Inside Muhammad Ali’s Fight For The Belt

Years before the legendary Muhammad Ali became the icon that he was, he was a fighter stripped of his heavyweight title. After refusing to join the Vietnam War, Ali lost not only his position as Heavyweight Champion of the World, but his boxing license as well. In the four years it took him to return to the ring to face-off against George Foreman, photographer Peter Angelo Simon spent an unprecedented amount of time documenting the prep work for “The Rumble in the Jungle”.

Simon joined Ali as he trained at the Fighter’s Heaven training camp in Pennsylvania in preparation for the Kinshasa, Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) World Championship fight, and in an interview with PORT magazine, Simon details his time together with The People’s Champion. Explaining that the New Times magazine needed photographs to accompany an editorial about Ali’s training, Simon explains how he “got the assignment and drove up from New York to Deer Lake.”

Detailing following the champ around, Simon recounts the first time he came face-to-face with Ali. “At 4:30 a.m.,” he tells PORT, “there was knock on the door and the voice of his manager comes through: ‘Grab your pants and camera, the champ is running.’ So I did as I was told and the next thing I knew I was in a car going very slowly along a country road, with cornfields on my right, and up ahead was Muhammad Ali. It was my first sight of the man, from behind in his sweats and heavy boots, jogging along.” The interview provides a fascinating peek behind the veil surrounding the fighter, whose ultimate refusal to join the Vietnam War reached as high as the U.S. Supreme Court and cast a shadow over his career for years. Simon remembered, “There’s even a picture of him reading his poetry to this girl I had brought with me. All this nourished his spirit and soul, and that was in addition to the very disciplined, physical training that he did.”

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