A biography of sports legend Muhammad Ali, focusing on his triumphs and controversies between 1964 and 1974.
In 1964, a brash new pro boxer, fresh from his Olympic gold medal victory, explodes on to the scene, Cassius Clay. Bold and outspoken, he cuts an entirely new image for African Americans in sport with his proud public self confidence with his unapologetic belief that he is the greatest boxer of all time. To his credit, he sets out to prove that with his highly agile and forceful style soon making him a formidable boxer who soon claims the heavyweight championship. His personal life is no less noteworthy with his allegiance to the Nation of Islam, his friendship with the controversial Malcolm X and his abandonment of his slave name in favor of Muhammad Ali stirring up controversy. Yet, at the top of his game, both Alis personal and professional lives face the ultimate test with the military draft rules are changed, making him eligible for military induction during the Vietnam War. Despite the fact that he could easily agree to a sweetheart deal that would have meant an easy tour of duty for himself, Ali refuses to submit on principle to cooperate in an unjust war for a racist nation that treated his people so poorly. The cost of that stand is high as he finds himself unable to legally box in his own country while his case is contested in court. What follows is a battle for a man who would sacrifice so much for what he believes in and a comeback that would cement his legend as one of the great sports figures of all time.
Notoriously obsessive director Michael Mann and star Will Smith devoted nearly two years and over 100 million dollars from the coffers of Columbia Pictures and other financiers to creating this biography of boxing great Muhammad Ali, which focuses on the ten-year period of 1964-1974. In that time, the brash, motor-mouthed athlete quickly dominates his sport, meets and marries his first wife (Jada Pinkett-Smith), converts to Islam (changing his name from Cassius Clay), and defies the United States government by refusing to submit to military conscription for duty in Vietnam. His world heavyweight champion title thus stripped from him entirely for political reasons, the champ sets about to win back his crown, culminating in a legendary unification bout against George Foreman (Charles Shufford) in Zaire, dubbed the "Rumble in the Jungle." In his travels, Ali becomes a symbol of power to disenfranchised African-Americans everywhere and meets such luminaries as Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles), Martin Luther King Jr. (LeVar Burton) and Maya Angelou (Martha Edgerton).