Few athletes are remembered by fans once they’ve hung up their boots. Fewer still are remembered, not just by fans, but by the rest of the world too. One need not have to witness a boxing match to know that Muhammad Ali was the greatest of all time. Although he didn’t retire with a perfect record and spent years of his prime unable to fight—his influence transcended the sport, as it still does today.
A dozen films have been made around Ali’s life; even more books written about it. Yet, the allure around Ali's larger-than-life persona remains enticing as it ever was.
It was this allure which led photographer Michael Brennan to spend decades tracking down Ali’s opponents, from former champions such as George Foreman and Joe Frazier, to forgotten names known only by their contribution to a 56 win tally.
In a compilation published by ACC Art Books, Brennan reveals unseen photos of Ali and his opponents. The book—titled They Must Fall: Muhammad Ali and the Men He Fought — includes insights from the boxers who played a notable role in shaping one of the most renowned legacies in all of sports. There are also stories of Ali’s irreverent trash talk, praises for his indomitable spirit, disputed thoughts on his title as "the greatest"—and that’s only breaking the surface.
"Ali, he wakes up every morning with his money. Me, at 4 AM, I'm loading trucks just to get by."
As much as the book is centred around Ali, it also paints a picture of how life in the boxing business used to be. Brennan shines a light on fighters who never got the chance to bask in it—swiftly dissolving ideas of a glamorous lifestyle which most associate with professional sports.
Sure, the champions enjoyed the spoils of stardom, but most professional boxers couldn’t retire doing only what they did—as they still can’t, today. “Ali, he wakes up every morning with his money,” reads a quote from Buster Matthis, who lost to Ali in a fight for the title. “Me, at 4 AM, I’m loading trucks just to get by.”
They Must Fall is a fresh perspective which adds the compelling depth of context to a story which has been recounted time and time again, in many a manner too.
They Must Fall: Muhammad Ali and the Men He Fought is available for purchase through the ACC Art Books website.