being drafted into the military grew his legend another leap, as his repudiation of the Man’s edict gave blacks used to being trampled upon grounds for hope and a shot of courage to stage their own empowerment movement. The program cuts off before Ali manages to restore his ability to earn a living, and I would’ve gladly stayed glued for another hour or three of entertainment and education.

The DVD is available for $19.99 plus shipping and handling charges on ShopPBS.org, or by calling 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

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