Facing Ali (2009) was a great follow-up to When We Were Kings. Pete McCormack’s documentary features interviews 10 fighters who faced Ali in the ring throughout his career, including George Chuvalo, Sir Henry Cooper, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks, and Ernie Terrell.
Facing Ali is as much about Muhammad Ali as it is about these fighters, who appear in the order in which they fought Ali during his career. The documentary devotes an extended segment to each one, allowing them to share a little bit of their history, their upbringing and background, and their journey into fighting. George Chuvalo shares the tragedy of losing his wife and three of his children, for example. Others talk about their time in prison, while George Foreman shares the story of when he was saved.
Following their personal backgrounds, these fighters share their experiences with Ali both in and out of the ring. Archival footage of the fights shows highlights of their bouts. Not all of these fights show Ali as the victor or even the best fighter at the time. Sir Henry Cooper managed to knock Ali down in the early 1960s before a crowd of 40,000 people in Wembley Stadium. A couple of the fighters demonstrate their techniques to the camera.
In watching this after When We Were Kings, I was particularly interested in what George Foreman had to say about the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Foreman talks about thinking he would go into that ring and beat Ali in three rounds, and Chuvalo recalls how they were sure Ali would lose. Foreman describes the fight, but in particular he remembers the punch that Ali didn’t throw as he was going down. Instead, Ali held back. That gesture, for Foreman, is what makes Ali the greatest fighter in his mind. That respect for the fighter runs deep among all of them.
Facing Ali is well shot and edited, and it moves at a quick pace with deep, honest interviews that keep you interested and engaged. Even if you are not a fan of boxing, you still come to appreciate the one known as “the greatest” as a boxer and a man through these fighters’ recollections.