The documentary “Muhammad Ali” aired Sunday on PBS, with episodes airing nightly through Wednesday.
The four-part series is directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon and chronicles the life of Ali from a young Louisville boy looking to find his way in the world to the global icon he became in because of his boxing, beliefs and courage as he dealt with debilitating Parkinson’s disease.
The third episode, titled “The Rivalry,” aired Tuesday night and focused on Ali’s professional and personal exploits in the early 1970s, including his epic rivalry with Joe Frazier, his breakout record that ended up before the Supreme Court and his marital infidelities.
Third round: The rivalry (1970-74)
Smokin ‘Joe won but lost
After his 15-round unanimous decision victory over Ali in their first fight at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971, Frazier was arguably the one who suffered the most punishment during “Fight of the Century.” Frazier absorbed Ali’s jab all night and ended up closing his eyes. Smokin ‘Joe also couldn’t stand or walk, couldn’t urinate, and spent a week and a half in the hospital, where he was treated for exhaustion and high blood pressure.
SECOND ROUND:Fighting Liston, the nation of Islam and Vietnam
Ali was sentenced on June 20, 1967 for refusing to participate in the Vietnam War project, after which he remained on bail while the case was under appeal. The Supreme Court was deeply divided and twice ruled to uphold Ali’s original sentence and send him to jail without giving an opinion. The Court ultimately overturned Ali’s 8-0 conviction (Thurgood Marshall recused himself) and delivered its opinion on June 28, 1971.
Judge Potter Stewart found the Kentucky Appeal Board in error. The state appeals board never gave a reason to deny Ali conscientious objector status and essentially denied Ali due process in the matter. Ali was told of the Supreme Court ruling by a shopkeeper after he bought an orange at a grocery store.
Generous to a fault
Although Ali made millions in the first decade of his boxing career, he was almost broke by the time of the fight with Frazier. He was responsible for his family obligations but also gave money to his large entourage, spent money to acquire many houses and cars and gave a considerable amount of money to strangers and people on the street, basically to anyone who asks.
Go astray and stay
Before the third part of the documentary addresses his own with Frazier, he delved into Ali’s repeated relationships with women who weren’t his wife.
Members of his entourage helped him facilitate these matters while his second wife Belinda continued her own infidelities. The filmmakers said Ali had an almost “insatiable” thirst for sex, cementing the reputation of being a womanizer. During her marriage to Belinda, Ali had two children with other women. “I can’t tell you my worst flaw because I’m married. You will find out,” Ali said.