Ali’s Comeback: The Untold Story chronicles a chapter in American sports that at first seems almost impossible to conceive now. In 1967, Muhammad Ali was convicted of draft evasion for claiming conscientious objector status. Apart from fines and the threat of jail time he stripped of his title and banned from boxing in all 50 states. In a day and age where athletes like Mike Tyson and Michael Vick can do jail time for violent felonies and be welcomed back with big-money contracts, it does seem ludicrous.
Until you realize a closer comparison might be with someone else who took a stand, or a knee, on their principles, Colin Kaepernick.Which only makes this documentary about Ali’s return to boxing even more timely. It’s a reflection on how much has, and hasn’t, changed in the fifty years since the Ali-Quarry fight.
By 1970 Ali had been unable to fight for three and a half years. Not only was he prevented from fighting in the US but his passport had been revoked so he couldn’t fight elsewhere either. However, there were those within the US who wanted to see him fight again. From activists working for civil rights and against the war to promoters who saw the money to be made a group came together to get him back into the ring.
Director Art Jones uses contemporary news footage mixed with present-day events to document the long and at times frustrating events leading up to the actual fight. Reenactments of events are kept to a bare minimum.
For those who don’t remember that era, Jones has worked a good deal of background into the film. From more obvious issues like the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement to less obvious ones such as Ali’s conversion to Islam.
There are also a few details brought up in Ali’s Comeback that I wasn’t aware of. For example, the fact he had registered for the draft and been declared mentally unsuitable, only to have his classification changed without being re-examined once he won the belt.
We see how things like this shaped the struggle to find a location for the fight and the pressures on states not to sanction it. And how it ended up happening in the unlikeliest of places, Atlanta Georgia. And how those same pressures influenced the search for an opponent, leading to the choice of Jerry Quarry.
Ali’s Comeback: The Untold Story does a good job of documenting the fight and the effects it had both on professional sports and American society. Jones occasionally goes off on a tangent covering somewhat irrelevant details but for the most part, he keeps the film focused and entertaining.
Ali’s Comeback: The Untold Story is available On Demand and on Digital from Vision Films starting December 1st. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details.