In Depth

Capturing the private side of Muhammad Ali

A new book of photos taken outside the ring shows the champion fighter in a new light as he gears up for the biggest match of his career

With his larger-than-life personality and outspoken opinions, Muhammad Ali was never one to shy away from the camera. But while his time in the ring is well documented, a new collection of rare and previously unpublished photographs offers unprecedented personal insight into the man known as "The Greatest".

In October 1974, Ali would attempt to regain the world heavyweight boxing championship title in what has become the most famous match in the sport's history – the Rumble in the Jungle. Just a few weeks beforehand, photographer Peter Angelo Simon was invited to 'Fighter's Heaven', the boxer's training camp in Pennsylvania where he prepared for many of his fights, as he geared up for the biggest battle of his life. The resulting two-day photo essay captures an unguarded view of Ali as he relaxes away from the media circus that followed him at the peak of his career.

"Here was the most famous and contentious personality on the planet in his private retreat – the calm eye of the public hurricane – which was most of his life. While a global audience was fixated on his fate, I was able to record aspects of Ali virtually unknown," says Simon.

The 176-page book, Muhammad Ali: Fighter's Heaven 1974, brings together these images in an engaging glimpse into the everyday life of the legend, from training and five-mile dawn runs to taking time out with friends. In addition to an introduction by the photographer, it features a foreword by film-maker DA Pennebaker, renowned for his documentation of 1960s counterculture.

"I was astonished by what I discovered [at Fighter's Heaven]," continues Simon. "The camp had an air of playfulness and creativity – power boulders bearing the names of boxing greats of the past, magic tricks, tea and poetry, Ali relaxing in a rocking chair receiving visitors in a log cabin. While Ali prepared his body with rigorous physical training, the camp's congenial atmosphere was clearly essential to the nourishment of his soul. Everything I saw at the camp, I felt, was part of Ali's imaginative formula for success."

"I went everywhere with Ali – an old people's home, an exhibition match, watching him practising the rope-a-dope. I shot 33 rolls in the two days. Ali said nobody had ever taken so many pictures of him. I believe these photographs reveal aspects of Ali's fascinating character not previously seen."

Muhammad Ali: Fighter's Heaven 1974 by Peter Angelo Simon is published by Reel Art Press, £29.95; reelartpress.com

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