Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon (Sporting)
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Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) has always engendered an emotional reaction from the public. From his appearance as an Olympic champion to his iconic status as a national hero, his carefully constructed image and controversial persona has always been intensely scrutinized. In Muhammad Ali, Michael Ezra considers the boxer who calls himself “The Greatest” from a new perspective. He writes about Ali’s pre-championship bouts, the management of his career and his current legacy, exploring the promotional aspects of Ali and how they were wrapped up in political, economic, and cultural “ownership.”
Ezra’s incisive study examines the relationships between Ali’s cultural appeal and its commercial manifestations. Citing examples of the boxer’s relationship to the Vietnam War and the Nation of Islam—which serve as barometers of his “public moral authority”—Muhammad Ali analyzes the difficulties of creating and maintaining these cultural images, as well as the impact these themes have on Ali’s meaning to the public.
boxing. Clay’s management did not like what they saw. This was clearly not a guy who would be an easy tune-up for anyone. Clay downplayed Chuvalo’s victory, dubbing him “The Washerwoman” in response to the awkward but brutal second-round barrage he had unleashed on DeJohn. To Clay, the trajectory of Chuvalo’s punches resembled the downward motion that laundresses employed when scrubbing dirty clothes against washboards. Although Clay’s team tried to shrug off their agreement to fight Chuvalo, the
enraged at the attempt of the Muslims to take over closed circuit television rights and other revenues from professional boxing through Main Bout, Inc.” 36 Realizing that he would not be able to fight under Main Bout at home, Ali considered matches outside the United States, but he feared that his career might be over if he didn’t change promoters. “They want to stop me from fighting. They done run me out of the country. . . . This [the Chuvalo match] could be my last fight,” he told Phil Pepe of
as a sporting event. It indicated that great spoils went along with being admired. Clay’s moral authority, his being the right kind of symbol, stood to benefit him financially. His debut was an early indication of the linkages between cultural image and commercial viability. Nationwide civil rights unrest and a burgeoning student movement intensified the power of this connection. Not just elites, but large segments of the community got involved. Local media treated the fight as a major event.
trained as an attorney, the Columbia University graduate had made a name for himself as a writer in the decade prior to his introduction to the Ali family. Hauser’s 1978 literary debut, The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice, was adapted into the 1982 movie Missing, starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. Hauser’s acclaimed 1986 book, The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing, revealed a formidable understanding of how the fight business operates. In addition to his
passing of the torch, the canonization of Ali as an American hero should be recognized as having a strong literary component. Some of the most powerful moments in Ali’s post-boxing life, like his lighting of the Olympic torch to open the 1996 Summer Games, have been made for television. Yet without the literary context of books like the Hauser biography, the major product of such moments would have been people feeling badly for Ali. Perhaps one day, however, Ali’s fall from grace will also result