Muhammad Ali: 3 DVD Boxset, as the title suggests, contains three Muhammad Ali DVDs in one box and was released in 2009. The three DVDs are 'Beyond the Ropes', a documentary that first appeared on the Discovery Channel in 2007 and then DVDs based around the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle between Ali and George Foreman and the Thrilla in Manila between Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975. It's not a bad purchase for Ali fans, especially if you don't own the two big fights that constitute two thirds of this collection. The documentary on the first DVD is very slick with a large amount of excellent archive footage but is disappointingly only 45 minutes long and suffers from being rather too syrupy and soft-focus with cloying music and a lot of Ali's daughter Hanna talking about how extraordinary her father is. Much better are the contributions of Dr Ferdie Pacheco. Pacheco was Ali's doctor for most of his boxing career and commentated on boxing for American television in the seventies, eighties and nineties. Pacheco was there right from the start of Ali's fame almost to the end and his contributions are insightful and entertaining.
Pacheco recalls one of his first encounters with Ali and hearing an onlooker remark that the young boxer was either crazy or going to be the champ. Pacheco tells us he said to them that these aren't mutually exclusive terms and that in all likelihood Ali is both crazy AND destined to be the world champion! The documentary, narrated by Graeme Wood (whoever he is), is well made with many contributions from Ali's family and people who knew him and the archive footage that runs through it is well chosen and entertaining. But, generally, it's nothing special and lacks the edge of a more balanced and comprehensive look at this complex and legendary character. The Rumble in the Jungle DVD is better and runs to 70 minutes. It begins with a decent sized documentary piece which appears to have been part of an ESPN retrospective special about the fight. Dr Ferdie Pacheco, who was of course in Ali's corner when he fought Foreman in Zaire, returns to Africa a couple of decades on (this piece appears to derive from the eighties) to share his memories of that momentous occasion before we see the actual fight.
I enjoyed this piece quite a lot. Pacheco is wearing a Roger Moore style safari suit as he wanders around the dusty streets of Zaire reminiscing, wryly noting that Ali has somehow sent him on another adventure again all these years later. There is some great footage here of Ali and Foreman giving interviews in the run-up to the fight, some of these interviews certainly being new to me. I really liked the build-up to the fight here in the ESPN piece with riotous press conferences where Don King can barely keep Ali quiet and the ominous Foreman exuding quiet confidence as we see footage of him demolishing Frazier and Ken Norton. Some of the archive here is great fun - like a moment where Ali clowns around with Foreman's trainer Dick Sadler during a press conference and ends up chasing him into the crowd!
Pacheco's observations are often interesting here as he strolls around in Africa. He talks about things like the famous tale of Angelo Dundee (Ali's trainer) loosening the ropes in the ring the night before the fight to create conditions for Ali's famous 'rope-a-dope' and sets the record straight. Sometimes, great stories are not quite what they seem it appears. The coverage of the actual fight itself is very good and you get the full ring entrances and introductions rather than any truncated version of this epic contest. The commentary is by 'Colonel' Bob Sheridan, an entertaining American commentator who always sounds incredibly excited but is capable of reading a fight and making some interesting observations. The Rumble in the Jungle DVD in this set is pretty good on the whole and I think any boxing enthusiast would enjoy the ESPN retrospective piece that precedes the bout.
The final DVD in the set is the Thrilla in Manila, the third fight between Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975. Sadly, this DVD cuts straight to the chase and doesn't give you any interviews, documentary stuff or Dr Ferdie Pacheco in a safari suit wandering around in the middle of nowhere talking to himself. We go straight to the fight - though we do begin with a mildly surreal moment involving Don King. King is at ringside with famous US boxing commentator Dun Dunphy and reads out an incredibly long and pompous message to the people of the Philippines about what a great country they have, what a great fight and event this is, and what a great man he is for putting it all together. Dunphy's face in the background is a picture as King waffles on and on and on. The fact that the commentary on the fight is done by Dunphy is a plus here. Dunphy has a very distinctive voice and a rather old fashioned style that is quite enjoyable. Both Dunphy and Howard Cosell (another famous American boxing commentator of the era) were both used by Woody Allen in his 1971 comedy Bananas to commentate on an assassination in a Latin American country!
The Thrilla in Manila DVD is 67 minutes so, on the whole, you get about three hours in the entire box set. I certainly enjoyed watching this in the presence of Dunphy and Ken Norton - a heavyweight contender of the era who fought both Ali and Foreman. The fact you just get the fight on this DVD is ok, although it's quite nice on the Rumble in the Jungle DVD the way you get a few interjections during it from people who were there and are looking back from the comfort of an ESPN television studio a few decades on. Archie Moore, for example - who was a great boxer of the forties and fifties and who was in Foreman's camp for his fight with Ali - occasionally adds his two pence during the Ali/Foreman fight. I'm not sure if this is an essential purchase for boxing fans the way that something like When We Were Kings is but you could do a lot worse if you don't already own either of the fights that make up the bulk of this collection. There is undoubtedly though a lot of footage here for a fairly modestly priced set of DVDs and this is not bad at all.