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The Legend of Deer Lake
I am King: Photographic Biography of Muhammad Ali - David King
Member Name: Jake Speed
I am King: Photographic Biography of Muhammad Ali - David King
Advantages: Good find for Ali fans
Disadvantages: Nothing too major
I am King: Photographic Biography of Muhammad Ali was compiled by David King and first published in 1975. King was art editor of The Sunday Times Magazine from 1965-75 and worked in particular on making their photographs more striking and cinematic. In 1974 he was sent to Muhammad Ai's famous training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania where Ali was preparing to challenge George Foreman for the world heavyweight championship in Kinshasa, Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) - a fight that would of course become forever known as The Rumble in the Jungle. King spent eight weeks hanging around Deer Lake and took many photographs of training, sparring and of Ali's friends, family, and entourage. The result was this book, an attractive and striking volume filled with beautiful black and white images of life in Deer Lake. I am King is an excellent photographic diary of Ali preparing for the biggest challenge of his career and the fact that he won the fight against all the odds somehow adds to the appeal of the book. You are witness to Ali close up just before he does the impossible yet again. As Ali himself is quoted in the book, 'I told you all that I was the greatest of all time. I kept telling him that he has no punch, couldn't hit, swings like a sissy! He's missing! I didn't dance from the second round on, I stayed on the ropes. I told him he has no power. I was blocking and I was pulling back. I have this radar built inside me to avoid George's punches! I told you I'm gonna float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, his hands can't hit what his eyes can't see. So that's what happened!'
There have been many photographic boxing volumes of this type so is I am King worth a look even if you do have countless Ali volumes creaking on your bookshelf already? The answer is yes because some of the photographs in I am King are amazing and - given the now mythic encounter that Ali was preparing for - also a part of history. While the photographs don't capture Ali at the height of his powers (his prime was undoubtedly in the 1960s before he was banned for refusing to be drafted for Vietnam) they do capture him looking better than he'd ever done. At 32 Ali had filled out in contrast to the skinny Cassius Clay who bamboozled Sonny Liston. He looked bigger and stronger in the chest, shoulders and legs but he was still trim and able to get up on his toes when the mood took him. He was as handsome as he'd ever been and seemed to almost glow with a mystical energy. What is apparent from the pictures here is just how hard Ali worked for the fight. Ali was regarded to be on the way down in 1974 and although he'd reversed both losses in rematches he had been beaten by Joe Frazier and Ken Norton since he returned to boxing after his ban ended. Foreman had destroyed Frazier and Norton and the overwhelming consensus was that the 24-year-old champion would send Ali into retirement with a sound beating. Foreman was bigger, stronger and younger than Ali and when he hit a punchbag it left a dent the size of half a watermelon. The Ali legend did not come from him being a charismatic character who was funny in interviews (though he was all of these things and it helped) but from doing the impossible inside the ring, like beating the indestructible George Foreman when no one expected him to.
I am King is nearly 130 pages long and a wonderful book to flip through for anyone interested in boxing and Ali in particular. Deer Lake was essentially a farm where a big gym had been built with a ring and there were little cabins for all of Ali's family, friends, entourage and guests. It was a special place and had huge stones dotted around the place which were engraved with the names of former great heavyweight champions as a mark of respect. One thing the book really brings to light is the eclectic nature of Ali's entourage and how much fun it must have been to be around Ali at the height of his fame when he was still boxing. It was mad at times but an extraordinary ride and anyone who was a part of it never felt quite the same again when it was all over. The photographs show you life inside the Ali circus and paint a visual portrait of the many and varied people who were a vital part of his team. Ali's inner circle ranged from radical no nonsense members of the Nation of Islam to his amiable Italian/American trainer Angelo Dundee to his personal physician Dr Ferdie Pacheco (who also loved to paint) to his friend and cheerleader Drew 'Bundini' Brown. It was always quite extraordinary how Ali managed to preside over a camp with such diverse people but they were all devoted to him. Bundini was a wonderful person to photograph. He was a big expressive man whose face showed every emotion he was going through. He would sometimes burst into tears when Ali got hit, such was his connection to his friend and employer.
The photographs of Ali themselves though are very striking and impressive. I especially like the ones of him alone shadow boxing as he prepares for the fight. Sweat pours from Ali in the black and white images and he's working hard but there is always a poise about him and sense of grace. Ferdie Pacheco once said that if aliens landed on Earth and asked for our most perfect physical specimen to study you'd have given them Muhammad Ali and you can believe that comment with this book. Some of the images here are pleasantly inventive and interesting like one just of Ali's feet well above the canvas ring as he bounces around, perfecting the subtle body and arm movements that will be required to take the sting out of Foreman's thunderous punches. The photos capture Ali in all of his moods as he prepares for this most challenging of contests. Amused, mischievous, reflective, tired, energetic, serious. Overall, I am King is certainly an excellent find for Ali fans and one that they will enjoy adding to their collection. At the time of writing there only seems to be used copies of this available and they range from as low as £1. This is a book though that you'd want in relatively good condition so it might be an idea to pay a few pounds extra if you see one that is new or in very good condition.
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