Tag Archives: 1970s

Ali post-Fight and Frazier mid-fight

Just two great photographs. I love Angelo Dundee checking out Ali on the monitor.

Ali post-fight

Joe Frazier

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Muhammad Ali v Oscar Bonavena, 1970 (Amazing LIFE Photos)

As was perhaps befitting of a man who had evolved from merely a cosmically gifted champion into a genuine global superstar, by the 1970s Muhammad Ali’s fights had become so much more than merely international sports events. As his fame grew and grew, so his fight-nights morphed into something extraordinary, almost surreal, somewhere between a catwalk show, a film premiere and a Harlem grindhouse. They became an irresistible whirlpool for celebrities, hustlers, pushers and pimps. Where the rich and not-so-famous came to strut, jive and swagger. To be seen and photographed. Where vanity and ego swelled cavernous arenas, the smell of greenbacks and chinchilla threatened to overwhelm. And where, frankly, what happened in the square ring was almost incidental.

The zenith of this ringside showboating was almost certainly Ali’s iconic 1971 championship fight against Smokin’ Joe Frazier, at Madison Square Garden, NYC (famously photographed, again for LIFE magazine, by a ticketless Frank Sinatra.) But here are some fantastic photographs of a slightly earlier contest, from 1970, against the cast-iron Argentine Oscar Bonavena, also at MSG.

They are a wonderful document of the time, the place…and the intoxicating attitude.

(For the record, Ali knocked out Bonavena in the 15th round. The only time the Argentine was stopped in his craeer.)

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Pumping Iron (1977)

Pumping Iron is a cult classic. A perfect piece of kitsch pop culture. Watching it again recently reminded me why.  It is brash, theatrical, surreal, horribly over-the-top, sometimes tender, (un)intentionally comic…in other words, an absolute treat.

Bodybuilding has always been an unusual sport. A bizarre marriage of unfettered testosterone and peculiar, obscured femininity. But it is also one that requires superhuman dedication, sacrifice and ambition. Pumping Iron captures this alternative world at is vainglorious, preening peak, as its “star”, the incomparable Arnold Schwarzenegger, lifts, boasts, bullies, taunts and struts his way to the 1975 Mr. Olympia title.

You either love or loathe Arnie, but on whichever side of the fence you fall (and there is much to dislike) he is a remarkable character. Watching him here is an enormous guilty pleasure as he crushes his friends and foes alike, exploiting physical and psychological weaknesses wherever he finds them, imposing his extraordinary, relentless will on everyone and everything.  He is cruel, charismatic, intelligent, and desperate for attention…for all the attention. He is an enormous, pompous, muscular slab of peacock. The king. And this is his court. It is absolutely captivating.

Others come into his orbit – Franco Columbo, the hugely likeable but slightly tragic Lou Ferrigno (and his overbearing Brooklynite father who pushes and parades his son like demented ringmaster), the quiet family-man Mike Katz, Ken Waller, Serge Nubret – but however close they may have been to Arnold (Columbo was a longstanding friend) if they are not useful, they are ultimately useless. The ego drives everything and nothing else matters except victory. His mental dismantling of Ferrigno is equal parts heart-breaking and thrilling.

Pumping Iron launched Arnold’s career, and watching him here you are aware that his star is in its ascendancy – as, you feel, is he as his swaggers his way to triumph. But without his arrogance and absurdity, Pumping Iron goes from being a fantastic study of human nature to a merely interesting exploration of a weird and wonderful underworld that few of us would ever glimpse.

It is one of those rare documentaries that by both luck and design captured perfectly a place and time. It is completely bonkers and utterly brilliant.

The full documentary is on YouTube. Here is part 1 of 12: