Set during the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, and being banned from boxing, Ali’s Comeback tells of the many unseen opponents of Muhammad Ali in his fateful return to the ring. Refusing to fight in Vietnam as a conscious objector, Ali spent three years outside of the “Sweat Science,” itching to reclaim the title he never lost. With fight promoters and Civil Rights leaders supporting him, it was time for “The Greatest” to face his largest opponents yet: The Klu Klux Klan, Boxing Commissions, and the United States Government.
Ali’s Comeback opens in the summer of 1970 in Atlanta, Georgia, as rumors for a possible comeback fight are circulating. After three years of sitting on the sidelines, promoters are finally willing to give Ali a second chance at glory. The only thing standing in his way is getting a boxing license, venue, and opponent – none of which were made easy by the governing bodies at the time. Despite racial tension and hostility towards his religion, Ali and his team persevere – setting the stage for many of the now-iconic moments that have burned themselves into, not only in boxing history but American history as well.
Using interviews from family members and activists at the time, Ali’s Comeback does a great job conveying how vital Ali was to the progression of the Civil Rights movement. The film pulls no punches as it speaks about the discrimination facing Ali for not only his decision to oppose Vietnam but also for the color of skin. More than anything, the film displays Ali’s desire to compete and does so through the words of those he inspired.
“…time for ‘The Greatest’ to face his largest opponents yet: The Klu Klux Klan, Boxing Commissions, and the United States Government.”
When tackling the subject of Muhammad Ali, it is nearly impossible to deliver a new angle on the subject. Think about how legendary Ali was and how larger-than-life is legacy is. Creating a narrative about someone so great is a daunting task. Director Art Jones does a great job delivering the tons of unheard details about the life of the late champion and the struggles for him to compete.
However, at times, these details are lost in a sea of information or anecdotes that are not relevant to the overall narrative of Ali getting back in the ring. A whole chapter is dedicated to an afterparty that Ali is not even present at, and it feels out of place. Ali’s Comeback comes in at about an hour and fifteen minutes; when you’ve got a documentary with that run-time, you’ve got to be quick and clean just like Ali.
Ali transcends boxing in so many ways. His words, legendary fights, actions outside of the ring, and his sheer confidence all helped make Ali the man who could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” As a lifelong Ali fan, I loved hearing about all the challenges he faced for the chance to get back in the ring. This film is a good watch for those already familiar with Ali’s story or boxing historians, but if you are not familiar with Ali, the film may need some pre-requisites. In 2020, Ali’s story is important more than ever. Despite its shortcomings, Ali’s Comeback gives viewers the full scale of the man’s impact and a ringside seat to some of the lesser-known moments of the “People’s Champ.”
"…a great job conveying how vital Ali was to the progression of the Civil Rights movement."