Although 19-year-old Carlos Balderas lost during men’s lightweight quarterfinal, Balderas’ home country, the United States, has a history of dominance in this sport. Team USA not only has the most medals overall (111) for Olympic Boxing but the most gold medals (49) too. The program has produced stars that took the world by storm like Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, and of course Muhammad Ali.
In 1960, Ali–still going by Cassius Clay at that point–won gold in the light heavyweight event, defeating Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzykowski. Ali would later admit to throwing the gold medal into the Ohio River out of anger after he was refused service at a restaurant because he was African-American. Channeling this frustration out of the ring, the boxer began his professional career that same year. From there, Ali was on a path towards his fateful fight in 1974.
The Rumble in the Jungle, against undefeated George Foreman, was unequivocally the most important fight of Ali’s career, and arguably the most significant sporting event of the century. Returning from his forced retirement in 1970, Ali was out to regain his title that had been stripped from him after refusing to be drafted seven years earlier. Thus after defeating Frazier, it was only natural for Ali to face off against Foreman, the current heavyweight champion.
In advance of the October fight, photographer Peter Angelo Simon was invited to cover Ali as he trained in Pennsylvania. Away from the glare of the media, Simon captured an unguarded Ali in his sanctuary. Over the course of August 11th and 12th, the phographer shot 33 rolls of film. “Ali said nobody had ever taken so many pictures of him. I believe these photographs reveal aspects of Ali’s fascinating character not previously seen,” Simon said.
The photographs have been compiled into a 176-page book Muhammad Ali: Fighter’s Heaven 1974. The book documents Ali at the peak of his form–notoriously fast on his feet, quick with his tongue, and brilliant with his strategy. These rare and candid images strip back the public persona and show a thoughtful, focused, and determined Ali. “While Ali prepared his body with rigorous physical training, the camp’s congenial atmosphere was clearly essential to the nourishment of his soul,” said Simon. “Everything I saw at the camp, I felt, was part of Ali’s imaginative formula for success.” From five miles runs at dawn and intense sessions in the gym, Ali brought profound psychological discipline to his craft. See a preview of this book from Reel Art Press below. If interested, you can purchase it here.