EXT. MIAMI STREET – MOVEMENT – NIGHT (1964)
in the dark. Coming toward us. Up and down in sync to an
INSTRUMENTAL LEAD-IN from somewhere. A slip of light. A
glimpse of somebody in shadow under a sweatshirt hood,
staring at us, in and out of the dark as…
INT. THE STAGE, HAMPTON HOUSE CLUB – EMPTY FRAME – NIGHT
A man walks into the shot, grabs a microphone, slips out of
his jacket and looks at us. He wants to tell us something.
He’s in a lavender light. This is SAM COOKE. What he calls
out…a throaty mixture of gospel, soul and sex…is “Let me
hear it!” And WOMEN SHRIEK. He says, “Yeah!” They answer,
shrieking, “Oh, yeah!”…
EXT. MIAMI STREET – HOODED MAN’S FACE – NIGHT
up and down, running along a dark road in the dead of night,
passing vacant lots with debris amid trees and faded
buildings. He is CASSIUS CLAY. He runs in construction
boots. His eyes stare from under the hood. He passes the
husk of an abandoned car, a pastel storefront. We’re in
Overtown, Miami’s inner-city black neighborhood.
INT. THE STAGE, HAMPTON HOUSE CLUB (MIAMI) – SAM COOKE
shouts, “Don’t fight it! We gonna feel it!” The women in
the audience answer: “Gotta feel it!”
EXT. MIAMI STREET – CASSIUS – NIGHT
now runs diagonally across NW 7th INTERCUT with Cooke
EXT. MACARTHUR CAUSEWAY – CASSIUS – NIGHT
SAM COOKE’S AUDIENCE (O.S.)
Cassius runs toward us. Off to the side in the black-
mirrored water of Biscayne Bay, leaden clouds in a black sky.
And now Sam Cooke SINGS “…because you make me wanna
mooove…!” and breaks into the first verse of “Feel It.”
But we see Cassius’ eyes are FOCUSED, CONCENTRATED,
ELSEWHERE. To where is this man running? Why is his
expression so distant? A WHITE LIGHT suddenly hits him from
behind. He looks over at…
WIDE FROM THE FRONT: CASSIUS + A METRO-DADE POLICE CAR
that’s slowed, clocking the suspicious, running black man.
The driver starts to pull over, to hassle Cassius. Then,
the cop riding shotgun gets a radio call. He taps the
driver’s shoulder. They take off, the driver laughing.
Cassius looks after the white cops. He is neither relieved
nor angry. He’s dismissive. And, instead, he sees
INT. A BOARD ROOM – GORDON DAVIDSON – DAY
and six other patrician, white business-people of Louisville
in their green baize and wood-paneled Luxo boardroom. They
speak soundlessly and patronizingly to Cassius Clay, Sr.,
seated at the foot of the table. It relates to the stack of
contracts in front of him. He is in a suit and tie, his
hair and moustache are dapper. His tie’s a little loud. He
has his hands folded deferentially in front of him.
LSG BOARD MEMBER
“…the successor trustee shall be
fully authorized to pay or disperse
such sums from the income or
principal as may be required.”
Do you understand so far, Mr. Clay?
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
Uh, yes, I do.
We get the impression that, if he doesn’t understand what
he’s being told, he’s faking it. He is conforming,
delivering socially mandated deference…
FRONTAL: CASSIUS, SR.
and BEYOND HIM, seated against the wall, is Cassius, Jr. in
sport jacket and tie. Right now he looks to his left and to
the right, and only then do we notice the entire wall he’s
against is covered with pictures of thoroughbreds and studs
this Louisville Sponsoring Group owns as well. He is one
among their sporting possessions. He doesn’t like it. He
looks at the back of his father listening.
LSG BOARD MEMBER
Are you sure, sir?
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
Yeah. I follow you.
LSG BOARD MEMBER
Okay. ‘Cause I’d be happy to
explain any of these terms.
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
No, thank you.
LSG BOARD MEMBER
Thank you, sir.
EXT. MACARTHUR CAUSEWAY – CLOSER: CASSIUS’ EYES – NIGHT
back here, now, crossing through black night and over black
water of the MacArthur Causeway. We start to HEAR pop pop
pop pop pop pop POP over Sam Cooke’s music, and Sam Cooke’s
image SUPERIMPOSES as he segues from “Feelin'” to “Bring It
On Home.” And the pop pop pop pop pop carries us into…
INT. THE FIFTH STREET GYM, (MIAMI) – SPEED BAG – DAWN
Cassius’ fists fly in a reeling motion, hitting the speed
bag. But it’s his eyes that arrest us…focused, concentrated.
OVER CASSIUS’ SHOULDER: BROWN SPEED BAG
is a blur. And it SLOWS and becomes a brown boxing glove
driving in a SLOWED straight line right at us like a piston.
OVER the glove, pushing the fist at us is SONNY LISTON. The
brown glove hits…
INT. RING – A BOXER (N.D. BOXER)
in a linear left jab. These punches are watched by Cassius’
eyes in the Fifth Street Gym…studiously studying Liston’s
feet…straight-line movement…the jab, linear and straight
at us. But it SLAMS into the Boxer, not Cassius. Down he
goes. He’s out. The referee pulls out his mouthpiece.
It’s a bloody mess. Teeth have been knocked out with it, so
devastating is Sonny Liston… A distant crowd ROARS.
INT. RING – CASSIUS – NIGHT
VERY CLOSE, climbs into the crush with other contenders.
Victorious, Liston, being escorted out, passes very close to
him on purpose to say…
Gonna fuck you up. Gonna beat you
like I’s your daddy…
To Cassius, boxing is dangerous athletics, but Liston’s
malevolence is straight from the street.
INT. FIFTH STREET GYM – CASSIUS’ EYES
INT. CHURCH – THE BACK OF HIS FATHER’S HEAD
working. He’s painting a mural. It’s the face of WHITE
JESUS with blue eyes and blonde hair. CASSIUS, SR.’S EYES
painting… EYES OF 12-YEAR-OLD CASSIUS, JR. watching white
Jesus go up on the Negro Baptist Church in Louisville become…
INT. FIFTH STREET GYM – CASSIUS’ EYES
INT. A CITY BUS – WATCHING – DAY
the back of his own head moving through a tunnel of white
faces, holding his mother’s hand, passing the balloon faces
of nice white passengers, teenagers in athletic sweaters
going to high school, some children, all seated. MOVING
through to the rear of the bus where, standing, are black
women, heavyset with heavy legs, and middle-aged black men
with large, rough hands, crowded on their way to the day’s
labor or domestic jobs in the back of the bus.
12-YEAR-OLD CASSIUS LOOKS
at a newspaper being refolded by one man in front of his face…
CASSIUS’ POV: LOUISVILLE COURIER: EMMETT TILL
Published nationwide, it shows his gouged-out eye, the
barbed wire noose around his neck, the mutilation to his
face because at 14 years old he winked at a white girl in
is frozen by the image. It will haunt him for most of his
life. The man holding the paper sees the boy’s fear and
pushes the paper out at him as a rough joke. Cassius reacts.
Then, the man rises and offers his seat to Odessa. Then
INT. FIFTH STREET GYM – CASSIUS
PAST him a short man in a white shirt, ANGELO DUNDEE, has
entered with a folded newspaper under his arm.
And Cassius — elsewhere — SLAMS the speed bag with a right
hook, and the bag becomes…
INT. THE MASJID AL ANSAR-MOSQUE – CASSIUS – DAY (MIAMI)
in black glasses, leaning against a wall.
MALCOLM X (O.S.)
…and those of you who think you
came here to hear us tell you, like
these Negro leaders do, that times
will get better and we shall
overcome someday, I tell you: you
came to the wrong place.
MALCOLM X is at the podium. Ceiling fans. We could be in
MALCOLM X (CONT’D)
‘Cause your times will never get
better until yo make them better.
And any of you who think you came
here to hear us tell you to turn
the other cheek to the brutality of
the white man and the established
system of injustice in this country,
to beg for your place at their
lunch counter, I say again! You
came to the wrong place.
And Cassius is there in a black shirt, standing in the back.
Malcolm X sees him, nods…the casualness attests their
familiarity is close and extensive…
MALCOLM X (CONT’D)
‘Cause we don’t teach you to turn
the other cheek. We don’t teach
you to turn the other cheek in the
South. We don’t teach you to turn
the other cheek in the North. The
Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches
you, instead, to obey the law. To
carry yourselves in a respectable
way. And a proud Afro-American way.
But at the same time…we teach
you…that anyone who puts his hand
on you? Do your BEST…to see he
doesn’t PUT HIS HAND on
INT. FIFTH STREET GYM – LUMINOUS HOOP – MORNING
Whopwhopwhopwhopwhop…as first rays of golden light
illuminate the jump rope spinning effortlessly over his head
in a blur. Dust dances in light through the two dirty
windows with boxing gloves and “Fifth Street Gym” painted on
them. It’s that time of day Jack Johnson called the
“fighter’s hour,” “…between the night and the light…”
…whopwhopwhopwhopwhop… And Angelo Dundee puts on a pot
of coffee. He washes his hands in a dirty sink, thoroughly
drying them. Alert and clean, he’s old school. He goes
back to the edge of the ring, reading his newspaper. Now,
crossing past the white windows is DREW “BUNDINI” BROWN. He
takes an orange out of his pocket, sitting on a bench,
silently peels it… As Cassius “walks” the rope, jumping
up and back.
(approving; past newspaper)
Yeah. Like that, Daddy. Don’t
jump in one place. Bad for the
heart. That’s the most important
Cassius drops the rope where he stands, and walks off as Sam
INT. THE HAMPTON HOUSE CLUB – SAM COOKE
segues into “Bring It On Home” and women in the front row
reach out for him. The heat between Cooke and them is
palpable. The first row is going crazy as…
INT. FIFTH STREET GYM – CASSIUS
sits into our frame, glistening with sweat, directed through
tortuous calisthenics by the hands of Luis Sarria.
INT. HAMPTON HOUSE CLUB – HIGH + WIDE FRONTAL: SAM COOKE’S
sweating. The place is rocking as…
INT. THE RING, FIFTH STREET GYM – CASSIUS’ EYES – DAY
alive, sparring. But Cassius never throws a punch… He
jerks back, sliding away, an inch away from being hit. He
circles in a movement that seems off-balance and then
becomes fluid and changes rate, faking out where you think
he’ll be. His sparring partner throws a jab that misses and
follows with a hook. Cassius slips it by an inch. Entering
the gym, now, is gregarious DR. FERDIE PACHECO with a young,
afro’d HOWARD BINGHAM, who starts photographing while LUIS
SARRIA looks at us. None of the gathered crowd, the
greatest “corner” in boxing, breaks his concentration. He’s
in his zone. We’re in the ring. Cassius, trance-like,
hands down, circles and slips in no predictable way as…
INT. A LIMOUSINE – NOW CASSIUS IS – DAY
zenned out in SLO-MO on the way somewhere in a suit and tie.
People on the Miami streets drift by. The slow-moving limo
floats on its soft suspension through the pastel heat of
Miami. While Sam Cooke…
INT. HAMPTON HOUSE CLUB – SAM COOKE
drives to the big climax of “Bring It On Home To Me…!”
counter to the limo’s EXTREME CALM as Sam Cooke’s medley
INT. A HALLWAY, THE MIAMI CONVENTION CENTER – CASSIUS – DAY
in a terry-cloth robe, walks faster and faster as Dundee and
Bundini, Bingham and his cameras, Pacheco and RUDY race to
keep up. And as Cassius slams through a door into a large
INT. THE WEIGH-IN ROOM, MIAMI CONVENTION CENTER – CASSIUS – DAY
Float like a butterfly! Sting like
a bee! Rumble, young man, rumble.
Sonny Liston: you ain’t no champ!
You a chump!
You want to lose your money, bet on
Sonny. He know I’m great. He will
go in eight!
500 press, promoters and boxing people turn and stare!
What you lookin’ at, you ugly bear?!
LISTON a tree trunk in boxing shorts, can’t wait to pull
apart this kid.
C’mon, bum. I whup you right here!
Cassius pushes past people and leaps at Sonny! He wants to
rumble right now. Bundini, Rudy, Dundee, Liston’s handlers
struggle to keep them apart, wrestle Cassius onto the scale.
…210… Cassius Clay weighs 210
You sure you got that right…?
The man nods. Cassius gets off, is pulled aside. And
Liston gets on: unremitting stare of death at Cassius…
218. Sonny Liston…the heavyweight
champion of the world weighs 218
Pounds of what?!
And Cassius goes off again…
Pounds of ugly! He so ugly, sweat
run backwards off his forehead to
get away from his face! C’mon,
bear! I turn you into a rug!!
Rumble right now, man!
He’s restrained by Angelo and Bundini.
Keep talkin’, punk-ass faggot!
I’ll fuck you up like I’s your daddy…
Handlers break it up and hustle Liston out of there.
You whup me, I’ll crawl out of the
ring on my knees and catch the next
jet plane out of the country.
That a promise?
(to Jimmy Cannon)
…you be the first eatin’ his words!
A Doctor claps a cuff around Cassius’ arm, taking blood
(alarmed, to Pacheco)
210 over 110?! I can’t let him in
the ring in this condition!
Liston says he’ll talk with his
fists. “Lip from Louisville.”
…odds 7:1 against you. Big bet’s
whether he’ll knock you out in the
first round or third round or kill
you altogether. You scared of him?
I’m scared of no man. I give Sonny
Liston talking lessons, boxing
lessons and falling down lessons.
Yeah, sure. Are you a Black Muslim?
Pat Putnam in the Miami Herald said…
“Black Muslim”‘s a press word…
Dundee’s defensive, fast…
Man’s religion’s his own business.
What kinda question’s that?
Does he hate white people? Malcolm
X was in town. Then he left. Was
that so he wouldn’t embarrass you?
Liston cannot stand you…
…cannot stand you, Cassius. He
really wants to kill you…
HOWARD COSELL is balding, tall, forties, lugging a tape
Howard Cosell, you are an instigator!
How you get that way? When I’m
done with Liston, I’m comin’ for you!
Dundee uses that to end the conference before it strays into
“Black Muslim” territory. Meanwhile on the way out…
It doesn’t come down, I cancel this
fight. You call me in an hour with
his blood pressure.
EXT./INT. MIAMI RENTAL HOUSE – DR. PACHECO – DAY
past guards, Bundini, press, starts to enter. Inside,
Clay’s on the sofa, in his underwear, watching “The Man With
the X-Ray Eyes,” who has the power to imbue and control from
beams emitted from his eyes. Dundee and Bingham hang out.
Cassius’ mind is elsewhere. His eyes float to the corner of
the doorway before we see Pacheco, even though from the
outside, has started to enter…
EXT. CASSIUS’ RENTAL HOUSE, BACKYARD – CORNER OF HOUSE – DAY
Nothing. Cassius is asleep in a lounge chair…incongruously
a TV is run from the house by an extension cord. Cassius
wakes. His eyes say, “Who are you?”
I’m called Bundini, rhymes with
Houdini. He was a Jew, too…some
other people call me Fastblack…or
Drew “Bundini” Brown, early forties, holds a hat in his hand,
his eyes always seem to be glistening, ready to rage, laugh
or cry, tentatively approaches. Cassius’ flat eyes return
to the television.
(motions at lounge
Shorty sent me to Sugar Ray
Robinson. I gave my power to Sugar
Ray for seven years, gave him my
voodoo, my magic. Now Shorty sent
me to you.
I call him Shorty ‘cause he like
‘em circumcised. Original people.
Like Moses. And I was a babe in a
basket, too. I was born on a
doorstep with a note ‘cross my
chest that read, “Do the best you
can for him, world.” I had to suck
the first nipple come along. I
didn’t run away from home…I been
runnin’ to home.
Cassius should kick him out, but Bundini’s got his foot in
the door of Cassius’ attention.
(beat, and his raison d’être)
Now, I gotta ask you. You fixin’
them fights? Else no way you could
tell great Archie Moore what round
you droppin’ him in…all of them
predictions you make, comin’ true.
Never heard of nobody predictin’
the round like you. You either a
phony or Shorty’s in your corner.
Tell me the truth, young man…
Cassius, stretched out, mumbles without looking at him…
…I study every fight. ‘Til I got
a plan. Wear him down two through
four. Drop him in the fifth round.
So the p’diction ain’t a p’diction.
It’s a plan. And ‘cause of all the
poppin’ off I do, I know I gotta
win! That’s the truth. And why
I’m tellin’ you?
‘Cause I’m gonna be your Inspiration.
Your motivator. In your corner.
Can I be in your corner, young man?
Ain’t spent much time in Miami.
Where the water?
Cassius has drifted off, back to watching TV. What he sees
as his eyes close is:
INT. MIAMI RENTAL HOUSE – PACHECO
The blur of Pacheco taking his blood pressure. Now Cassius
looks and his shaman, Bundini, enters.
120 over 80?
(re: his blood
You should be asleep…
The weigh-in episode was an act. We take a different
measure of this man. Pacheco sits next to Cassius and eats
some of his potato chips.
INT. MIAMI CONVENTION CENTER, A DRESSING ROOM – HANDS –
being wrapped. Cassius’ shirt is off, sitting on a bench in
the dressing room…the ritualistic tradition, having his
hands taped. Dundee expertly does it. In the background,
Bundini, Pacheco, Bingham, Rudy and Two Men in dark suits,
someone from Liston’s camp, and a State Boxing Inspector
watch. Then, the door opens for Malcolm X, in a dark suit,
thin tie. Cassius lights up. Dundee is done. The Boxing
Inspector signs the tape. Then, Dundee puts on gloves and
laces them while…
When you get back?
Just now. I’m front row, seat 7.
I’m gonna find Mom and Dad.
You could have stayed. Nobody
gotta hide when they with me.
Nothing wrong with being cool, my
brother. You been working toward
this moment for four years.
Dundee turns away to tear two strips of tape while Cassius
and Malcolm face into a corner. Sarria throws a towel over
Cassius’ shoulders. Arms bent, head down, a true believer,
he silently stands in prayer, bowing to the east with
Malcolm. During this, Dundee starts collecting his cut gear
It’s a crusade in modern times.
And television is beaming if off
Telstar to the whole world. So
Allah has brought this about for a
(time to leave)
Salaam alaikum, my brother…
And as he goes, leaving us, not Cassius, incomplete, Cassius
returns to Dundee, who ties gloves and puts tape over the
knot. The Inspector signs that, too.
INT. A CORRIDOR, CASSIUS – NIGHT
A door slams open. Cassius comes along the hallway, his
entourage surrounding him. Three large middle-aged white
officials accompany him, too. His face is set in stone.
White towels are draped over his head onto his shoulders.
Bundini chirps in his ear. Dundee, like a plumber, carrying
the tools of his trade…a bucket, his swabs and Vaseline.
And they seem distant to Cassius. They reach the end of the
corridor, and against the wall stand three or four older bad
cigar guys. A curtain…the sounds from the arena drift
into the hallway. Cassius is on his toes now, dancing,
dancing. And as if being drawn by a force we can’t see, he
just goes…his entourage, as if holding on, carried along
INT. THE MIAMI CONVENTION CENTER – NIGHT
He comes into the hall…there are shouts, some scattered
applause, some booing, growing; and the sound moves through
the arena…the sounds of expectations, ridicule, potential
violence. But past the faces and the press, what’s arrested
Cassius’ attention and makes him oblivious in his solitude
to all else is the bright 20-by-20-foot place he wants to be
most in all the world: the ring.
INT. THE RING – CASSIUS – NIGHT
is struck by the brilliance. Illuminated, ready to go…
dancing…warming up. Counter to an expectation of anxiety,
Cassius can’t wait to get this on. Other sounds
happen…irrelevant to him…and now the distant sound of
Liston coming into the ring…his bulked-up presence, the
roar he inspires, somewhere over there. And all of a sudden,
Cassius turns to face the angry man who wishes him death.
Cassius rocks left and right, like a tough kid on a corner
ready to rumble. The hysteria act is gone; so is the
boasting. Instead, there is only Cassius’ stare. The
effect is enigmatic: what is going on here? A Referee,
like a distant bird, says something we don’t hear…
In the corner, his feet float, waiting. There’s the BELL
for ROUND ONE.
INT. RING – ROUND ONE – WIDE
right away throws a left that misses and attacks Cassius,
throwing seven more that Cassius with extreme, awkward
He is fearful of the monster whose punches he has yet to
feel. Nevertheless, he does his job: measure Liston’s
range and speed. Then, a body shot catches him above the
heart. Cassius feels the real power of Liston. It could
stop your heart’s beating. He survives. Then…
throws his long left jab. It keeps Liston at a set distance.
He has Liston’s range, now, and he dances away from Liston’s
charges. Then, halfway through the round, Cassius’ eyes
have hunted out an opportunity, and he throws his first
combination with a few hard shots that, to Liston’s surprise,
rock Liston’s head back. And, then, Cassius easily evades…
furious big misses to the left and right.
keeps tagging Liston with his long left. And, now,
infuriates Liston even more by merely walking away from
Liston’s big misses, provoking even wilder and more
inaccurate Liston assaults. (We’re aware that any Liston
shot could knock out Cassius if it connected.) Then Cassius
soaks up a couple of body shots, most flicks his jab, slides,
dances, clinches, circles away…UNTIL…
AT THE END OF THE ROUND
Cassius launches a second combination, slams a couple of big
lefts Liston’s way that rock his head back two times.
Liston’s so furious, he flips, charging Cassius, who hits
and ducks at the same time. The BELL RINGS THREE TIMES
before they stop.
CLAY’S CORNER – CASSIUS
breathes hard. Dundee works. Cassius says something we
He was supposed to kill me. Well,
I’m still alive.
Angelo is talking to Clay a mile a minute, while Clay MUGS
an open mouth…to the press, ridiculing their accusation he
was all talk. It’s clear he controlled Round One to
THE BELL. INT. RING, ROUND TWO – CASSIUS + LISTON
We see press with typewriters, ribbon, microphones, note
pads; massive TV cameras hang on platforms over two of the
corners. It’s a desultory, lower-key version of Round One.
BIRD’S NEST TV CAMERA + MEDIA
Coverage segues to Liston, who throws and misses a few lefts.
Cassius tags him with a few rights.
THE BELL. CASSIUS
literally ambles into the corner.
SONNY’S CORNER: HIS TWO TRAINERS
Liston’s getting a lot of strident advice. THE BELL.
INT. RING, ROUND THREE
comes in like a freight train. Cassius merely leans away to
avoid Liston, circles and now snaps off a flurry and OPENS A
CUT UNDER SONNY’S LEFT EYE. Then, he splits out of there.
(at ringside, on radio)
He’s opened a cut on Liston.
Liston’s never been cut!
And Cassius, seizing opportunity, hits Liston with more
combinations. If Cassius won Round One, probably but not
certainly won Round Two, he now demonstrates he OWNS Round
Three. It’s a symphony of classical Cassius Clay footwork,
flicked jabs that confuse, and, then, hard-hitting
combinations that rock the presumably immovable Liston. No
one told Sonny that Cassius could hit. And, at 210 pounds,
he hits HARD. Liston, angered, panicked, knows he’s losing
and goes after Cassius and misses wildly as the BELL ends
INT. CLAY’S CORNER – CLAY
stands a moment before he sits.
EXTREMELY CLOSE: CASSIUS CLAY
breathing heavily, ignoring the stool and Dundee and Bundini,
looks around. THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE 22, TO BE
CASSIUS CLAY, TO BE ON TOP OF YOUR GAME AND TO BE ABOUT TO
OWN THE WORLD. He looks over the crowd. Only then, turns
He’s nothin’ to me…
The genius of Cassius…
And he knows it…
INT. LISTON’S CORNER – CORNERMAN
slips a vial of some medicant from his pocket and rubs it
into Liston’s shoulder.
INT. RING – ROUND FOUR
The BELL RINGS. Clay peppers Liston with jabs. Liston
pokes his left at Cassius, trying to reach him. They feint,
circle. Liston gets his left into Cassius’ face. It’s more
a poke than a shot.
blinks back something…we’re not sure what. It seems to go
away. Then it’s back. The fight continues…
dominating. They clinch. They break. This time Cassius
violently blinks his eyes! Something’s wrong!
A knife-like pain. He can’t see. He’s getting beaten up.
He’s in trouble. The BELL.
INT. RING, CASSIUS’ CORNER – CASSIUS
My eyes! I can’t see…somethin’
in my eyes!
Dundee feverishly washes water to get the irritant out of
A buzzer sounds, warning the bell’s coming for Round Five.
Now Cassius stands, saying…
Cut ‘em off! Cut ‘em! I’m blind.
The BELL. Dundee’s still in the ring.
No. You quit, it’s over! Get out
there. Be a yardstick. This is
the big one, daddy. Get out there
He literally pushes Cassius into the ring.
INT. RING – ROUND FIVE – LISTON
rushes Clay. He knows this is his chance. Cassius tries to
tie Liston up by holding onto the back of his neck, but
Liston pounds left and right hooks. If anybody wondered if
Clay could take punishment, this answers that. WHAM-WHAM-
WHAM-WHAM-WHAM…five huge hooks.
Liston is desperate to end it while Cassius is in trouble.
Haymaker after haymaker; some connect, others are blocked
but knock Clay sideways. Clay, still blind, keeps backing
CLOSER: CASSIUS’ EYES
With a minute left, now, he sees better. Liston throws him
into a corner, still trying to put him away. But, he can’t,
and Liston’s energy seems to deflate once he knows that.
INT. RING, CASSIUS’ CORNER – CASSIUS’
eyes are clear. In 60 seconds he recovers his energy. He’s
INT. RING – ROUND SIX – CASSIUS
can’t wait to get out. He shuffles. He circles. He fires
combinations. In the early rounds, provoked by Cassius,
Liston’s anger caused him to abandon his fight plan. Now,
having been proven futile, Liston’s confidence is gone.
He’s left with nothing. Psychologically and athletically,
Liston is defeated. The BELL. Liston’s eyes contemplate
the inevitable: face nine more rounds of this.
INT. RING, CASSIUS’ CORNER – BETWEEN ROUNDS – AS CASSIUS
waits for the seventh-round bell.
(doing color radio
commentary with Les
…Clay, a round ago, looked like
he’d about had it, but in round six…
Then Cassius, knowing before anybody else, suddenly rises as
if on wings. Both arms are in the air…followed by a roar
from the crowd…
HOWARD COSELL (CONT’D)
Sonny Liston is not coming out!
Wait a minute! Wait a minute!
Sonny Liston is not coming out!
And we can see Liston still sitting on his stool in his
corner, spitting out his mouthpiece.
HOWARD COSELL (CONT’D)
The winner…and the new heavyweight
champion of the world is Cassius Clay!
Cassius jumps onto the ropes in the corner, rails the crowd:
I upset the world! I am the
greatest! I am the greatest!
All hell breaks loose…
Eat your words! Eat your words!
Howard Cosell, the first to climb into the ring, is on him…
What made him so easy for you?
I told you. Didn’t I tell you?
Bundini gives him a comb. Cassius combing his hair.
Was there any single point you knew
you had him?
And he sees Malcolm leaving his seat…they look at each
other. Malcolm’s huge smile.
I had him in the first round.
‘Cause I’m the greatest!
(and seeing at ringside,
calling him up)
Sam… Hey, Sam! Let him up.
And Sam Cooke climbs into the ring.
I am the greatest! And he the
greatest rock ‘n’ roll singer. Sam
Cooke! I want everybody to bear
I shook up the world! Don’t have a
mark on me! I was burning. I was
blind. I’m the prettiest thing
that ever lived. I shook up the
world! I shook up the world!
As Sam Cooke embraces Cassius…
INT. ELIJAH MUHAMMAD’S HOUSE, LIVING ROOM – WIDE – NIGHT
A small older man with fine features, ELIJAH MUHAMMAD, THE
MESSENGER, sits on plastic-covered furniture in his
expensive living room. With him is an expressionless man
who, literally, never smiles, in a tailored dark suit. He’s
JOSEPH 13X. As Elijah Muhammad, the head of the Nation of
Islam, contemplates Cassius’ victory — like everyone else
in America, he’s surprised.
INT. THE MIAMI BEACH CONVENTION CENTER – PAY PHONE – NIGHT
GORDON DAVIDSON is from the Louisville Sponsoring Group,
standing in the chaos with another partner and Odessa and
…I don’t care what should have
been ordered! We need a victory
party right now.
I got national press, the family,
the champ, all kinds of folks…
250 to 300. Yes.
INT. THE SIR JOHN NIGHTCLUB – SAM COOKE – NIGHT
singing “Feel It.” It’s packed with elated people. Outside,
celebrations spill out onto the streets…cars honking…
EXT./INT. HAMPTON HOUSE VILLAS – CLOSE ON COOKE AS HE
CROSSES – NIGHT
through the club, with lots of partygoers, picks up
Chesterfields from the cigarette girl and goes out by pool,
around which we see women at tables in cocktail dresses and
good-looking men. Most of the rooms’ doors are wide open,
couples drinking, celebrating…radios playing out into the
INT. THE BALLROOM, THE RONEY PLAZA HOTEL – GORDON DAVIDSON –
and others of the Louisville Sponsoring Group in a crowd of
predominantly white people, drinking free drinks at the
hastily arranged victory party, wait. Sportswriters…Jimmy
Cannon, Red Smith. Cassius, Sr. is there. They all wait.
No sign of Cassius. “Where’s your boy?” A young New York
Times sportswriter, ROBERT LIPSYTE, is there as well. He
looks like he doesn’t belong…his clothes are only
perfunctorily conventional, and he’s a generation younger.
INT. HAMPTON HOUSE HOTEL ROOM – SAM COOKE – NIGHT
enters and closes the door and greets Malcolm X, in a white
shirt, no tie, and Cassius, eating ice cream in a pool of
light from the TV. Malcolm’s wife, Betty Shabazz, comes out
of the kitchenette. A little girl runs from the bathroom
back to Cassius. The girl plops into his lap with much
familiarity, so we understand Cassius is family and has been
for a while. He’s not at the Fontainebleau or the Roney
Plaza. It says Cassius’ sense of himself is more about
what’s next than what he did tonight.
Why’s he so scared?
Man, look at that guy run!
Cassius feeds the girl some ice cream.
The Mummy! “I can’t get away from
the mummy!” Yeah, but that mummy
too slow to catch anybody.
Hey! The mummy always gets his man…
No, he don’t!
Now, don’t believe that stuff on
Laughter from the outside. Cassius looks. He’s not drawn
to all the partying. Malcolm takes a picture with his
Contax. Through the door enters Jim Brown. Jim embraces
Malcolm and Betty, Sam Cooke, and congratulates the new
champ and helps himself to food.
INT. THE HAMPTON HOUSE HOTEL ROOM, 1964 – NIGHT, LATER
The room’s near dark. Soft sounds from outside. A laugh.
A snatch of music. Malcolm’s children are asleep on a cot.
And we see Cassius has fallen asleep on the sofa. A
bedsheet is over him. Malcolm and Betty, sitting at the
table in the kitchenette, quietly talking…an intimate
laugh…partners. And as Cassius, the new heavyweight
champion of the world, spends the first night of his reign
asleep at “home” with this family…
EXT. 125TH STREET + 7TH AVENUE – CASSIUS, MALCOLM + A CRUSH
OF PEOPLE (NEW YORK, 1964) – DAY
Suddenly we’re in Harlem. The streets are jammed. Making
them crazy, causing a riot, coming down the sidewalk,
looking like a rock-and-roll star in a black leather jacket,
is CASSIUS CLAY and in an overcoat and hat, MALCOLM X. They
OWN this day on 125th Street.
EXT. MICHAUX BOOK SHOP – PEOPLE – DAY
engulf them. People are their army. The sea of people
press close to their heroes…reaching out to touch the
champ, share a joke, laugh. A girl runs up to hug Cassius
and runs off. We catch a glimpse on the periphery of Joseph
13X. Seven or eight reporters, black and white, and still
photographers and Bingham, half with Cassius, half
photographer in privileged position.
The people look to you. Do you
plan on being a people’s champ,
like Joe Louis?
Yeah. I going to be a people’s
But not like Joe Louis, exactly…
And Cassius drops it on them…
And I’m not Clay. Clay’s the name
of the people who owned by
ancestors. I don’t want to be
called after that slave name no
more. So I’m “X.” Cassius X. And
I’m a member of the Nation of Islam.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad is my
spiritual guide. Malcolm X is my
This is hard news!
(all at once)
You a card-carrying member? Aren’t
Black Muslims a hate group?
“Card-carrying”…? Don’t need no
“card.” You got a Christian card?
750 million people believe in Islam.
I’m one of them.
ANOTHER REPORTER (O.S.)
Minister Malcolm…what about the
reports of a split between you and
JOSEPH 13X: we read his face listening to Malcolm.
This is the champ’s time. And I’m
here as a friend to celebrate his
victory. So I got nothing you want…
I’m going to be a people’s champion.
But I don’t have to be the way you
want me to be. I’m gonna be what I
want. And I’m free to think any
way I want…
And, as he goes on, the crowd knows neither Cassius nor
Malcolm will ever turn their backs on them.
EXT. THE HOTEL THERESA – MALCOLM – NIGHT
enters into the street with his Bodyguard and looks up to a
top-floor window in which he sees a light is still on at 4 a.m.
INT. THE HOTEL THERESA, CASSIUS’ ROOM – CASSIUS – BEFORE DAWN
asleep with the television on. There’s a knock on the door.
Barely awake, he gets up to answer it. It’s Malcolm. Still
in his familiar hat and overcoat. He hasn’t slept…
I was leaving, saw the light
on…how come you’re up?
…watchin’ a show on
termites…they knockin’ down this
He goes back to lay on the bed. Malcolm looks out the
window…the wet streets at night.
I been invited to speak at Ibadan
University in Nigeria. C’mon with me?
Six million in your house and you
don’t know it. Where?
Africa. You been there?
Africa? No. Only Rome. Yeah, man,
Nkrumah stayed with me when he was
a student in New York, so we’ll
stop in Ghana…
When we leaving?
Malcolm’s distracted. He fingers his glasses.
What is it?
You ever been so angry…have you
ever been so angry that you’d explode?
(after a beat)
Tore out a picture of Emmett Till
when I was little. Couldn’t take
my eyes to it…couldn’t look at it.
Barb-wire around his neck to a 75-
pound cotton-gin fan. Took out his
eye. The cruelty to it…I
couldn’t look at it…couldn’t
throw it away.
I thought, “What I do wrong to be
so low that people could do that to
people like me?” It made me feel
ashamed. And that makes no sense.
But that’s what it was.
…when I heard about the four
girls bombed in the 16th Street
Church in Birmingham?
The prohibitions of the Honorable
Elijah Muhammad prevented me from
speaking my voice in action.
Because Birmingham was part of the
civil rights movement, begging for
a place at the white man’s table…
But dead children…are dead
children. So the anger I felt, I
had to contain. I locked that down!
So tight my muscles seized. I lost
control over the right side of my
body. Leg didn’t work…right arm
didn’t work. “I’m having a stroke,”
I thought. I had to hold it in
‘cause I wanted, all I wanted was
to BREAK SOMETHING! Break a
part…any part of this system.
Because you are so provoked as a
human being. In your spirit. In
your heart… At the death of
children. But I COULD DO…nothing.
Cassius is quiet.
MALCOLM X (CONT’D)
(putting his glasses
Everyone knows… Now I’m
advocating more direct political
action involvement with the
international struggle… So
Elijah Muhammad has suspended me as
a Minister in the Nation of Islam
for 90 days.
You can fix that…
I don’t know. I will try when we
get back. Until then I will live
each day as if I am already dead.
That statement surprises Cassius, but he says nothing.
Malcolm X stands by the window and watches the day begin in
INT. ELIJAH MUHAMMAD’S HOUSE, CHICAGO, 1964 – JOSEPH 13X – DAY
approaches Cassius in a suit and tie and beckons him into a
living room in which sits Elijah Muhammad on a plastic-
covered white sofa. Cassius is at his most deferential,
awed at being in this man’s presence. Elijah’s power is the
inverse of his size. He’s short and delicate-featured. He
motions for Cassius to sit beside him. Joseph 13X sits
across the room with two men.
Only after long service and high
merit in the spiritual and physical
rebirth of Afro-American people…is
one granted an original name. But
you are special. A world champion.
So there is a gift I wish to give
you. From this day forward you
will be known as Muhammad
Ali…which means “one worthy of
praise,” and Ali means “most high.”
(a beat, sounding it)
“Worthy of praise…” Thank you!
And he’s genuinely moved. As Elijah Muhammad puts his small
hands in Muhammad Ali’s hands…giving him his blessings…
Be very careful what you say…your
words reflect on the nation of
(after a beat)
Up until now, I have entrusted your
spiritual development to Brother
I do not feel this is a wise course
Extremely emotional about Malcolm, tears come to Elijah
Muhammad’s eyes. Joseph 13X observes in the background.
Cassius is taken by surprise at “The Messenger”‘s display…
ELIJAH MUHAMMAD (CONT’D)
Malcolm has gone off into the
secular world and does not measure
his words. I have decided to give
you, as your guide, my very own son,
And he looks across the room…a roly-poly man wearing a bow
tie…HERBERT MUHAMMAD. He has a habit of nervously
straightening his shirt. A seemingly mild, pleasant man, he
is without self-definition. Below this avuncular surface,
he defines himself by quietly desiring and acquiring what is
ELIJAH MUHAMMAD (CONT’D)
Herbert will supervise all of your
spiritual and material needs.
(not a thought)
This is a great honor, Messenger…
Elijah gives a subtle look and Herbert retreats to where he
came from, sitting back on the couch by Joseph 13X…
EXT. THE CLAY HOUSE, LOUISVILLE, 1964 – EVENING
We’ve entered mid-scene.
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
Why you want to change?
A NEIGHBOR (V.O.)
Could we get a picture with you?
(to Cassius, Sr.)
You mind, Mr. Clay?
A neighboring family coming to stand beside Ali. Cassius,
Sr. steps aside.
CASSIUS CLAY, SR., a sport, a flamboyant man, is impatient.
Inside, Odessa Clay and brother, Rudy, are talking.
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
What’s wrong with the lawyers and
managers you got?
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
CASSIUS CLAY, SR. (CONT’D)
You got…I got you the best white
men I could find. Right here in
When the contract run out. I want
black lawyers and managers.
Chauncey Eskridge on North La Salle
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
They saved you from the gangsters,
from the jackals and the hyenas of
boxing. Never cheated you.
Protected you with a trust fund…
I don’t need no “protectin'” from
myself. Why I need protecting from
myself by them…?
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
And now I got to go tell them,
“Piss off. Cassius don’t want you
around no more.”
I ain’t one of their thoroughbreds!
Or their charity things. “Let’s do
somethin’ for that well-behaved
colored boy, Cassius.” I ain’t
well-behaved nothing! I am a man.
The light starts to go…porch lights starting to come on…
And I am not Cassius. I changed my
name. I am Muhammad Ali, now.
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
What? What’s wrong with…our name,
my name…? We’re…we made you.
No one “made me”…
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
No bow-tie-wearin’, Arab-talkin’
nigger gonna change that…
I made me.
No one’s in that ring but me!
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
You don’t know who you are…
I know who I’m not…I’m not
drinkin’! Goin’ back on my wife!
I am not prayin’ to no blue-eyed,
blonde-haired Jesus. I ain’t…
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
Paintin’ blue-eyed, blonde-haired
Jesuses and signs on cars is what
put steak and vegetables in you,
clothes on you…
And we realize it has gotten too dark to see…
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
CASSIUS CLAY, SR. (CONT’D)
Cassius, Sr. walks off…his back arched too straight,
trying to hold his pride together.
You didn’t get it from me…your
words, your sense of humor, what
makes you angry, what makes you a
fighter. You got that from your
You saying I’m just like him?
I’m saying, if he was your age
today, he’d do the same as you.
And he knows that.
And Odessa goes back inside.
INT. MALCOLM’S HOUSE, KITCHEN (QUEENS, NEW YORK), 1964 – NIGHT
We see Malcolm at work at the kitchen table. It’s cluttered
and small. The telephone rings…
ONE OF HIS CHILDREN (OVER)
Daddy… For you…
Malcolm gets it.
JOSEPH 13X (V.O.)
What is it, Joseph?
JOSEPH 13X (V.O.)
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad has
given the Muslim name, Muhammad Ali,
to Cassius X. Herbert Muhammad’s
been placed in charge of his
training, instead of you.
Muhammad Ali will not be traveling
with you to Africa.
Malcolm’s still. He’s been co-opted.
JOSEPH 13X (V.O.) (CONT’D)
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad has
asked me to inform you your
suspension has been extended
Joseph 13X hangs up. Malcolm quietly closes the door.
Malcolm dials a number. No answer.
Betty has come in. They exchange a look.
(concerned for her husband)
(after a beat, disconsolate)
Cassius won’t be coming to
Africa…not with me.
She puts her hand on Malcolm’s shoulder.
Go anyway. Don’t put it off. It’s
not safe here.
ONE OF HIS CHILDREN (OVER)
Mommy…the bath’s ready…
INT. GHANA AIR DC-8 COCKPIT – ALI – NIGHT
in first class on a “Ghana Airlines” flight to Africa.
Close by is Herbert Muhammad. Howard Bingham and Ali’s
brother, Rudy, are across the aisle from him, asleep… The
plane bumps in choppy air.
Muhammad, unable to sleep, a nervous flyer, gets up. He
wanders up the aisle to the front of the plane. A Stewardess
comes out of the cockpit. Muhammad slows, startled by the
pilots. Both pilot and copilot are black.
Hey, man, where they put the real
pilot? What you doin’ up here?
I am…the pilot. He’s the
(moves map case)
Here, Mr. Clay, sit down…
No, man, I meant…in L’ville, when
I growed up, they barely let black
folks drive buses.
Ali looks out the window…a new day downs over the land.
Then Bingham shows up over Ali’s shoulder. They all pose,
facing the rear of the cockpit. Then, the Pilot points to
the coast below them and the sunrise…
Here we are. Cote d’Ivoire…Africa.
EXT. BUILDING IN CAIRO – CABLE – DAY (EGYPT)
snakes out a building. CAM FOLLOWS IT and we HEAR…
BETTY SHABAZZ (V.O.)
We should think of a name, Malcolm…
INT. CAIRO BUILDING – WIDE: HALLWAY – DAY
MARLIN THOMAS — paunchy, grey, late 40’s — walks up the
stairs carrying take-out food.
MALCOLM X (V.O.)
How about Gamilah or Khalilah?
INT. CAIRO EMPTY APARTMENT – MARLIN THOMAS – DAY
crosses to ANOTHER AMERICAN wearing headphones in the
glassed-in balcony where the CABLE connects to a portable
…on the phone with his wife.
She’s having a hard time
sleeping…baby’s kicking a lot…
Motor Pool, here, have a Chevy
As the CIA monitors Malcolm X…
EXT. INDEPENDENCE SQUARE, ACCRA – ALI – DAY (GHANA)
in a Mercedes convertible. It’s a monumental expression of
the force for the independence of black Africa. Accra is a
wonder to Ali. A Third World showplace, in 1964 Ghana is
alive with the optimism of emerging Africa. Infrastructure
and real estate are well-managed. Under Nkrumah, the city
is in a frenzy of building public housing…
in the three-car caravan, passes the huge triumphal arch
with its giant black star on the top. Thousands line the
route to see the heavyweight champion and cheer him. For
Ali it’s another kind of parade…
ALI’S POV: GHANAIANS
They’re stockbrokers and street cleaners, salesmen and
secretaries, hotel managers and military officers… All is
a contrast to the de facto apartheid of the middle America
of Ali’s experience. They all cheer his caravan as it passes.
EXT. THE AMBASSADOR HOTEL, ACCRA – MERCEDES – LATE AFTERNOON
arrives with Ali and entourage. It’s a modern hotel.
Meanwhile, a different group are about to depart in limos.
One among them, a tall Man in a dashiki and sunglasses and
carrying a walking stick, separates. He sees Ali. So does
the woman next to him. She is the poet Maya Angelou.
Taking off his shades, we realize it’s Malcolm X. He wears
a goatee, now. Ali turns, sees him. Total surprise.
They embrace. Ali greets him like the old friend he is.
Maya and the Chinese diplomat wait a few steps removed.
How you doin’? What’s up, brother?
I knew you were here…didn’t think
you were still here…
And I heard you were coming.
We just got here now…
(words rush out)
And, maaan, the brothers were flyin’
a DC 8. Flippin’ switches,
navigatin’, filing flight plans,
And they remember how much they like each other.
Where you goin’?
When…uh, Liberia. When you
This is Maya Angelou and Ambassador
Huang Ha. Amando Gonzalez is from
Cuba. Taher Kaid is the Ambassador
Ali waves. They keep their distance.
Man, where should I go? We’re
planning on Egypt.
Algeria. See Ben Bella…
Go to Mecca, Medina. I just came
back. Made my seven circuits
around the Kaaba, prayed at
sunrise… There were two million
people…pilgrims from all over.
Dressed all the same, high and low,
the same. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed
(off Ali’s look of
Blacks. Yeah. All of them,
Muslims praying together.
INT. AMBASSADOR HOTEL ROOM – MARLIN THOMAS – DAY
who was surveilling Malcolm X in Cairo is here, too. Right
now he picks up the phone. REVEAL at the window an African
Man and another American with binoculars.
It’s Marlin. You’ll never guess
who Malcolm ran into…
INT. LEOPOLDVILLE SCHOOL – CLASSROOM – BRADLEY – DAY (CONGO)
(in French; into phone)
Hold on a second…
BRADLEY, an American in his late 30’s, who’s balding and
whose mouth is too wide, sits at the teacher’s desk in an
empty classroom. A heavyset American and two Black African
Thugs with M-1 carbines are with him.
MOBUTU’S MILITARY AIDE
Le Ministère de Défense vous remercie.
MOBUTU’S MILITARY AIDE (CONT’D)
The Defense Minister thanks you.
Uniformed MOBUTU’S MILITARY AIDE smiles and warmly shakes
Bradley’s hand. Bradley says “he’s welcome” and signals to
the Heavyset American. The American leads Mobutu’s Military
Aide somewhere. Meanwhile…
Il n’y a pas de quoi. Cela m’a
fait grand plaisir. Faites-lui mes
It’s nothing. Give him my compliments.
INT. LEOPOLDVILLE SCHOOL CORRIDOR – MOBUTU’S MILITARY AIDE
FOLLOWS BRADLEY’S AMERICAN
to a sports court. Eight Uniformed Soldiers are with them.
In the sports court, on their knees, hands bound behind them,
facing away from us, are six prisoners in business clothes.
One is a woman. Guarding them are Bradley’s Guards.
Mobutu’s Military Aide’s soldiers take over the prisoners.
Mobutu’s Military Aide talks into a walkie-talkie. Meanwhile…
GEN. JOSEPH MOBUTU IN UNIFORM
listens to his walkie-talkie. He has distant eyes. He’s
heard what he needs and walks up a staircase and around a
INT. LEOPOLDVILLE SCHOOL, SECOND CLASSROOM – MOBUTU
enters. He is the beneficiary of this routine military coup.
Other uniformed officers at students’ desks now stand and
applaud. Mobutu will rename the Congo “Zaire” and we’ll see
him later. Meanwhile in Ghana…
INT. AMBASSADOR HOTEL ROOM – MARLIN THOMAS – DAY
Malcolm bumped into Cassius Clay.
Muhammad Ali…whatever he calls
I thought that was all over. Is
Clay going to support Malcolm’s U.N.
I don’t know.
Find out. We’ll pick up on Malcolm
in Liberia ourselves.
EXT. AMBASSADOR HOTEL – ALI + MALCOLM X
Drank from the well of Zem-Zem…
And you should visit Cairo. I have
friends there in…
…shouldn’t have quarreled with
the Honorable Elijah…
The rapport between them becomes fleeting. Ali’s attention
drifts away. He closes down…
You shouldn’t have…
…quarreled with the honorable
You shouldn’t have quarreled with
And Ali separates. He turns away. Malcolm calls after him…
Ali won’t turn back from his rejection of Malcolm. He
shakes his head “no” and walks off.
MALCOLM X (CONT’D)
INT. TIGER LOUNGE, CHICAGO – SHERI – NIGHT
sings “For Your Precious Love,” and REVEAL: ALI + SONJI ROI
dancing. We’re back in Chicago. She’s sexy and has a great
smile and flashing eyes. People leave Ali alone. One Fruit
of Islam bodyguard is nearby, semi-conspicuous. In a booth
is Herbert with a date, another FOI guard, and a businessman.
Sonji, who is sexually overt and fun, is laminated to Ali.
After a few bars…
What you keep sayin’ my name for?
‘Cause I love it, girl. How long
you been workin’ for Herbert?
‘Bout a year. I sell “Muhammad
Speaks” over the phone…
What kind of name is that?
My father named me after Sonja Henie.
What’s your father do?
He was shot in a poker game when I
was two. He don’t do nothin’.
Sonja, on the other hand, was an
ice skater, and my mother died when
I was eleven.
So who raised you?
Godparents, but I been on my own,
doing my own thing…
Whatcha doin’ tomorrow? Go ridin’
No. I gotta work, you know.
I square it with Herbert. I got a
record player in my car.
A record player? C’mon. How come
it don’t skip?
Got springs and stuff.
Herbert said you met The Beatles.
Yeah. Only one of ‘em’s smart…the
one with the glasses.
…he’s my favorite.
People all screaming and fainting.
I asked him, “This the way they act
when you get big?”
What he say?
He said, “Champ. The more real you
get, the more unreal it gonna get.”
After Sheri sings the first chorus…
Where you live?
I’m takin’ you there…
Herbert looks up from his booth, starts to ask where they’re
going…but they’re gone. He turns back to the man he’s
INT. SONJI’S APARTMENT – WINDOW – NIGHT (1964)
PULL BACK from being above Chicago in the winter at night to
Ali and Sonji making love where Sheri’s voice sings the
second verse. To Ali’s reactions…
I think I gonna keep you around
Well, I’m not too busy right now,
so…I’ll think on it.
Herbert said you weren’t a Muslim.
Cover my hair? No make-up? Long
dresses? Honey, please.
Were you a virgin?
‘Cause you so “gone” off a little
I’m no virgin…but I may as well
I ain’t jokin’! I always know when
I know. See this face? I mean,
you got a pretty face for a girl’s
face, but you ever seen somethin’
as pretty as me? Now, you about
five-foot-three…that’s too small.
But I overlook that, too, ‘cause…
Thank you so much.
…’cause of your spirit!
Yeah. ‘Cause you too much fun!
She raises his head next to hers, looks in his eyes.
But you gotta be a Muslim.
Huh? How you do that? Step over a
broom…shazaam…you a Muslim?
She laughs. He rests his head on her stomach. He likes her
Maaan, I ain’t never been with a
girl like you.
Baby, maybe you ain’t ever gonna be
with any other.
They start making love again.
EXT./INT. 50TH ON THE LAKE MOTEL, COFFEE SHOP – ALI, HERBERT,
BUNDINI + BINGHAM – DAY
That’s right. I wanna marry her.
You can’t marry that girl! She was
a date! Have some fun! She’s not
your wife! You don’t marry this
(puts contracts in
front of him)
Sign there. Management papers. My
father will kill me.
Bundini cracks up. Ali signs without even glancing at the
documents. Bingham notices this.
Watch what you signing, Ali.
(to Bingham; sharp)
Nothing to do with you.
You talkin’ to me, or someone walk
inna room, fat boy? Anything’s do
to with me I think’s to d-d-do with
me…I’m st-st-still a Christian.
And get me a kosher cook…lady who
cooks at Malcolm’s temple. Put my
brother on the payroll. 50g a year
for drivin’ and jivin’.
Yeah. How ‘bout it, Howard. You be
my official full-time photographer.
I ain’t goin’ on your payroll. I
like it freelance. Emphasis on “free.”
As Ali signs the last of the contracts.
Muhammad. She’s not…for you.
When I met her, she was working at
a cocktail lounge with a bunny tail
on her backside.
What were you doin’ down at a
cocktail lounge, Herbert? Sellin’
Ali and Bingham crack up…
Sober up and say something to this
man, Bundini. You supposed to be
(looks at Ali; to
I got to know about Sonji, Muhammad.
She got a sister?
(as Ali laughs)
You been s-s-saving it up, training,
Champ. You can’t unleash it on
this girl all sudden. You may kill
her! Maybe you should spread it
around more before you tie it down.
No. Marriage is the cornerstone of
Sonji Roi is not a Muslim!
She gonna be a Muslim, now!
So fix it up, Herbert.
INT. FIFTH STREET GYM – ALI
past a speed bag onto Ali with Dundee + Sarria on the
exercise table. They do NOT see, and we PASS them and other
training boxers and MOVE IN to a portable B&W TV on top of a
ON B&W TV: MALCOLM X + MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
exchange greetings and introductions as if in a first-time
meeting, and King turns back to CAMERA.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
I fear if this bill is not passed…
…our nation is in for a dark
night of social disruption.
As an anchorman pontificates…IMAGE SUDDENLY BECOMES: FIVE
DIFFERENT SURVEILLANCE ANGLES. King and Malcolm have no
clue how extensive is the FBI Cointelpro surveillance and
the operations mounted against them. And the image of the
two of them becomes…
INT. A COFFEE SHOP (WASHINGTON, D.C.) – THEIR PICTURE –
SMILEY – DAY
on the front page of the Washington Post. REVEAL Joseph 13X
sitting next to JOE SMILEY in a small Washington, D.C.
Why we meeting?
The idea was…to…make…Malcolm
smaller, you know? Diminished;
obscure? Not to turn him into a
What I got, now, is Malcolm
shoulder to shoulder with Martin
And Malcolm running all over the
world getting Ben Bella and Nasser
to denounce racism in the U.S.
while we’re competing over there
with the Soviets.
JOE SMILEY (CONT’D)
Not…a resounding success. We
were better off before, with
Malcolm INSIDE the Nation.
So… We want you…to get Elijah
Muhammad…to take Malcolm back.
Joseph 13X stares at him, slack-jawed. Incredulous. No
JOE SMILEY (CONT’D)
That’s a joke. I’m kidding! Don’t
you ever smile?
Joseph 13X doesn’t say anything. He does not smile.
JOE SMILEY (CONT’D)
We’re on a timetable. Malcolm’s
pal, Quaison from Ghana, is
introducing Malcolm’s resolution to
the General Assembly in Washington.
That’s in five weeks.
Joseph 13X oddly gets up, moving a stool over…
You got bad breath, man.
Thyroid. I got a stab wound in
1961. They took it out. We gotta
talk about this guy, too.
Smiley indicates the picture of Ali in “Muhammad Speaks”
identifying him as a militant and a revolutionary.
When do I get my expenses
reimbursed…dry cleaning lots of
suits isn’t free…
Off Ali’s picture…it becomes…
INT. MIAMI HOTEL ROOM – ALI – NIGHT
enters, looking for Sonji. Bundini and Cassius Clay, Sr.
were laughing about something else. They got quiet.
Bundini has a large water glass in his hand; Sr., a highball
What you drinkin’?
What am I drinkin’? Water’s what
I’m drinkin’, champ! I’m a natural
Ali goes to the bedroom door.
What’s goin’ on? We’re late.
He’s dressed for an occasion.
I’m changing my damn clothes! You
didn’t like what I was wearin’!
As Ali re-enters the living room, there’s a knock on the
Come on in…!
(with large glass)
What you wanted, isn’t it…a water
glass with vodka…?
That was before…
Before you showed up…
And, now, Sonji comes out. This dress makes what she had
been wearing look demure. Tight angora sweater and a
miniskirt. She’s Tina Turner 30 years ago.
I fine runnin’ around in all these
cute short things for you. I
submissive to you. But I ain’t
gonna be submissive to the Brother
X’s and what they think. They
askin’ me questions alla time anyway.
About you and us and I ain’t tellin’
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
Tell it like it is, sugar! They
took my boy’s name…and what they
give him back? Bad style.
Ali takes her back into the bedroom and closes the door.
I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I
converted to Islam for you and…
INT. BEDROOM – SONJI + ALI – NIGHT
All except the dress! I ain’t
puttin’ no bleached-out, double-
ugly bedsheets on this body, honey!
He’s furious. She smiles. He picks her up. She moans and
her tongue darts in his ear and they’re on the bed making
out. And as CAMERA DRIFTS away we HEAR D.J. Daddio Daley’s
INT. A NEW CAR (CHICAGO) – ALI – DAY
king of the city, cruising through the pristine winter air
Hey there, old, aware ones. And
you, too, my fair ones…This is
“Daddio’s Jazz Patio.” ON KBCA
this fine day, which is A-okay…
Segues to…Brubeck’s “Time Out,” cruising…
INT. THE AUDUBON BALLROOM, HARLEM – REAR OF MALCOLM’S HEAD –
center-punches the FRAME through the green-glazed terra-
cotta hallway. He and his Bodyguard (#1) come to a door.
Shedding his coat, he hesitates, and like a prizefighter
gathering himself, he goes inside.
INT. ALI’S NEW CAR – ALI – DAY
at a light, waves to a cluster of girls waiting for a bus
who recognize him, go nuts…listening to Brubeck…
INT. THE AUDUBON BALLROOM – MALCOLM – DAY
walks across the stage, aware of every little sound, every
motion. He makes his way to the podium…peering beyond his
glasses at the gathered. Bodyguard #1 goes to the side door
instead of standing next to him…and Malcolm notices
And two young Black men, TALMADGE HAYER and NORMAN BUTLER
immediately stand up in the back, jostling each other…
A YOUNG MAN
What you doin’ in my pockets, man?
Get your hand outta my pocket!
Hold it, hold it, brothers!
Let’s be cool.
And the commotion in the back diverts Bodyguards #1 and #2
towards the rear, away from the stage and Malcolm, as…
THOMAS JOHNSON comes forward from a front row, his coat
flapping open, revealing the 12-gauge sawed-off double-
barrel shotgun coming up.
go to it. Settle on it. He new it was coming, as…
JOHNSON, an indifferent expression on his face, FIRES one
…which rips through the lectern as if paper and SLAMS a
dead-center into his chest a seven-ring. 12 pellets, each
the size of .32 bullet. Seven destroy Malcolm’s heart.
Five shred his aorta and burrow into his spine. Malcolm’s
hands fly back, and he topples, crashing off empty chairs
onto the floor.
UPSIDEDOWN ECU: MALCOLM’S FACE + PAST
…as life exhales from his mouth and his eyes go grey,
dying, indifferent to Johnson emptying a second blast into
him and the meaningless indignities of Hayer and Butler
firing a .45 and a 9mm Luger at him.
INT. ALI’S CAR – RADIO – DAY
Dave Brubeck, loud…
INT. THE AUDUBON BALLROOM – STAGE – DAY
Chaos. Malcolm on the floor. Betty kneels over his body,
desperately trying to breathe life into it. An Asian woman,
a disciple, holds up his head. Somebody shouts, “Jesus,
God!” But there is no God today…
INT. ALI’S CAR – ALI – DAY
stops short at a light because a man runs across the street.
LOUD Brubeck in 5/4 time. Ali can’t hear.
CRAZY MAN (CONT’D)
From the bullet holes, black eagles
flew! They screaming through the
Ali rolls down the window.
They killed Malcolm…they shot
“Daddio’s Jazz Patio” is interrupted. Malcolm X has been
killed. Ali pulls over…not really parking. The world
stops. The South Side of Chicago goes still…people
numb…a young Man sitting down on the curb, crying. An
elegy…Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come…” plays. “I
was born by a river in a little tent…” And as Ali sits in
his car…he sees the face of Malcolm…the glasses…
You were the first…you walked me
forward, my brother…you were the
He’s overcome with a deep grief and a lack of confidence in
the order of his world.
“Been a long, long time comin’, but
a change gonna come, yes it is…”
INT. THE RING, ST. DOMINIC’S ARENA (LEWISTON, MAINE) – ALI –
…the arena is surrounded by FBI,
the stands are only half full, the
promoter has taken out a million-
dollar insurance policy due to
Cassius Clay’s membership in the
militant and radical Black Muslims
because of death threats. Oh, and
by the way…Sonny Liston is here, too.
…sees Sonji enter in a sequined mini-dress, bouffant hair.
She attracts attention and disapproval from Herbert. She
sits next to Ali’s parents at ringside amid the large,
conservatively dressed Muslim contingent. He’s angry at her
presentation. She looks like a girl singer from a doo-wop
group. He slips off his robe. Ali raises his gloves in
Muslim prayer. Meanwhile: the BELL rings.
meets Liston, nails him with a straight right. Ali begins
baiting him, dancing. Liston tries to cut off the ring,
jabbing ineffectually. Ali lets Liston in, pulls back, then
pivots on his right foot, throws a short right and RAMP INTO
SLO-MO…to see Liston not see it coming.
The muscles of Ali’s upper body contract and ripple in
release after his short RIGHT catches Liston on the point of
his chin. Liston drops to the canvas like a stone.
HOWARD COSELL (CONT’D)
Liston is down! Scarcely a minute
into the first round, I can’t
Sonji is up. For some reason, tears of worry stream,
absurdly, from her eyes.
The IMAGE: Ali standing over Liston, fist cocked, bellowing:
Get up, sucker! Get up and fight!
No one gonna believe this!
Liston tries to get up, rolls over. His left leg spasms.
As the ref finally pushes Ali to a neutral corner.
It’s over; it’s over!
INT. MUHAMMAD’S DRESSING ROOM – NIGHT
Sarria, Bundini, Pacheco as Dundee cuts the tape off
Muhammad’s hands. And Sonji appears at the door…runs and
Why you done up like that?
I’m dyin’ and…’cause this is how
I dress! I dyin’ for you out of
Yeah. And all you care about is if
I look dull enough?
The world looks at me, girl! What
if I straightened my hair, live in
the white suburbs? How I am says
Well, sorry you don’t like how I am…
EXT. HOLIDAY INN, BALCONY – ALI – NIGHT
enters up the stairs. Bundini’s waiting for him as are
Reporters, trying to ambush him. Lots of activity in the
Bundini indicates and Ali exits into Herbert’s room. Beyond
is the Holiday Inn marquee: “Clay vs. Liston II.” A few
EXT. HOLIDAY INN, HERBERT’S ROOM – ALI – NIGHT
What do I do…?
Ali, angry, stands in front of Herbert.
If you want, have no contact with
her for ninety days. Then you make
a public statement of divorce in
the mosque, and Islamic law will be
“Satisfied?”…satisfaction is not
makin’ it with the woman who send
you to the moon?
Cassius, Sr. bursts in. Bundini has Ali’s championship belt
over his shoulder.
Man, I’m the only normal person
left around here and I’m a black
Jew who can’t read and is half drunk.
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
I gotta talk to you.
Bundini and Herbert start to leave.
Please stay, Brother Herbert.
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
He ain’t your brother! Your
brother taking your wife back to
Chicago. She’s crying like a widow.
I ain’t dead!
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
You might as well be. You don’t
remember your name or who you are.
Cassius, Sr. leaves the room.
INT. HOLIDAY INN, ALI’S MOTEL ROOM – HIGH ANGLE: ALI – NIGHT
enters. Stands at the dresser. Only his suitcase is there.
She left her chartreuse blouse. He takes it and smells the
scent of her cologne. He is torn with grief at the loss of
her, curling into a ball on the bed, alone in the room.
INT. GREEN ROOM – ALI – DAY
getting made up by a good-looking ASIAN COSMETOLOGIST. An
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR lounges against the wall with headset,
reading the newspaper…
You got the prettiest eyes…
He so pretty, when you look up
“pretty” in the dictionary, he too
pretty to be there.
She laughs and whispers something in Ali’s ear, holding his
hand where the others can’t see it and slips her phone
number to him. Meanwhile…a phone rings. Bundini answers
…you gonna try for Germany?
You gonna try to get stationed in
What you talking about?
Champ. It’s Eskridge…
(Ali didn’t know)
They changed your classification.
It’s in the paper…You’re 1-A.
You’re gonna get drafted into the
You know about this?
CHAUNCEY ESKRIDGE (V.O.)
Yes. But I think the government’s
looking to negotiate a deal…
(hears on headset)
Here we go…!
INT. A NEW YORK TELEVISION STUDIO, ABC – COSELL – DAY
“Wide World of Sports” is ON THE AIR. We’ve entered mid-
…I flunk their draft board test.
Now, without testing if I am “wiser”
or “worser,” they decide I can go
into the Army.
Cassius, it is my opinion you…
And I’m not Cassius Clay. That’s a
slave name. I’m a free man. I’m
You know, I apologize to you. On
the air. Your name is Muhammad Ali.
You have the right to be called
whatever you want.
You make a lot of mistakes for a
so-called educated man. You really
go to law school?
Yes, Muhammad. And to think I gave
up a lucrative practice for the
likes of you.
I’m the best thing that ever
happened to you, Howard Cosell.
Without me you be a tall white man
with a microphone in his mouth.
And without me…you’d be a mouth.
Ali lifts Howard’s toupee.
HOWARD COSELL (CONT’D)
We’ll be right back.
INT. ABC TELEVISION STUDIO, BACKSTAGE – ALI + COSELL – LATER
Ali pours three spoons of sugar in his coffee.
Have a little coffee with your
Keep talking. You were saying
They want to make an example out of
Why? I’m no Stokely Carmichael, H.
All they are is political. They
tell people how they ought to be.
But you are the HEAVYWEIGHT
CHAMPION of the WORLD. You’re
important. And they don’t like
your militancy, your politics. So,
they’ll make an example out of you.
…of a good “Ne-gro,” who do what
Yes. Or, to demonstrate here is
what happens to your ass if you
He’s screwed either way.
EXT./INT. THE UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES STATION, HOUSTON –
LOBBY – CHAUNCEY ESKRIDGE – DAY
waits at the curb as Ali and Herbert pull up and get out of
a car…move through the crowd…reporters shouting
questions at him we don’t hear, go up the steps, into the
lobby, joining other recruits and M.P.’s.
You do six weeks basic…you go
into the Reserves…you don’t go to
Vietnam…you get to box…you even
get to keep the money…
He gives Ali a piece of paper signed by the Justice
Department, confirming the deal…
(lets him know)
The Messenger would not object if
you joined under these terms.
I stay out of jail and I get to fight.
All you have to do is accept the
induction. And life goes on.
They call your name. You say yes.
We’re not sure what Ali will do.
INT. INDUCTION CENTER, HOUSTON – ALI – DAY
lined up with the twenty-five other inductees…being
addressed by an Induction Officer, Naval LT. JEROME CLARIDGE…
LT. JEROME CLARIDGE
…and you will take one step
forward as your name and service
are called, and such a step will
constitute your induction into the
Armed Force indicated.
Lt. Claridge begins to read the names, and services…the
young Men dutifully stepping forward. Ali expects his name
to be called. Instead…
LT. JEROME CLARIDGE (CONT’D)
Cassius Marcellus Clay.
It’s quiet. Dead quiet. Ali’s lips move. NO sound comes
out. We anticipate him stepping forward…he doesn’t.
LT. JEROME CLARIDGE (CONT’D)
Mr. Clay, I am required to inform
you that refusal to accept a lawful
induction order constitutes a
felony under the Universal Military
Training and Service Act, punishable
by up to five years’ imprisonment
and a five-thousand-dollar fine.
Do you understand?
TWO FBI AGENTS in suits have appeared.
LT. JEROME CLARIDGE
Cassius Marcellus Clay.
Ali doesn’t move.
LT. JEROME CLARIDGE (CONT’D)
(a third time)
Cassius Marcellus Clay.
Herbert’s dying. Ali “stands his ground…” and the die has
Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mr. Clay, you’re under arrest for
As they turn around and handcuff him.
EXT. HOLIDAY INN (HOUSTON) – ALI + ENTOURAGE – LATE AFTERNOON
approach from two vehicles. Rudy and SIX LARGE MUSLIMS
escort Ali through the crowd of media trucks, reporters and
conspicuous unmarked police cars and neighborhood people.
waves in Robert Lipsyte, the New York Times sportswriter in
his late 20’s we’ve seen before. He and Howard Bingham,
waiting inside, know each other. They enter. The phone’s
INT. HOLIDAY INN ROOM + BALCONY – ALI
on the phone, on a long extension, joined by Lipsyte and
Howard Bingham, while Bundini keeps at bay reporters at the
front door. It all feels like a rock group in town for a
(listens; to cam.)
Ask Chauncey Eskridge in Chicago.
He’s my lawyer. No. I’m out on
(goes onto balcony
Yeah, I fight. I fight clean. I’m
an athlete. Army’s there to kill,
kill, kill. My religion forbids
that. No. I never shot anything
in my life.
Do I know where Vietnam is?
(wry; playing to
Yeah. It’s on TV…
In southeast Asia? It there, too?
That’s a joke, man…!
Ali hangs up. The phone rings again.
What do I think about who? Vietcong?
Next is something Ali has not deduced. Ali perceives it
intuitively and reflexively. As with other of his decisions,
once made, he doesn’t hesitate to speak them. And he won’t
waver. He says…
Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with
It goes dead silent. Ali listens. Lipsyte is stunned.
No Vietcong ever called me nigger.
You know what you j-j-just said…?
He hangs up.
From Europe to China…every home
in America…the world’s gonna know
what the heavyweight champion of
the world said about the U.S. war…
I ain’t gonna be what anybody else
want me to be. I’m not afraid to
be what I want. And think how I want.
And that’s the real Ali, right there.
INT. HOLIDAY INN, ALI’S SUITE – ALI – NIGHT
laying on the sofa. Dundee, Pacheco and Rudy have joined.
There’s the feeling the house is a bunker. Phones ring.
Television is on. LIPSYTE, taking notes, watching Walter
Cronkite on TV. He crosses to Ali. Dundee’s on the phone.
Nixon, the Republicans, Boxing
Commission in New York, Cleveland
(a foregone conclusion)
But you’re also getting attacked as
unpatriotic by the NAACP, Roy
Wilkins, Jackie Robinson, the New
York Times and Joe Louis…
The expression on Ali’s face is blank, as if he’s accepting
a pounding: he knows what it is; it’s not a surprise.
INT. GRANT PARK UNDERGROUND GARAGE – QUIET – NIGHT
A very low ceiling; we’re in a green-lit cavern with a low
ceiling. Chauncey Eskridge and Ali wait. Ali’s in the
backseat of a 1961 Lincoln. Two FOI guards stationed at the
distant ramps allow a Black Oldsmobile to pass.
a New York lawyer and promoter arrives and climbs out of the
Oldsmobile. Ali opens the door…but doesn’t get out…
People are following me…
I got almost nowhere I can promote
a fight for you. Plus, I think
they’re going to vacate you from
Yeah. If you’re convicted.
They gonna take away what no
fighter in the world can?
And New York may revoke your boxing
You sure you want to do all this?
Your next three to four years are
every heavyweight’s prime. And
there are few of those years…
What ‘bout Terrell?
We’ll know if we can fight Terrell
in Illinois this afternoon.
Terrell’s running his mouth. He
said if you’re called, you should
Motherfucker. He got a deferment
for bein’ too tall, or havin’ flat
feet. Why don’t he serve for me?
Tellin’ me what I should do…
(to Ali + Eskridge)
I got to get you some fights. Fast.
Ali’s quiet, not really listening anymore…
INT. ILLINOIS BOXING COMMISSION – ALI – DAY
wearing a suit and a narrow tie at a table in front of Daley
machine apparatchiks. A bald man, angrily:
You understand we could take away
your license to fight Terrell in
Are you prepared to apologize?
About your unpatriotic remarks that
You said that you were the people’s
Do you think you’re acting like the
Yes, sir. I am not going to
apologize to you. This isn’t a
courtroom. And I don’t have to sit
here and answer your questions.
Ali gets up and walks out on them. Eskridge and NOI men in
black suits follow.
INT. CHICAGO OFFICE BUILDING – ALI + ENTOURAGE – DAY
march through the lobby. Ali gives a walking interview.
He’s angry. He won’t slow down.
I ain’t draft dodgin’! I ain’t
goin’ to Canada. I ain’t burnin’
my draft card. I ain’t burnin’ the
flag. I’m stayin’ right here. And
you want to throw me in jail? Go
ahead. I’ll do my time. I been in
jail four hundred years. I’ll be
in jail four, five more. But I
ain’t goin’ ten thousand miles to
help murder and kill poor people
for you. ‘Cause if I’m gonna die,
I’ll die now, right here, fighting
you. If I wanna die. You my enemy,
not Vietcong or Chinese or Japanese.
You my opposer when I want freedom.
You my opposer when I want justice.
You my opposer when I want equality.
You want me to go somewhere for you,
but you won’t even stand up for me
in America, for my rights and
beliefs, you won’t even stand up
for me here at home.
INT. THE HOUSTON ASTRODOME – CLOSE: TERRELL – DAY
ERNIE TERRELL is taller than Ali. The empty stadium has a
scale and press at one end. Girls in cowboy hats and lone
stars say we’re in Texas. Ali is distracted.
(getting on scale)
Tell Clay he can get on after me.
Get on the scale after…
What you call me…?
Terrell wrongly thinks there’s psychological value in
Only thing I knows you as: Cassius
Announce it right here or from flat
on your back!
Ali throws a punch that doesn’t land because he’s separated.
What’s my name?!?
CLOSE ON ALI
something else in his eyes.
INT. THE HOUSTON ASTRODOME – TERRELL – NIGHT
hit FOUR TIMES by Ali: WHAM, WHAM, WHAM, WHAM! In the
What’s my name, motherfucker?!
And Ali flicks out punches…disorienting Terrell. The BELL.
GIRL IN BANGLED MINISKIRT STARTS 15TH ROUND
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! Ali hits him five times…Terrell ties
him up. Ali throws him off, slips two jabs and snaps his
left into Terrell’s face.
What’s my name?
Ali, at the apex of his athletic skills, fires six- or
eight-punch combinations and then changes direction. Ali
shoots jabs and hooks going backwards; every move and set of
combinations is a dance. Ali’s never been as light on his
feet, as fast, as complex as in this fight. Like any moment
of greatness, we want it to last forever… Then, Ali
throws a 17-punch combination.
WHAT’S MY NAME?!
…that burns down Terrell. Terrell starts to fall. Ali
moves away. He doesn’t want it to end. Sportswriters don’t
like it. Half the fans don’t like it. Ali defies both
their sensibilities and their politics.
face is battered. Ali SLAMS in SHOTS.
My name?! WHAT’S MY NAME?!
The BELL ends the savage pounding. Ali in the middle of the
ring, glorying in opposition and triumph.
INT. HOUSTON COURTROOM – ALI – DAY
with Eskridge and his other attorneys. The courtroom’s
packed. In the back we spot Joe Smiley, anonymous in the crowd.
If the court would give me my
sentence right now instead of
waiting and stalling.
My pleasure. The jury has found
you guilty of refusing induction
into the United States armed forces.
I sentence you to the maximum
sentence allowable…five years’
imprisonment and a fine of ten
Fast enough? Your attorney will
lodge an appeal. While you’re out
on bond, I order your passport
surrendered. I’ll not have you
benefitting yourself by fighting
INT. HOUSTON COURT, FOYER – ALI – DAY
on his way out of the building. Media is held at the other end.
CLOSER – ALI
looks dazed, not sure how to act on the way out of court.
Oddly, he shakes hands with each of a half a dozen white
Houston Bailiffs. It’s as if, benumbed by the verdict, he
seeks human contact. The only contact available, ironically,
is with the officers of the court that just convicted him.
EXT. 79TH STREET, CHICAGO, 1968 – ALI – DUSK
Time has passed. It’s winter. Snow’s on the ground. He’s
in a car coat and a hat with a hooded sweatshirt underneath.
Street lights are on. Traffic’s slight. He walks through
the whiteness as new snow falls.
under the hat brim, his gaze is internal, as it was in the
opening in Miami.
with icicles from Fire Dept. water. His work boots stop
deep in the new falling snow…vanishing in the WHITEOUT…
INT. N.O.I. BAKERY, CHICAGO – WHITE SILK SCARF – DAY (FLASHBACK)
in Ali’s hands. He leans across a white showcase of bakery
goods. It’s cold outside; warm inside. It smells of bread
and coffee. BELINDA BOYD reacts.
He makes a fist, balls the scarf up, and puts it in the
hollow of his fist.
Blow on it…
She blows on it. She’s not quite eighteen, six feet tall;
there’s a supremely confident expressiveness about her. Her
gestures are large. He opens his hand. The scarf is gone.
She instinctively looks over at his other hand. Nothing’s
there. His eyes go wide in mock fright at the mysterious.
This spooky! Don’t get scared…
She laughs. How’d he do it? He makes a fist again, puts
his thumb in the hollow. And slowly pulls the scarf out…
See, you don’t need to fight no more…
He gives it to Belinda. She ties it around her neck. Ali
looks at her. On a cold and dark afternoon, the windows are
steamed and the bakery seems a fine refuge.
So what’s fresh, girl?
What’s the freshest of the freshest?
Doughnuts just came out…
(holds up the
Feed me those things, I gotta come
back as a wrassler.
(a ring announcer)
645 pounds. I’d still be
pretty…but I be fat pretty…
You don’t remember when you met me
once before…long ago…
I remember something… Wha’s your
She slaps his arm.
You know my name! You came to my
school, right before you win the
title. Interviewed you for the
school paper. I was eleven.
You had a long braid…
Yeah! You called me little Indian
That was you?
I loved you then, like all those
kids. I never stopped. I still do.
INT. NATION OF ISLAM ASSEMBLY – ALI + BELINDA – DAY (FLASHBACK)
ELIJAH MUHAMMAD’S VOICE (OVER)
The African-American Albert Speer-regimented seating breaks
up. Ali’s wearing a black suit, a white suit and white tie.
As he drifts through the crowd, approaching him is Belinda
in a white caftan and a white satin turban with gold
earrings. It feels like they are an official couple,
eugenically chosen mates.
ECU: THEIR HANDS
MACRO CU: SHOULDERS
touch. She turns and leans back slightly against him…
Their thighs touch.
EXT. 79TH STREET, CHICAGO – DUSK INTO NIGHT
We walk past the bakery. It’s closed. Ali crosses the grey
guttered street and exits into…
INT. ALI’S SINCLAIR STATION, BACK OFFICE – ALI – NIGHT
enters. CTA bus passes. Eskridge is there, waiting for him.
Ali takes a coffee in a paper cup and grabs a Danish.
You see the Ellis-Quarry fight?
Yes… We’ll be in front of the
U.S. Court of Appeals next month.
We’ll lose. Then we appeal to the
Ellis the champ? Man. I beatin’
on him since we was sixteen. They
give Ellis to Joe Frazier?
Frazier’ll kill him. Then they out
of juice. Where’s the gate? So
they gotta let me fight. I fight
Ellis in a phone booth…middle of
Times Square…you think that draw
Draw a crowd or not draw a crowd,
Muhammad, is NOT going to make a
difference with your boxing
licenses. They don’t want you to
(so much for speculation)
ACLU’s handling your case against
the New York Boxing Commission.
They discovered New York’s got
actual ex-murderers and ex-rapists
currently licensed to fight. But
No. State Department refused
permission for the one-hour visa.
No fight in Tijuana. Look…
Can’t fight here. Can’t fight
outside the country…
I know people in the restaurant
business…want to start up a chain.
Muhammad Ali’s “Champ
Burger”…”Muhammad Malts,” “Fist
Full of Fries”…all of that.
They start out towards the gas pumps.
Why I want to be in the restaurant
‘Cause you need the money.
How much all this gonna cost?
Too much. They do that to you, too,
They seek to destroy every facet of Ali’s life. Ali knows
that. As they pass the pumps. Some customers recognize him.
CHAUNCEY ESKRIDGE (CONT’D)
Where you goin’?
And Ali pretends to start sparring. The working men laugh.
One is brave enough to raise his hands, too. Ali smiles and
trades a couple of phantom slaps. It breaks off. He made
their day. He shakes each of their hands. His spirit’s
raised, he walks off. Chauncey watches this ritual…
INT. CHICAGO APARTMENT, ALI + BELINDA’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
hands and skin and faces against white in bed. So close we
are intimately inside the moment…
First time? 1961…Sister Khalilah
introduced you at assembly. You
said you would be heavyweight
champion of the world by the time
you were twenty-one!
I always tell the truth…
I was eleven. I interviewed you
for the student paper. You called
me “little Indian girl,” ‘cause I
wore my hair real long, in a
braid…I told you…”Man, you
scribble! You can’t even write!
You ought to go back to school
until you do it better…”
Laughing, he starts poking her in the ribs, and she turns
onto him. She’s six feet tall, he’s six-three. He grabs
her wrist. She wrestles him down on the large bed until
there’s a NOISE, and Belinda separates from Ali and
approaches a smaller bedroom to replace the bottle their
daughter, MARYUM, threw out of her crib. As she exits, MOVE
IN on the crib in streetlight and we HEAR Jimi Hendrix’s
bottleneck instrumental part of “All Along the Watchtower.”
It makes us feel the child in the crib is threatened, and
that takes us INTO…
INT. COLLEGE HALL – ALI
in a black leather jacket with a white shirt and skinny tie,
speaking to an audience of college students, white and black,
some Asian and Latino.
(from “All Along the
“There must be some kind of
way outta here,
said the joker to the thief…”
Bingham waits in the wings. Applause. Ali joins Howard and
a small group watching a portable TV…
TV: “DAYS OF RAGE”
occurring on Chicago’s North Clark Street. Off-screen we
HEAR police sirens. On TV, Weathermen attack lines of
Chicago police! The cops fall back.
JIMI HENDRIX (CONT’D)
“There’s too much confusion,
I can’t get no relief.
Business men, they drink my wine,
plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line,
know what any of it is worth.”
INT. CHICAGO GYM – ALI – NIGHT
trains in grey sweats to Hendrix. He flashes 60 sit-ups
hanging off a table. He sweats profusely. He has no
trainers. Bingham holds his legs. Ali seems heavier.
The gym is grimy, filled with other boxers, a forest of
heavy bags. Ali’s one among other guys working out.
grimacing through another set, trying to stay in shape,
trying to retain skills going dormant.
“No reason to get excited,
the thief, he kindly spoke.
There are many here among us,
who feel that life is but a joke.”
Then, he’s slow on the heavy bag. Sparring alone in the
ring… Everyone ignores him.
INT. ALI’S GAS STATION – ALI’S TV: NEWS – DAY
REVEAL Ali + Bingham watching the 1968 Olympics. NOW, Tommy
Smith and John Carlos bow their heads and raise fists in
black power defiance, instead of acknowledging the national
“But you and I, we’ve been
and this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now,
the hour it’s getting late…”
And the coverage cuts to George Foreman with a small
American flag in his hand. Then, it flashes back to Ali in
the ring with Sonny Liston at his feet. And Ali coming out
of the Illinois Boxing Commission, angry. Dead Black
Panthers, Fred Hampton and Matt Clark murdered by police in
Chicago. And Malcolm X and Ali together. The meaning of it
is clear: MUHAMMAD ALI IS THE WARRIOR SAINT IN THE REVOLT
OF THE BLACK ATHLETE IN AMERICA. On Ali watching, as a
JIMI HENDRIX (CONT’D)
“All along the watchtower,
princes kept the view,
while all the women came and went,
barefoot servants, too.”
EXT. MEMPHIS MOTEL – CHAUNCEY ESKRIDGE – DAY
speaks to Ali on a pay phone on ground level.
…struck out at the appellate
level in New Orleans. So we’re
heading back to the Supreme Court…
INT. ALI’S GAS STATION – ALI – DAY
Thought we already got turned down
EXT. MEMPHIS MOTEL – CHAUNCEY ESKRIDGE
I’m petitioning on a conscientious
objection basis. Religious belief.
We’ll petition that your sincere
religious belief prohibits you from
shooting people. I believe they’ll
A fast car drives by, distracting Ali momentarily. Then,
Ali focuses 100% on…
Where the money come from, Chauncey?
Herbert tell me I’m runnin’ on
empty. Put aside “how do that
happen”? Licenses all revoked. No
passport. I can’t fight here.
Can’t fight abroad.
And what happen if I lose the
It’s all over. You go to jail for
There’s no response from Ali. Ali hangs up, looks the other
way, lost in thought.
EXT. MEMPHIS MOTEL ROOM – CHAUNCEY ESKRIDGE – DAY
hangs up the phone. Looks up. Starts to dial another
number. A sound CRACKS OPEN THE NIGHT…
Chauncey runs up the stairs to the second-floor balcony to
EXT. MEMPHIS MOTEL, BALCONY – JESSE JACKSON – DAY
cradling Martin Luther King, Jr. in his arms. People SCREAM.
King involuntarily spasms. Under King, dark blood pools
like crude oil. Eskridge, ANDREW YOUNG and JULIAN BOND
point into the Memphis afternoon.
EXT. ALI’S APARTMENT BUILDING, ROOFTOP (CHICAGO) – CITY AT
as if they were pointing at a burning fire, sirens, blue
police flashers, an isolated gunshot. And REVEAL Ali on a
rooftop, in sweatpants, sweatshirt, SHADOWBOXING while…
“Outside in the cold distance,
a wild cat did growl,
two riders were approaching,
and the wind began to HOWL!”
He leaves off to look into the distance. The agility, what
he was with Terrell, isn’t there. He exhales in time with
punches HUH, HUH, HUH…Ali’s struggling to hold onto
diminishing sharpness. Police lights. Looting? He
contemplates the fabric of the city ripping itself apart
INT. JEFFREY STREET HOUSE, LIVING ROOM – FRAZIER RIPS APART
ELLIS – NIGHT
on ABC. REVEAL Ali with Maryum in his arms watches the
fight…an activity from which Ali, the resident genius on
the planet, is excluded.
Ellis doesn’t belong in there.
Man give him a shot, he took a shot.
I saw Bundini in New York.
…bad shape. You better get your
Belinda brings coffee to Bingham…
She’s got to be done with that bottle.
You call your parents, Ali?
No, he didn’t. I told them about
the one on the way…myself.
(moves to the kitchen)
You p-p-p-promised you’d call them.
I’ll call ‘em, I’ll call ‘em…
(re: the baby)
May-may! It go in one end and come
out the other.
You wanna try changing her, for the
You so much better at it, mama.
Belinda takes Maryum. FRAZIER holds his arms up in victory,
a formality of applause from the half-empty Garden.
Maaan…Joe Frazier can’t talk,
can’t up the gate, can’t fill the
arena. They gotta let me fight.
That happen, you promise me you put
some new people around you.
Ali crosses to kitchen phone.
I need Angelo, Rudy, Ferdie —
Ali, she’s talkin’ about “Brother”
Ali stops. Between him and Belinda, this is important: her
solidarity is with her husband, not with the NOI.
Where are they when we need them?
You got Gene Kilroy droppin’ off
groceries like charity. Borrowin’
money from my folks. So…?
As Ali contemplates what she’s said, we HEAR…
HOWARD COSELL (V.O.)
What are your feelings about up-
and-coming Ken Norton?
INT. FRAZIER LOCKER ROOM (POST FIGHT) – COSELL + FRAZIER –
Norton’s big and strong, but…
Someone’s talking into Howard’s period headset.
Hold on one second…we have a
caller. Go ahead.
Cosell? This Muhammad Ali.
A still photo of Ali in an iris appears superimposed on
Go to Georgia or Alabama or Sweden.
Everybody know I’m the champ. The
crown is a lie. I know it’s a lie.
Joe Frazier know it’s a lie. It
time for everybody to stop lying
and tell the truth.
Let’s tell it like it is. With
your court and boxing problems,
Muhammad, can you get a fight promoted?
I ain’t interested in the paycheck,
I’d fight Joe Frazier for free in a
phone booth in Times Square, if I
wasn’t broke. I still will.
Did you say you were broke? How
can you be broke?
INT. ELIJAH MUHAMMAD’S HOUSE – KITCHEN – NIGHT
Elijah Muhammad reacts to the interview on television.
There’s a formality to Elijah Muhammad, even at his kitchen
You’ve made more money than all
previous heavyweight champions
combined. What about your
management? Surely they have
provided for you…
I’m saying it’s time for everybody
to quit lying! Muhammad Ali is the
champ! I have to, I’ll get the
fight on myself.
And if they offer me money, I ain’t
gonna turn it down.
CROSSCUT: Elijah turns to an aide.
Get me my son, Herbert, on the
INT. RUNDOWN CHICAGO GYM – ALI – DAY
training. There is NO entourage with him. Ali hits the
heavy bag. He doubles up the left jab on the taped-together
heavy bag. Sweat stains his sweats.
EXT. U.S. STEEL – ALI – DAY
runs through tall reeds in the abandoned industrial
landscape, ending at the lakefront and the cold, open sky
and water. He’s breathing hard, struggling against time to
hold onto shape and prowess. He seems vulnerable against
the open sky and water.
INT. TEMPLE #2 – NIGHT
Elijah Muhammad is at the lectern ringed by Fruit of Islam
Guards. HERBERT is behind him.
Mr. Muhammad Ali desires to do that
which the Holy Qur’an teaches him
against. I am, therefore,
suspending Mr. Ali from the
practice of Islam. He may no
longer appear in temple, pray or
teach, or have any conversation
with any Muslim whatsoever.
Furthermore…he may no longer use
the name of Muhammad Ali.
Henceforward, he will revert to his
old slave name, Cassius Clay.
INT. JEFFREY ST. HOUSE, KITCHEN – ALI – DAY
sits at the table. A deep vacancy is beginning to be there
we’ve never seen before. May-may makes a mess.
You can’t call me that no more.
Hell, I can’t. I’m defying them by
talking to you. And being with you.
MOVE CLOSER and CLOSER into Ali’s eyes. He’s oblivious.
Belinda’s pregnant again. She says something to him. Ali
can’t hear. She says it again, louder. Ali doesn’t look at
her. OVER ALI onto the Formica table with Log Cabin syrup
and powdered sugar and ceramic salt and pepper shakers SEEN
in his ECU, disconnected, depressed, withdrawn…
INT. FLOPHOUSE, FOYER – ALI + BINGHAM – DAY
entering, concerned and urgent…
Whyn’t you call an ambulance or a
Wouldn’t let me. Said he knew
you…and to call you, Mr. Ali…
He’s not been out for three days…
Ali’s up the stairs, down the corridor and takes the key
from the lady and opens the door. It’s a dump. Rotting
food, something burned on the stove. On the floor, wrapped
in a threadbare bedspread, half in and out of the bathroom,
which is foul, is Bundini, sleeping off a drunk.
(opens his eyes; half
Watchu’ doin’ here? Gimme that
Ali — his concern crashes. He detests the type Bundini
resembles. He throws a half-empty half-pint of Old Taylor
against the wall. It splatters…
What’s wrong with you, man?!
Nothin’ wrong with me!
Ali goes to the curtains and pulls them back. Bundini,
(shielding his eyes)
Leave me alone!
I leave you alone. You called me!
That were a week ago…
Ali grabs Bundini’s arm and twists it and pushes his sleeve
up. Bundini tries to pull his arm away. Ali is way
stronger. Track marks up and down Bundini’s arm. Ali slaps
Bundini on the side of the head. SMACK! He slaps him again.
What you shame yourself like this
for, maaan…?! Why you shame
Bundini flails back with his arms. Ali leans in and SMACKS
I’m flyin’! The Sky Chief talk
through me. I know the word!
You know “low.” You so low, the
curb look like up!
Yeah? The king gotta go home to
his throne! From the root to the
Those rhymes is old. Forget ‘em.
God don’t care about you! Don’t
care about me! In all of everything,
we mean nothin’. He don’t know us.
We be. And that’s the onliest
thing he did. And that’s good
‘cause that’s why we free. But
free ain’t easy. Free is real.
And realness is a motherfucker…
(low; almost spooky)
It eats raw meat.
It walk in its own shoes.
It does not waver…
There’s a pause in the room. Bundini crashes. He starts
I sold your belt for five hundred
dollars to a barber on Lenox Avenue.
That’s how low I did you. I’m
filled with weakness and got a
crazy mind. That belt say you the
Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Five hundred dollars and I put it
into my arm. That’s what I called
to tell you…
Ali leans back against the wall…the last vestige, gone.
…heard ‘bout the Nation, all that
Forgive me, Muhammad. Take me back…
No. There’s no “back” to take you
Ali gets up — Bundini has been taken from him, too — and
INT. “EL” – ECU FRONTAL: ALI – NIGHT
and beyond the side of Ali’s face, elevated through the
slums and decrepit tenements of the south side of
Chicago…the mean alleys and decaying back porches. Men
gathered around 50-gallon steel drums, burning wood for
warmth. Everything is corrupted or has left him.
staring into nowhere.
REVERSE: PAST ALI
The city recedes. Vectors, in perspective, carry structures,
buildings away. The sky is grey, going to blue. The city
flees and SUDDENLY disappears as we race into the dark
tunnel of subway. Ali’s lost in the depths of attempting a
calculation. He can’t do that for which he has a genius
beyond other men…
…you can’t do what you do best in
the world. And how you feed your
family? From prison? Who take
care of your kids? And is Allah,
is God with me?
And he’s been exiled from the belief system that explained
the universe to him. SUDDENLY LIGHTS slash across his face
in the white-tile North Avenue station. BEYOND, ghostlike
working men and two heavyset women enter. Ali turns aside
to prevent being recognized. It’s the first time he’s ever
avoided the public. The train lurches forward…
OVER ALI: WHITE LIGHT
screams away from us. Red reflects off the rails past Ali’s
face as we descend deeper into the tunnels.
EXT. NEAR BROADCAST TRUCK – COSELL – NIGHT
steps out of the truck. There is a small crowd of people
who turn as ALI pulls up in a convertible. He’s solemn for
a moment. Then he’s out of the car…
A thousand dollars to the man who
brings me Howard Cosell’s toupee!
Dead or alive!
Reveal Ali next to his car.
Don’t bother me. I’m a world-
famous broadcaster and you’re an
ex-champion with diminished skills.
I can’t be seen you, it would be
calamitous to my reputation.
EXT. NEAR BROADCAST TRUCK – ALI + COSELL – LATER
alone in the convertible parked in a distant corner of the lot.
Put me on, Howard.
Muhammad, I’d do anything for you.
But I got bosses who only give a
damn about Nielsen ratings.
I guarantee…it will be a
historical and momentous night!
INT. ABC-TV STUDIO
Ali being interviewed by Howard Cosell in the “Wide World of
Sports” set. We’ve entered mid-scene…
…what Heavyweight Champion of the
World? I’m not the champ. I am
retired, finished, out of the game.
And I ain’t gonna let myself grieve
and suffer none. But I know I will
not fight again…
I thought you were resolute in your
resolve to regain your crown…
If tomorrow they say: “We want you
to fight Joe Frazier. Madison
Square Garden. Millions and
millionses of dollars. Here’s your
license back.” I will tell them:
“I am sorry, but I am done.”
What about Frazier?
You’ll have to wonder…what me and
Smokin’ Joe would have looked like.
You surprise me, Muhammad…
Howard, you losing your hearing
along with your hair? Don’t put
questions to it!
I am through fighting. ‘Cause I
got a bigger and more important
match comin’ up. The U.S.
government. A heavier contender.
Do you think you’re going to jail?
I don’t know, but it’s going to be
a shocking and terrible fight. In
fact, they might wish they let me
stay in boxing.
Joe Frazier told me on this show he
would knock you out.
There you go, agitatin’.
You ask Smokin’ Joe what he been
smokin’?! Joe Frazier even dream
he can whup me? He better wake up
But, if I WAS to jump in the ring
with Joe, here’s what you might
Ali comes out to meet Frazier,
but Frazier starts to retreat;
If Frazier goes back an inch farther,
he’ll wind up in a ringside seat;
Ali swings with a left, Ali swings
with a right.
Frazier keeps backin’, but there’s
not enough room.
It a matter of time before Ali
lowers the boom;
Now Ali lands with a right, what
a beautiful swing,
But the punch lifts Frazier clean
out of the ring.
Frazier’s still risin’, but the
referee wears a frown,
‘Cause he can’t start countin’ ‘til
Frazier come down.
And Frazier’s disappeared from
view. And the crowd is getting
Then our radar stations pick
him up. He’s somewhere over
Who would have thought when
they came to this fight,
That they would witness the
launching of a black satellite?
There’s laughter off-camera in the studio and a wry smile on
But don’t wait for they fight.
‘Cause it ain’t never gonna happen.
You only can wonder and imagine…
The phones in the master control booth and ringing off the
hook…the public’s reaction to Ali’s Bre’r Rabbit routine.
Ali used his ability to command presence in media to promote
the only fight the public wants to see…
EXT. CLAY HOUSE – CASSIUS, SR. – DAY
You want me to buy you a drink?
Ali’s dad sits on a crate, painting the door of a delivery
truck. He looks up…Ali is there. Emotion wells up in
both men. The younger “rebelistic” son, seeing his father,
who is so like him. The older hep-cat who got cheated by
life of his potential and promise. In this case, his boy,
his boy’s name, pride and reflected glory…
CASSIUS CLAY, SR.
I don’t drink no more.
(squints at him)
You wanna fight?
I don’t wanna fight no more. Not
As they embrace, Odessa comes out, watches them.
EXT. BROAD STREET – PHILADELPHIA – DAY
Ali stands on the street corner, shades, incognito. A gold
Cadillac pulls up: JOE FRAZIER. He is wearing a lemon
yellow cowboy outfit, Stetson hat, striped pants. Ali looks
at him in disbelief.
Who dress you, Joe? You look like
Shut up. Get in.
Ali gets in, Frazier takes off. He sits sideways on the
seat, steers with one finger, flicks on the radio: Isaac Hayes.
What the hell you in Philly for?
Philly my town.
To be closer to you, honey.
There be two undefeated heavyweight
champions! And they ain’t fighting!
I wanna fight you! Said it a
hundred times. The Man won’t let
you fight no more. What you
complainin’ to me for?
‘Cause you gotta get behind this
and we gotta do this.
Frazier screeches to a stop in the middle of Columbia Avenue.
We…”gotta” do nothin’!!!
You wanna get this on, Joe? You
and me? Or not?!
What about your license?
I can fight in Atlanta.
How’s that? What about the Boxing
Georgia ain’t got no state boxing
commission. And Atlanta got a
black city council; a liberal
Jewish mayor, Sam something. It
all set. I do a prelim in Atlanta
with Jerry Quarry. But we got to
get the steamroller movin’ now.
What I got to do?
You announce that if I beat Quarry
you give me the title shot.
(puts it to him)
So what you say…maaan?
Frazier stops in front of his renovated duplex in the North
My daddy was a sharecropper. I
worked in a slaughterhouse…right
on that corner. I came up from
What I got, I got with this. And I
already got the title. So I got
nothing to win and everything to lose.
But you know you ain’t the champ yet.
(looks at him)
All right. You beat Quarry, I’ll
get inna ring and fuck you up…
They drive off. After a moment, Frazier looks sideways at him.
You need any money or anything to
tide you by…?
I’m fine. Thanks.
And Ali rests a hand on Frazier’s shoulder, and they drive
off like that.
INT. FIFTH STREET GYM – ALI + LARRY HOLMES – DAY
sparring. Ali’s sweating more than we have seen him sweat
before. It’s pouring off him. It stains wet his grey
sweatsuit. INTO HIS EYES, through the headgear…
Bingham takes pictures. Sarria, Rudy and the media in force
are there for the start of Ali’s comeback.
FROM BEHIND ALI’S HEAD GEAR
Ali spots…a figure step through the door. It’s Bundini.
Ali, seeing everything all the time, reacts not at all,
turns his back. Bundini is thin, drawn, stooped, but clear-
eyed. Everyone turns. It takes tremendous courage for
Bundini to walk to the ring, expecting another rejection.
Ali goes to Angelo in his corner.
ANGELO DUNDEE (CONT’D)
Weight’s comin’ down. 222.
Ali first acknowledges Bundini. Ali moves down the rope,
scowls down at him.
What you want?
Take me back, boss.
You want me to take you back?
And you a resurrection. This is
God’s act. Anybody love poor
people and little people and
fucked-up people gotta be a prophet.
And the prophet is going home. You
the sun. Let me live in the light.
Take me with, boss.
…I’ll do anything.
Ali considers this man: all jive and bullshit and also his
shaman and resident poet.
You can’t hit what you can’t see.
Bundini slowly comes alive, then:
Float like a butterfly, sting like
They look at each other.
Rumble, young man, rumble!
INT. CITY AUDITORIUM, ATLANTA – ALI + QUARRY – NIGHT
We’ve entered mid-fight in the second round. We’re VERY
CLOSE. Quarry has Ali against the ropes. Ali pushes him
off. Quarry comes in again. Ali dances, feints and catches
Quarry over his right eye with a jab thrown while going
shakes it off. Reorganizes. Throws two jabs, a right to
the body and tries to follow it up with a left hook. Ali
ties him up. The ref separates them. Quarry comes in again.
Ali throws a left cross over Quarry’s right, which Ali
leaned away from, and adds two rapid, glancing jabs to the
same spot. And Ali OPENS A CUT. The BELL sounds, ending
goes nuts, that part that’s pro-Ali: Atlanta’s black elite
and scattered whites. And the thunderous noise becomes one
sound, one momentum, cheering their warrior saint, their
defiant champion’s return. And their ROAR becomes
THUNDER…a momentum unto its own, driving…
ALI’S CORNER: ALI
can’t wait for the bell to ring. He sucks in a huge breath
through his nose and blows it out. Angelo applies Vaseline.
You the man! You Superman! Ain’t
no kryptonite in this ring tonight!
The BELL sounds Round Three.
INT. THE RING – OVER ALI
Past him, hearing him, we ARE him. We think what he thinks;
see what he sees. Quarry’s corner worked on the cut. Ali
feints a left and throws a left cross over Quarry’s attempt
to block it. Quarry comes in again. Ali’s next three
ripping left jabs almost like karate shots…all with a
sharp snap at the point of impact…
streams blood… Interposing himself between their arms…
stops the fight. Irish Jerry Quarry damned by skin that
cuts and bleeds.
goes nuts! Their champion has returned. ALI throws his
arms in the air. QUARRY’S arguing not to have the fight
stopped. Now he appeals to Ali!
CLOSE: ALI + QUARRY
Ali knows Quarry’s anguish. They embrace. Ali says things
to him. And for that moment they are an island. Ali and
Quarry, their arms interlocked, are their own tribe. Two
pugilists, no longer adversarial, a class unto themselves.
picked up by Angelo. Bundini’s run into the ring. Ali’s
arrived. He is coming back.
INT. MUHAMMAD’S DRESSING ROOM – ALI – NIGHT
seated, being examined by Pacheco, his hands still taped.
The dressing room’s crowded. Belinda enters, embraces her
husband. Then Ali hears a familiar voice. He sees Herbert
Muhammad, along with the expressionless Joseph 13X and
another NOI Man, have entered.
…you don’t need their management…
Ali squeezes her hand…and Herbert quietly comes over.
As-Saalam Alaikum…Brother Muhammad…
All praise to Allah…
(a beat, and
And people, feeling the awkwardness, give them room…moving
out of earshot.
The Messenger has lifted the
suspension, Muhammad. Congratulations.
You saying I can be a Muslim again,
I never stopped. Like I never
stopped being champ.
I begged my father to reinstate you.
When? After I promoted Quarry
fight? After I won it?
We can get you Frazier.
I already got Frazier.
We can get you five million dollars
Are we talking management, talking
money or talking religion?
When I got leery and talked up how
come I’m broke, then came the
suspension. Now, you explain that
to me, my brother…?
It’s my father…
(puts a hand on
I love the Nation, Herbert. I love
Elijah Muhammad. But it don’t own me.
Herbert’s convinced he’s getting told “no.”
Now, you go on out. And you make
the Frazier deal.
The reversal surprises Herbert; angers Belinda.
Ali stops him, keeps him distant.
Herbert and Joseph 13X leave.
You b-b-becoming a Christian?
Forgive and forget?
Belinda stares at him, containing her fury. Ali confronts
her look, frankly, then turns to get dressed.
INT. THE DINING HALL – ALI – LATE AFTERNOON
and Belinda, with new twin babies; Maryum; Dundee; Pacheco;
Cassius, Sr.; Sarria; and Ali’s entourage. They’re all
around long tables, eating dinner. A large sign over the
kitchen counter with “Lana Shabazz’ Ten Commandments”…like:
#7 “Anyone bringing guestes in for dinner without prior
notice will be awarded thwacks on skull with sharpe object.”
#8 “Please waite, Rome wasn’t burnt in a day; it takes a
while to burne the roaste.” Lana Shabazz answers a phone
and brings it to Ali. Ali’s got one of the twins, feeding
her a bottle and drinking from it, too.
INT. ABC WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS SET – COSELL – DAY
Muhammad, you T.K.O.’ed ‘em…
What are you talking about, Howard?
No. “The Supreme Court ruled today
in the case of the United States vs.
Cassius Clay, a.k.a. Muhammad
You won an 8-0 unanimous decision.
INT. THE DINING HALL – ALI – LATE AFTERNOON
takes in the news, thanks Howard and hangs up. It is a
shining moment after living under the threat of imprisonment
for three-and-a-half years.
What are you talking about?
Supreme Court set me free.
That’s ‘cause they know the king is
gonna go home to his throne. And
they know everybody’s with you, now.
And they wanna be on the RIGHT side!
INT. MADISON SQUARE GARDEN – WIDE – NIGHT
A sea of glitter: the Black royalty of America in their
’70’s robes. Movie stars 20 rows back. Burt Lancaster is
Cosell’s color man. Frank Sinatra is working as a still
photographer. In the press section are Plimpton types,
Schulberg/Mailer types, Lipsyte, Cosell.
descends from the overhead lighting grid. The announcer’s
hand takes it…
Ladies and gentlemen, fifteen
rounds of boxing for the heavyweight
championship of the world…
ALI looking out the hood of his robe, dancing, shaking it
out, loosening up.
…the contender and former
heavyweight champion of the world,
seeking to regain his title, from
Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad Ali!!!
Catcalls and boos. The other half is a comeback sound. It
is a nation divided: pro-war right-wingers, Nixon supporters
are for Frazier; the anti-war movement, celebrities, New
York liberal establishment, blacks, Puerto Ricans and
hippies are for Ali.
And in the opposite corner, the
current heavyweight champion of the
world, Smokin’ Joe Frazier…!
The contentious roar diminishes only slightly for the announcer.
deep in his focused concentration. His attention so arrow
like it reminds us of the younger man in the Liston
…only SILENCE as the referee’s instructions are given in
SLO-MOTION. Ali bounces on the canvas. We HEAR his feet
shift, turn, dance…and his breathing, expectant. Here
comes the return of what was unfairly taken: his heavyweight
MID-FIGHT – ALI
looks swollen, out of breath. Something’s wrong! Two solid
Ali jabs and a right hook connect. But they slow down
Frazier not at all. Joe Frazier, short and compact, like a
pit bull, bobs and weaves his way inside Ali’s longer reach.
ALI’S CORNER – DUNDEE + BUNDINI
shouting instructions. None get through. Ali looks slow.
INT. RING – PROFILE: ALI + FRAZIER
Frazier, off his bobbing and weaving, launches his
devastating left hook to Ali’s head. Frazier is making the
most of what he is: smaller. Ali clinches.
VERY LOW: FRAZIER + ALI
The referee separates them. Both men throw and miss…Ali
on the right, Frazier on the left. Ali throws a hard left
that catches Frazier but doesn’t stop him. Now Frazier
connects with a wild left hook into Ali’s cheekbone. THE
is knocked down onto his knee. Ruled a slip, he stands
immediately and continues. Ali, backed against the rope
again, blocks shots, pushes Frazier into the middle of the
ALI SWINGS FRAZIER
around. But Frazier cranks his left. ALI SEES IT COMING…
Hook’s comin’. Lean back, man!
Move back! WORK LEGS…!
But Ali’s legs DON’T work fast enough. Frazier’s hook
CRASHES into Ali’s face. Ali goes rubbery as he backs to
the rope. Ali comes out and backs to the rope on the other
side, with cartoon rubbery legs. But the mimicry is
camouflage. He really is wobbling. The crowd is going wild.
We HEAR everything, now.
is wary. He doesn’t trust Ali. He walks across the ring,
allowing Ali to recuperate…THE BELL. Ali walks to his
HOWARD COSELL (V.O.)
Ali was out! He was out on his
feet. Joe almost had him. Frazier
must have thought Ali was playing
possum. ‘Cause Ali’s a clown.
Others have come in on Ali when
he’s playing possum and gotten
Ali saved himself with GUILE.
They clinch. They separate. They both…as if mirror
images of each other…crouch, looking for shots. Ali’s
right is down. Frazier’s right is down. As they both rise
up out of the crouch, Frazier’s out of the box first. Ali’s
right is coming around. Frazier’s left hook slams Ali
across the jaw. Ali goes down. Half the crowd ROARS for
Frazier. Ali gets right up and stands in the corner and
takes the mandatory eight-count. The right side of his face
is swollen like a balloon. They resume…
OVERHEAD: ANOTHER CLINCH
Ali takes another right, but the ropes hold him up. Another
left catches Ali. Frazier’s face is a grotesque, swollen
mask. He doesn’t care.
is exhausted. Labored breathing. The crowd cheering Frazier.
THEN THE BELL.
Ali drops his arms. He knows he lost. Frazier raises his
arms. He knows he won. Half the crowd cheers.
INT. MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, ALI’S DRESSING ROOM – ALI – NIGHT
Hell of a fight, champ…
Not only have we seen Ali lose for the first time, not only
do we see him bruised, but when a fighter’s beaten,
everybody who believes in him is beaten. Angelo’s cutting
the tape off his hands. Bundini places an ice pack on the
back of his neck.
They stole it from you! (etc.)
Bundini’s wise enough to say nothing.
Shut up! I lost.
Get outta here…
Go on! Everybody out!
As they leave, the door reveals packed media outside. Door
closes. Now it’s only the inner circle.
Ferdie, take a look at this…
It was still a hell of a fight.
She fainted… They took her to
the aid station. She’s okay.
Pacheco looks at Ali’s hand. It shakes. Pacheco looks at
Ali’s eyes and has him follow his finger.
My hands was in sand, Angie. My
feet in water…
Maybe we shoulda had more time
between Blin and this, you
know…to get back into…
Woulda, shoulda, coulda…
After three-and-a-half years,
this…from how far back…comeback is.
Ali throws a water bottle. It shatters and splays wet down
the wall. There is mature, deep-seated, dead-serious molten
anger. Everybody in the room feels it.
With Bundini, Bingham, Rudy and Sarria as a wedge, Ali
drives through reporters on the way to Belinda. Press mob
Were you robbed?
I lost. You lose, you don’t shoot
yourself. The world goes on.
Joe said he didn’t think you wanted
to fight him again…
Oh, how wrong he is.
INT. MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, AID STATION – BELINDA – NIGHT
sees Ali…the beating. She begins crying.
My God. They killed you!
Ali moves to her, followed by Bingham and Pacheco. A
doctor’s approaching with a sedative in a syringe.
Get away from her. What is that?
Ali leans over, speaks softly.
I ain’t dead, baby! C’mon.
Embracing her, his eyes connect with Dundee. Ali’s Supreme
Court victory is meaningless. It’s drowned by the loss of
what the political persecution took from him: his prime,
his season that would have been his most brilliant.
INT. SAN DIEGO SPORTS ARENA, ALI VS. NORTON I (2ND ROUND) –
TWO FIGHTERS – NIGHT
BLUR in SLO-MO. Focus is beyond, to the crowd.
OVER ALI: OUT-OF-FOCUS KEN NORTON’S RIGHT FIST
starts an arc…or jams towards us.
RIDING NORTON’S FIST – SLO-MO
towards Ali. We PASS crowd, the lighting grid above and
SLAM into the side of Ali’s jaw, and on the moment of impact…
ECU: X-RAY IMAGE – SLO-MO
of Ali’s jaw breaking, shearing, leaving an eighth-inch gap
in the bone of the lower mandible…and becomes…
taking the shot, covering and assaulting, covering with his
left, which he turns into a jab, aggressively going after
IMAGE TURNS TO WHITE AS…
INT. SAN DIEGO SPORTS ARENA, ALI’S CORNER – WHITE TOWEL
fills the frame. Go behind it as they shield Ali spitting
blood into a bucket.
I can move my jaw with my tongue.
He got me…
Pacheco looks into his mouth.
It’s broke. I think…I think your
Meanwhile, Ali spots…
curious about the activity in Ali’s corner, starts over…
nods to Dundee. Dundee starts to reach. Ali snatches
Angelo’s hand holding the towel. Angelo’s about to end the
Ain’t stoppin’ nothin’…!
(glares at them)
A BELL sounds and Ali goes out to fight in an OVERHEAD SHOT.
BURN OUT TO WHITE:
INT. SAN DIEGO SPORTS ARENA, ALI AND HIS CORNERMEN +
SECURITY – NIGHT
leave the ring and another defeat, as they move up the aisle
towards the locker room…
INT. ALI’S WOODLAWN AVENUE HOUSE (CHICAGO), LIVING ROOM –
ALI – DAY
watching television. The place is a huge mansion on
Chicago’s South Side.
Now that Smokin’ Joe’s run out of
tomato cans to beat up, I finally
got Yank to commit to a rematch
with you in about six months.
Frazier said he’d be happy with
WIDEN TO INCLUDE THE LIVING ROOM WITH BINGHAM, ALI’S
TWINS — RASHEEDA AND JAMILLAH — MUHAMMAD, JR. AND MARYUM
I’ll fly to Jamaica and get Yank to
sign right after Joe beats this big
OVER ALI: CONSOLE TV
They watch the Frazier-Foreman fight from Jamaica amid the
wonderful chaos generated by kids and their toys, who crawl
all over Ali as if he were furniture. Frazier and Foreman
are in the center of the ring… We SEE Don King in
Foreman call me one time after he
won the Olympics…
Meanwhile, Frazier bobs and weaves, ducks and moves like he
did with Ali. Joe throws a left hook, leaning forward with
it. Before it lands, Foreman unleashes a hard right that
jolts Frazier SIDEWAYS. Frazier throws another hook that
misses. Foreman hits him with a combination of right and
three lefts…two hooks and an uppercut that LIFTS FRAZIER
OFF THE GROUND. Ali leans in to SEE…
DOWN GOES FRAZIER! DOWN GOES FRAZIER!
ON TV: THE RING
Frazier stands. The referee does the mandatory eight-count.
Foreman bangs Frazier into the corner and blasts him again.
Frazier tries to muscle out of the corner. Foreman lifts
and throws him back into the corner. Foreman’s power is
unreal. Frazier is the man who beat Ali. Now, Frazier
feints and slides sideways, and Foreman hits him in the back
of the head. Frazier goes down again. It is savage. Here
is a new world champion: George Foreman.
B-b-be easy gettin’ a Frazier fight
now. He ain’t the champ of
anything except getting knocked down.
INT. MADISON SQUARE GARDEN (ALI-FRAZIER II) – HANDS + ARMS –
grabbing. Holding. Ali’s got Joe’s powerful left tied up
this time. A clinch. Separating. A punch. A hook.
Clinching. They separate…
Ali, having Joe at the right range, hits him. Joe moves in.
Ali DRAGS him closer and ties him up. They dance…
Ali does a little shuffle, circles to keep Joe at hitting
distance, lands a combination. Joe closes, but Ali won’t
let him in and ties up Joe. We hear a BELL and that’s the
end of the fight. Not a bang; a whimper.
holds up Ali’s hand and mouths silently words we cannot hear.
And as we MOVE CLOSER INTO ALI’S EYES, we see no exaltation.
This is a victory, but a hollow one. It’s a decision eked out.
INT. NEW YORK COFFEE SHOP – WIDE
The inner circle: Ali, Pacheco, Dundee, Bundini, Bingham.
So we only eked this one out. And
George Foreman makes Frazier look
like a sissy.
You see their fight?
You mean the Joe Frazier falling-
And Foreman is 24. You are 32
years old. I don’t want to see
your head get turned into someone’s
…but, you go? We’re the corner,
same as always. But it ain’t gonna
You think I still got the tools?
You got the tools, Daddy. But they
Well, you better sharpen ‘em up.
‘Cause we goin’ to Africa.
The motherland. From the root to
the fruit. We gonna rumble…in
It’s time to be heavyweight
champion of the world again.
INT. NEW YORK PRESS CONFERENCE – DAY
“Rumble in the Jungle!” That’s the
name I given it.
Ali and Don King hold court with the press. Also there is
George Foreman and his trainer, Dick Sadler, and his manager,
DON KING (CONT’D)
A historical happening. This event
will show that the black man has
arrived on the world stage.
Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in
Don. Zaire? Why not Antarctica?
What’s wrong with New York City?
Because you miss the significance.
I dream, as Martin Luther King once
dreamt, that a man could be judged
by the content of his mind. This
is about black men helping black
men, overcoming four hundred years
of racial depression to the dawn of
a new day of liberation…financial
King getting really evangelistic…
DON KING (CONT’D)
It will raise up the spirit of our
inner cities. It will rise up and
fill with hope the souls, the
unrequited needs of the black
proletariat, that is, the
discouraged, dispirited, denigrated,
denizens of the demimonde, that is
Ali’s looking at him in amazement.
Man, you crazy.
Don King laughs. As the press digs King…MOVE ONTO Foreman,
and here’s what’s wrong with all of this…we SEE that
Foreman, eight years younger, two inches taller, almost as
fast and seemingly twice as strong, is not beatable by
Muhammad Ali. Foreman just doesn’t hurt you, Foreman can
kill you. How is Ali not going to get killed by this man
with death in his eyes and indifference on his face?
Ten million dollars. With one
stroke of the pen, you split the
world’s biggest emolumation of the
history of sports!
Ali signs a contract; then Foreman. Flashbulbs.
DON KING (CONT’D)
The “Rumble in the Jungle”!
Don King bursts out laughing.
EXT. KINSHASA AIRPORT, TARMAC – ROOF – PAST HEADS – DAY
PUSH THROUGH people and SEE an Air Zaire DC-10 pulling in.
A ramp is wheeled up. The plane stops taxiing. Zairian
officials in safari suits, paratroopers with white helmets,
LT. NSAKALA and hundreds of African, European and American
media with cameras and lights approach. The hatch opens. A
ROAR emerges from the right and left. We don’t see the source.
INT. AIR ZAIRE DC-10’S – ALI
Belinda’s behind him. Bingham’s there, Bundini, Angelo
Dundee, Sarria. As they crowd to the door, we’re shooting
OVER ALI starting down the ramp. He looks up. We don’t see
what he sees. We see only the crowd of people at the foot
of the ramp, including Don King in a dashiki and the crowd
on the tarmac.
looking ABOVE the receiving party. The ROAR again. He
looks side to side, almost distracted from King and the
officials. He waves. Distant CROWD ROAR increases.
They’re chanting something. We don’t understand the words.
It contains his name. Now…
PAST ALI: REVEAL A THOUSAND PEOPLE
are beyond the receiving party. They’re on the roof of the
airport. They’re sitting on balconies and fences. They’re
waving their arms. They’re on every possible horizontal
surface that can support weight. They’re shouting in unison,
a syncopated ROAR…his name and something else. Ali moves
through the receiving party, as if in a trance, to get
through the airport to the other side. Security tries to
EXT. AIRPORT ENTRANCE + STREET – ALI
emerges and reacts. He’s electrified. Dundee, Bingham, and
a few cops are with him. Everybody else got left behind.
REVEAL 10,000 people are OUTSIDE the airport, cheering his
arrival. Their cheer is thunder.
(to Zairian Official;
What are they saying, man?!!! Why
they saying that?
ZAIRIAN OFFICIAL #1
They say, “Ali, boma ye. Ali, boma
What’s that mean?! I don’t understand!
ZAIRIAN OFFICIAL #1
ZAIRIAN OFFICIAL #1
(has to shout)
It mean…”Ali, kill him! Ali,
Ali moves forward. The Zairian Official and four cops fade
back, nervous about being in so large a crowd. The crowd’s
a tidal wave, carrying Ali forward, supporting, never
is overcome. This is all for him. He is their hero. He
defied the world’s powerful. They tried and could not
destroy him. His defiance made him their champion. And now
he has come to contest his rightful title against the numb
instrument of the all-powerful. He raises his arm, too, and
Ali, boma ye!
Ten thousand voices carry it on the wind and take away Ali’s
Ali, boma ye!
DON KING, ZAIRIAN OFFICIALS #1 + #2
in the rear realize, as do we, this is NOT MERELY A BOXING
CUT TO: INT. AIR ZAIRE DC-10 – NIGHT
A towering man in denims with sequins blocks our view of the
door as he walks out onto the ramp. Only now do we see
BEYOND HIM a small welcoming party. Native African dancers,
a big banner that proclaims, “Welcome, George Foreman,” the
Zairian paratroopers, media and a few dozen of the curious.
FRONTAL: GEORGE FOREMAN
looks like “Superfly” on steroids. His entourage follows
him down the ramp. DICK SADLER, tough and smart, is the
Louis Armstrong of trainers. ARCHIE MOORE, crafty and wise,
wears a blue shirt and blue pea-cap.
If George Foreman wonders at the paucity of his reception,
he doesn’t let on.
INT. ALI’S HOUSE, N’SELE – ALI – MORNING
sits in EXTREME CLOSE-UP drinking coffee…lost in thought.
He’s somewhere else, puzzled, alone in his thoughts. He
wears grey sweatpants, a thin-rubber long-sleeved T-shirt
under his grey sweatshirt. He’s oblivious to the Euro-
modern furnishings. Then it’s time, and he leaves…
EXT. N’SELE COMPOUND – WIDE: ALI
enters from his bungalow. We SEE we’re in a compound. They
are white and severely truncated houses linked by sidewalks
and too many large street lamps. As Ali starts to jog
through this imitation of suburbia with the scale all wrong.
It’s like a Gulag in reverse for the rich and powerful to be
within while keeping the rest of the country out. As Ali
passes, REVEAL we are at the bank of the Congo River. As
Ali starts his predawn run, across the river the first band
of magenta tints the horizon and reflects molten on the water.
TRACKING SHOT: ALI + DUNDEE, SARRIA IN A PICKUP TRUCK – RED
plus two trainers and the ever-present Zairian POLICEMAN, Lt.
Nsakala. The early paints the red-earth ochre.
Fast. Six left jabs flash from his
chest and shoulder, followed by a
right hook and left and right
Back up, maaan…
Ali slides to the right and throws a left jab and hooks off
EXT. KINSHASA ROAD – EMPTY ROAD – MORNING LIGHT
Ali ENTERS, running. The road is lined with Mobutu’s green
billboards in French and English, proclaiming Zaire
wonderful. A few kids emerge from behind the signs, coming
out from between…and they trail Ali.
Ali, boma ye!
Ali, boma ye George Foreman!
And he throws a couple at an imaginary George Foreman.
There are 15 to 16 kids, now.
You out, sucker!
Curious, Ali runs behind the green signs from where the kids
still jogging. Behind the signs, he becomes a magnetic
attraction. People are surprised to see Ali. He’s making
their day. Euphoric kids parallel him, run with him, follow
the concrete-and-cinder-block walls to the dusty, bare
ground are chromatic. Primary colors. Ethnographically
ALI SEES interiors. Broken walls. No roof. No plumbing.
People come from a ditch with a shower curtain for privacy,
surprised to see Ali. Faces indifferent to squalor. This
is the ethnographically “interesting” surface of what, in
fact, is civic disintegration starting to occur… It is
the human concomitant to 13 years of Mobutu kleptocracy.
looks at the backs of the signs. He and we realize the
signs’ purpose: to hide the makeshift plastic walls and
rooms made from cardboard containers and oil drums from the
foreigners traveling the road to Kinshasa. One TEENAGER
WITH A WITHERED ARM and a big smile runs up…
You beat them, Ali!
Foreman? I kill him!
He mimes knocking out Foreman. Something powerful is
affecting Ali. We don’t know what it is. Ali slows down…
…throws two lightning jabs and a hook. Ali reaches to the
kid’s head and pulls a coin. He flips it to another kid and
walks on. A SECOND TEENAGER comes out and wants Ali to look
at something around the back. He takes Ali’s hand…and
holds it. Ali complies. The entourage follows…
AROUND CORNER: KIDS’ PAINTING ON WALL
It’s an imitation fight poster. Childlike caricatures in
Basquiat-like brush strokes. Foreman’s got crosses for eyes.
He’s out! Ali is victorious! His fist is raised. His
cartoon face shouts his victory…the people’s champion.
There’s more. There’s knocked-out white policemen, knocked-
out black soldiers, knocked-out landlords, knocked-out South
Africa, knocked-out planes and tanks, knocked-out tse-tse
So much, it means “ALL”…all expectation. This childish
painting powerfully affects Ali. The kids look at him.
It’s still. Some kids in the back leap up in the air to see
over taller heads what Ali’s doing.
looks at individual faces. A grinning OLDER MAN with a blue
transistor radio (we’ll see him later). A smiling kid. A
girl with no shoes. A teenage kid jumping up and down…all
looking at him. Ali makes four pieces of rope appear. He
rubs them together…
They become one. Everybody goes nuts. As Ali leaves, his
eyes go back to the people and the painting…
EXT. KINSHASA ROAD – ECU: ALI’S FACE – MORNING (GREEN SCREEN)
…even if I die here. If it kill
me, no matter what…I gotta win.
Concentration has taken him into the athlete’s zone, the
state of unified awareness wherein dwells his total self-
knowledge. And he knows the transaction: what they give
him with their adoration, which he converts to power, is in
exchange for what he means to them. And what he means to
them is specific: he represents them in defying power and
vanquishing what oppresses. He validates the existence of
expectation, that struggle is possible…George Foreman,
mute and unknowingly, represents disinterested power. Ali
doesn’t “accept” his obligation; he embraces it. It is his
purpose, revealed. And he will never waver from it.
INT. INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL, ANTEROOM (KINSHASA) – ALI – DAY
waits, sitting on a table edge in a corridor. Noise of a
press conference setting. Howard Cosell crosses through,
smoking. Bingham enters and gestures…they’re ready. Ali
waves off Bingham, stops Cosell…
Howard! How many you ugly
sportswriters in there got me over
Foreman? Don’t lie.
Some of us…Norman, me…are
worried. How you gonna dance
against George?? He’s sparring
with a middleweight, training to
cut you off. He gets you against
the ropes, he can knock you out
with either hand.
What’s the odds?
We’re worried you’re going to get hurt.
No one thinks Ali will win.
INT. INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL, MEDIA CONFERENCE ROOM – CLOSE:
ALI – DAY
This’ll be the biggest upset since
Sonny Liston. I want all of you to
write it down! This fight is no
We’ve jammed into the middle of Ali in a blast of braggadocio.
George Foreman is a big mummy.
I’ve officially named him “The Mummy.”
George punches are like “Look out,
here come the left.” Whomp!
Here come the right! Whomp! Like
a Mummy. But “The Mummy” can’t hit
what it can’t see. I’m fast!
Gonna dance. Be all over George.
George is gonna feel he surrounded.
And I done somethin’ new for this
fight; I done rassled with an
Anticipatory laughter. They’ve had twelve years’ experience
of Ali’s stand-up and know when a new routine’s starting…
Ali almost loses it)
I have rassled with an alligator.
I done tussled with a whale. I
done handcuffed lightning, thrown
thunder in jail. That’s bad! Only
last week I murdered a rock.
Injured a stone. Hospitalized a
brick. I’m so mean, I make
Muhammad, I’m sorry. I have to ask.
(he hesitates; he’s
Are you really fast enough, anymore?
To beat George Foreman? Many
people believe you don’t have the
same skills, that you are not the
same man you used to be ten years ago.
There it is. Has doubt, spoken truthfully in the open,
closed the mouth of Muhammad Ali? A beat. Then…
Howard. I didn’t want to talk
about this, especially in front of
everybody. But I talked to your
wife! And she told me you’re not
the man you used to be…two years ago!
The assembled media crack up. Ali’s eyes are wide in mock
A bittersweet smile and the eye contact with Ali. Cosell
INT. GYM FLOOR – HEAVY BAG – LATE AFTERNOON
is slammed by a massive fist. It leaves a dent the size of
a deflated basketball. The fist is George Foreman’s.
holds the bag. Foreman throws hooks, one after the other.
Each blow rocks Sadler. George is literally punching a hole
in the bag. These blows would mash an opponent’s liver,
break ribs, destroy kidneys. This man can do more than hurt
you. This man can kill you.
INT. RING – FOREMAN + SPARRING PARTNER – LATER
Foreman is boxing a middleweight. He is smaller than
Foreman and, therefore, faster. And, that’s the point. The
partner tries to circle, slide, dance away, and Foreman cuts
him off and drives him to the ropes where he tags him. He
doesn’t put a lot behind it. Partner slides…
darts left and jars him with three left jabs, keeping him on
the rope. Foreman’s training to defeat Ali’s dancing, his
“float + sting” tactics.
CLOSE: GEORGE FOREMAN
is young, has unreal power and he can move.
INT. TRAINING COMPOUND – METAL GRILL DOORS: ALI’S ENTOURAGE
is entering. Lieutenant Nsakala is there, too. They time-
share the facility. Foreman’s entourage with conga drummers
are exiting. Ali and Foreman are never closer than 10 feet
apart. Foreman says nothing. Ali starts banging his hands
on Foreman’s conga and shouts over the percussion at Foreman…
Salaam Alaikum, brothers!
(raises one arm)
The champ is here!
SIDE ANGLE: THE TWO ENTOURAGES
pass. Comparatively, Foreman looks bigger. He is more
dense of bone. He’s taller. His chest seems deeper and his
AND FOREMAN’S EXPRESSION
is casual, unrattled by Ali’s antics. He is menacing in his
indifference. It means he’s ALSO immune to getting psyched
out by Ali.
INT. RING – CROWD – LATER
Bundini’s in Ali’s corner. Ali’s sparring partner is Larry
Holmes. Ali’s hands are at his side. He dances, bicycles,
shuffles, dances, dodges, doesn’t throw anything, his elbows
at his side. Ali is training to DANCE from Foreman. He’s
fast, but not seemingly suspended in air as he was 10 long
years ago against Liston.
INT. N’SELE COMPOUND, ALI’S HOUSE – BELINDA – MORNING
Here’s your water.
Bottled water. Frozen steaks.
Brought all this stuff like
Africans don’t have steaks…
You could pick up parasites…
They eat it.
You’re seeing what you want to see,
Mobutu eats it…
Mobutu is taking care of Mobutu and
stealing all the wealth and sending
it to Switzerland…
So? What’s that do with any of why
(she doesn’t get it)
We’re here ‘cause Don King got
Mobutu to put up ten million
dollars. Don King don’t give a
damn about Africa. He worse than
Here come “Herbert.”
Yeah. ‘Cause where was he when we
was broke and borrowing money? And
Bundini and all them that “love
you”? Disappeared, is where they
(on a roll)
All over you when you got it and
drop off you when you don’t…
Money? I do “money-making”
whenever I want. Money is easy.
And Don King fit right in…that
double-breasted hipster is now a
Don King delivered the first black-
promoted championship fight in Africa!
Don King talks black, lives white
and thinks green! Why you
defending him and “brother” Herbert?
‘Cause clean-cut Muslims parading
on the South Side of Chicago don’t
get this done! I got to put
honkeys with connections and bad-
ass niggers to it, too.
And now they got you up against
George Foreman. Do they give a
damn you could get killed?
That what this is? Think I gonna
lose? Puttin’ doubt on me?
I think: why is my Muslim husband
letting himself get strung up on a
cross…? It means, “tell me.”
He won’t. Ali picks up his bag and starts out…
Maryum is sick. Maybe I oughta go
back to Chicago and look after her.
I’ll be back before the fight.
If that’s all right, my husband…
He walks out the door.
EXT. KINSHASA ARENA – 75 ZAIRIAN TRIBAL DANCERS – NIGHT
to percussion. The number.
Angelo and Bingham in the empty seating, looking at the ring
under the canopy. Behind them is the rehearsal. Meanwhile…
EXT. ARENA, ENTRANCE – TWO CARS
arrive, including in the first an Interpreter, Zairian
Official #2, a Policeman Driver; and in the second car is
Don King, Herbert, VERONICA, and another American Woman
(silent bit). They’re in a hurry…
EXT. ARENA – ALI
is being taught to dance by two dancers. They fail. In the
background, workers are raising gigantic Mobutu portraits.
The Pointer Sisters begin.
Don King and entourage approach.
(over the drumming)
Champ! Champ! George had an accident.
What are you talking about?
Pointer Sisters start “Yes, We Can Can.”
Got cut. Right above his right eye.
His sparring partner’s elbow.
Split it open, so…
Can he fight?
Not for six weeks.
DON KING (CONT’D)
This is not a humorous situation,
my champion. This postponement
could be long, especially if George
Are you tryin’ to pull something,
Don? Ali wants his title. And he
wants it back in Zaire. George
leaves, he ain’t comin’ back.
George don’t like it here.
Pointer Sisters’ rehearsal cuts…re-organizes.
How right you are, my suspicious
and short Italian brother. And my
fiduciary responsibility to this
first all-black promotion is like a
garden in the African sun. It must
grow! It must bloom! It cannot
flower in the gloom and shade of
postponement to some dome. Like
the Astrodome, the Super-dome, any
dome outta Zaire, where it be
deprived of light and bled of water.
‘Cause what gonna bleed…is money.
A hemorrhage of cash.
(sees it all)
…blood on the floor. Double
hotel costs. Double travel costs.
Airplanes. Food and beverage…
What do you expect us to do, Don?
(moves close to Ali)
Muhammad. Find a way to get George
to stay. Be Moses in reverse: do
NOT let my people go! Stay the
fuck right here, in Egypt, if
you’ll pardon my Swahili.
Lingala. They s-s-s-speak Lingala.
Pointer Sisters probably end here. After a beat, percussion
starts up. Dancers drift in.
(pissed, dissed big)
If George goes? You forfeit five
million. You crawl back to
Cincinnati. You ain’t promotin’ a
We see Herbert watching all of this closely…particularly
the challenge to Ali/Dundee.
If George goes? George goes, my
champion, I will get you Joe
Frazier. Ali-Frazier III…the
fight everybody want to see.
INT. PRESS CONFERENCE
Truth is…George knocked hisself out.
Don King laughs, nervously. Ali is daring George to stay.
That’s right. He did three rounds.
Knew he was gonna lose to Muhammad
Ali and knocked hisself out. And I
predict that whenever the fight is
set, he might not show up!
I’m a bad man!
Ain’t no doubt about it.
And you tell the same thing to George.
Media laugh, Don King goes along, Ali continues…
I been watchin’ you! I heard you.
I know he’s your man. I know you
got him picked. But the man’s in
The whole world was gonna know.
But, now, he ain’t gonna show.
That’s why he knocked hisself out
when he was training.
(laughs to dismiss
We will reschedule the fight, and
to ensure George is ready, we are
thinking of postponing from
September 24th to October 30th.
What about the concert, Don?
That would go off as planned on
September 22nd and 23rd.
Uh-huh. I want all helicopters
guarded! Private boats. Private
jets. I want the airport — I’m
serious — I want President Mobutu
and all his paratroopers. Mobutu
and all his paratroopers. I want
all of you “Zaireans” to be on
guard! Watch all strange boats
tryin’ to slip away! They might be
takin’ him out.
The bus station.
It’s Ali kidding on the square. A serious point delivered
not seriously to be taken seriously.
Yeah. Watch the bus station.
Watch everything! Elephant
caravans. He might sneak out by
BUNDINI thinks of a line and whispers it to Don. Don leans
past Dundee to pass it on Ali.
What you say?
I ain’t talkin’ to you!
His eyes flash. He leans forward and puts a finger in Don
Don’t talk to Angelo like that!
Don’t you talk to him like that
Ali ain’t fucking around. Ali has reasons for working with
Don. Belittling Angelo cuts across all that. Danger’s in
the air. Dundee puts his hands up.
You think you’re callin’ these
shots, Don? You’re not.
Ali pulls out a comb and starts to comb his hair.
(segues into a
All those ladies out there know.
Ali being mercurial is unexpected by Don. Laughter from
particularly the women as he combs his hair and segues…
They know I’m ready! I see fear in
the eyes of his followers! I see
fear! This is the fight that
Muhammad Ali was supposed to be
ended. The myth of Muhammad was
supposed to fall!
(hits the table with
his fist; glares at
Supposed to be my destruction!
(French voices and
They miscalculated. They misjudged.
They got it…wrong.
Ali’s served notice to anyone with ears to hear it: he’s
multidimensional, strategic and dangerous as hell. A taste
of what’s to come.
EXT. VERANDA – ALI, BUNDINI, BINGHAM + ANGELO – DAY
Waiters scurry. Ali talks to a blonde reporter from France
and settles next to Lloyd Price, without a shirt. Everyone
crowds around their table. A ZAIRIAN INTERPRETER and
Lieutenant Nsakala are present. Ali disregards their
presence because his attention tracks…
ALI’S POV: VERONICA
seen over the heads of Zairians. She’s 5 feet 10 inches
tall. Without acknowledging she’s the object of Ali’s
attention, her radar tells her she’s the object of Ali’s
Veronica turns, sees Ali. Lights up.
C’mere. I know you?
OVER VERONICA as she makes her way to the table by Ali’s
side, where he takes her hand in his.
I don’t think so.
What’s your name?
Like the sports car.
But with a little something extra.
Veronica, I know you now. C’mere,
He steers her into the chair next to him, which is
immediately vacated by Lloyd Price.
You with Don?
Don brought me here, but I’m not
The others are paying them no attention. Bundini stands to
talk to Howard Cosell. There’s an ocean of side
conversations. Ali’s presentation to Veronica is natural,
open admiring. It is not seduction. It’s more seductive
than seduction. She feels from Ali nothing predatory or
exploitative…only the warm rays of the sun from his open
face and appreciating eyes. Still holding her hand…
Where you from?
Meanwhile, George Foreman, with Sadler, Moore, Broadus, sees
and laughs at Ali and Veronica and onto George Foreman going
L.A. But my people are from
Louisiana. We’re Creole. So I’m
African, French, Spanish, my
mother’s grandfather was Jewish.
(looking at her
Well…they all came together real
…I’m glad you said what you did.
You made sure this fight stays here.
All them writers in there think
Foreman gonna…kill me!
(eyes go wide)
What you think?
Ali, boma ye.
Meanwhile, 15 Chinese and some Vietnamese approach and wait
patiently. Ali has to force his attention away from
Veronica to respond… They all bow. He bows.
The Zairian Interpreter translates English to French to
another Zairian, who speaks Mandarin. It all gets lost in
chaos while Bingham shoots pictures and a Plimpton type
explains pedantically to Bundini…
…she’s an African “succubus.”
Means witch doctor.
Succubus? Suck my dick. They
ain’t room in Africa for more than
one witch doctor. And that’s B’dini.
The eyes of some of the Asians are very emotional. Ali
stands up and bows to them. Chinese bow themselves away.
Ruth Pointer arrives. Ali kisses her. She sits, but talks
You been to Hong Kong? Taiwan?
I can’t go there. All the ladies
out there from Indonesia, Japan,
imitating female fans)
“Ali-i-i-e-e-e! Ali-e-e-e! Oh,
(speaks in faux foreign
female fans; to Bingham)
You seen those people from Thailand?
I was in Bangkok — I couldn’t walk.
(laughter; hangs his
I couldn’t…I just couldn’t do
nothin’. “Get me outta this
The women were so pretty…
‘B-b-b-bout Hong Kong, man?! You
know what I heard?
Ladies in Thailand, their hair
comes down to their knees…and
they about Veronica’s
complexion…and they bad!
But they ain’t nothin’ like the
hands, looks deep
into her eyes)
Ain’t NOTHIN’ like the sisters!
Veronica laughs as Ali mocks swooning over her… Another
news crew arrives.
Let’s go for a ride.
EXT. KINSHASA SHANTYTOWN – KIDS – DUSK INTO NIGHT
and old people, teenagers in dirty T-shirts with strange
hats. Their eyes are wide.
shows his bare hands. Now he rubs them together and
MAGICALLY pulls from his closed fist a colored scarf. The
squints, trying to figure out how he did it, because…
shows the scarf, pushes back his cuffs so that he can’t hide
anything up his sleeves. His wrists are bare. He shows
both sides. Now, he takes the scarf and pushes with his
right hand and feeds it into the closed fist of his left.
He looks up wide-eyed at everybody. Then, he opens his
fingers and the scarf is not there!
ALI + VERONICA
walk, towering over the kids. One girl holds Ali’s hand.
The others maintain a respectful proximity so that they
don’t invade the space around Ali.
So why you glad we still here?
Holdin’ this in Africa make people
proud. All over the world.
They’re proud of you. Anybody can
fight in Vegas.
That’s one job. I got two…
They pass through cinder-block houses, shipping crates, oil
drums for cooking fires, a few car parts.
…gotta whup George!
Islamic faith help you to that?
Listen, girl, as a Muslim, I am
busted out and failed in the eyes
of God. I shoulda discovered Islam
at 50! ‘Cause I am weak on women.
They take my eyes and my heart
follow…causing me to be a lovin’
husband and a terrible husband…!
(looks down at her,
…green eyes and cocoa skin…?
(feigns wobbly legs)
…okay, rest of me, let’s go!!
Veronica laughs. She brings his hand up to her mouth and
kisses it. Hand in hand, a towering man and a towering
woman walk away at their ease against the soft sky with
their entourage of teenagers and kids. On the perimeter, a
kid does flips and, then, gets distracted…
INT. N’SELE GYM – SPEED BAG – DAY
A syncopated, obscuring, blurred shape of the bag turned
into a percussion instrument by Ali’s fast hands trying to
get even faster.
Ali SLAMS a right hook at the bag. It almost explodes.
OPTIONAL: Ali takes body hits, tries sliding off head shots.
INT. RING – ALI’S EYES
feints his left and throws a right. It surprises Holmes.
You can’t lead a right hand. Not
Too long…to get it there. Man, I
mean, to think you could hit him
with a right lead…it’s insulting…
Nobody would lead a right…
Ali sees something beyond the ring. And, now, flicks four
ripping left jabs into Holmes and slides sideways as Holmes
tries to catch Ali with a right. But Ali changes directions,
changes back and now comes over Holmes’ right with his own
left cross, and a six-or-seven-punch combination. It is Ali
dancing and floating. Crowd cheers…”TIME.”
meanwhile, has thrown his arms around Dick Sadler, Foreman’s
manager. (We realize this is why Ali segued from serious
work to snapping his traditional left jab.)
I got him! Lock him up.
Hey, hold up, chump! Make this
chump turn me loose.
Sadler’s there with his wife and another couple. Rudy joins,
laughing. Bundini turns loose Sadler. Ali and Sadler like
This is my wife, Irene…
Sadler affectionately puts an arm around Ali’s neck and
reaches up and pretends to hit Ali on top of the head with a
fist for Bingham’s camera. Ali bites his lower lip and
starts wrestling with Sadler, putting him in a headlock.
Sadler’s arm is around Ali’s waist.
Hey! Look! Look at George
Foreman’s trainer, feelin’ me up on
purpose! On the side, to see if
I’m in shape!
More laughter. Sadler’s beret falls off. Rudy puts it back on.
Can I have your autograph?
We’ll, you ain’t gonna find no fat!
(lunges for wife’s
Give me that thing!
Muhammad. Give her an Ali button!
The gang laughs.
No, you ain’t.
All right, give my wife an Ali button.
She’s gotta put it on.
Give my wife one.
Bo’dini, you got Ali buttons?
“George” buttons is all I got. In
my bedroom! All over the bed!
Everywhere! To remind me…of all
of ya’. All of ya’! Reminds me of
Throughout the above he’s pretending to jab at Dick, who’s
laughing and feinting at him. It’s raucous. Fond
relationships transcend the adversarial roles. They are all
of the tribe of boxers. Sadler is a particularly bright and
talented man. Meanwhile…
INT. COMPOUND, OTHER SIDE OF THE RING – AN OLDER BRADLEY
accompanied by an American Reporter is nabbed by a French
Pardon. Vous êtes de l’ambassade
des Etats-Unis? Vous avez une
Excuse me. You are from the U.S.
Embassy? Do you have a prediction?
Je suis avec l’Agence américane
d’informations. Il ne m’est pas
permis d’exprimer mes préférences
entre deux citoyens des Etats-Unis.
I’m with the U.S. Information
Agency. I’m not allowed to take
favorites among two United States
He walks away.
EDGE OF THE RING: ANGELO DUNDEE
sits on the apron of the ring. Ali joins him.
EXT. COMPOUND – SADLER – DAY
leaving, steals a glance at Ali and Dundee. It’s adversarial.
The camaraderie was not false. Both are true. But being
strategic, he is a threat to Ali. George has a first-rate team.
INT. INTERCONTINENTAL, ALI’S SUITE – ALI – DAY
enters with Howard Cosell and Howard Bingham and a two-man
Hello, Muhammad. Bingham. Mr. Cosell.
When did you get in?
Just now. Muhammad, may I have a
word with you, please?
Belinda starts towards the bedroom. Ali looks to Howard and
gestures with his hand to get rid of everybody. As the
bedroom door closes, Cosell, crew and Bingham can’t wait to
get out of there.
INT. INTERCONTINENTAL SUITE, BEDROOM – DAY
What is going on?
You know what’s going on.
(it’s not the
But I don’t have to have it thrown
in my face. I don’t have to read
about it and have people call me up
on the phone about it…
I didn’t mean for it to come out…
Oh, hell, Muhammad, you got no
discretion. You never did. You
Belinda slams a lamp standing next to her.
I clean for you. I cook for you.
I feel every punch you take.
I know that.
Then why you got to be visible with
I didn’t mean for it to be…
I live with the casual ones.
(gestures to Veronica’s
But this, this…I can’t hold it
I don’t want to hurt you. It’s
wrong. You’re a good wife to me.
Then why do you disrespect me this
I respect you. I always respect you.
Belinda pauses. A terrible question occurs to her.
Do you love her?
Ali doesn’t answer.
Do you want to marry her?
I follow my heart.
“You’re following your heart”?
(sarcasm falls away)
That’s what you do. No matter what
anybody says. Or thinks. Or what
And what happens now?
I fight George.
(after a beat)
I didn’t come this far to quit.
Neither of us did.
Ali looks at her a moment. Then he leaves. Silence.
Belinda sits on the bed. She looks up. Then she comes
apart. She rips open a closet. She finds Veronica’s
clothes, rips them, shreds peignoirs, overturns a night
table, strips the bed, smashes more furniture, throws
Veronica’s suitcase at the mirror. It does not break. She
looks around the wrecked room. Bingham is standing there.
Belinda looks up, tears in her eyes.
You can’t beat him. You can’t beat
him, ‘cause you can’t not love him.
INT. ALI’S HOUSE, N’SELE, SHOWER – ALI – NIGHT
under the water. It flows like silver down the contours of
his face and neck. He is in that zone of concentration
where the best athletes go…where the pre-motor cortex’s
activity dominates and facial expression becomes blank, eyes
look distantly…Ali’s in his domain…in the groove.
EXT. COMPOUND, N’SELE, REAR SHOT: ALI’S CITROEN – NIGHT
and outriders depart.
INT. MOBUTU’S PALACE, A SITTING ROOM – SERVANTS – NIGHT
prepare a luxurious setting. On a platform is a large TV
set. In front of it, with low tables are two large
armchairs with antimacassars. At the door are Mobutu’s
spit-and-polish paratrooper bodyguards. They STOMP their
feet to attention as…
in his tan uniform and signature leopard-skin hat enters,
followed by an entourage of aides.
MOBUTU’S MILITARY AIDE
We are ready, your excellent
President for Life…
Invite Monsieur Idi to join me
now… The Banker? The American?
MOBUTU’S MILITARY AIDE
They are waiting in the sitting room.
INT. ALI’S DRESSING ROOM – DUNDEE
wrapping Ali’s hands, tears the tape into narrow strips to
go between the fingers. Doc Broadus, from Foreman’s camp,
observes the wrapping, then signs it. In addition to
function, the taping feels ritualistic.
attention is focused elsewhere…on his action: what he
will do, his strategy.
Countdown is on, bro. Five minutes.
Ali gets off the training table. Angelo has finished. He
puts on his robe and starts warming up before the mirror,
throwing punches for a full minute.
enters. Ali and Herbert go to an alcove.
Thanks to Allah…
Sarria sticking sealed bottles filled with honey, orange
juice and water into the water bucket. As Ali puts on the
robe, the others gather up the gear, start out. Herbert
moves to Ali, preparing for the entrance, to be as close to
him for the cameras as possible…
Give us a moment. Alone.
(off Herbert’s look)
Hey. This is my religion!
Herbert and Pat Patterson, the bodyguard, with his chrome-
plated .45, follow the others away from Ali. Angelo begins
applying Vaseline on Ali’s face. They’re alone in the room.
ANGELO DUNDEE (CONT’D)
It’s hot. Humid. Monsoon season’s
about to start. May hit 140 in the
ring under the lights. You all right?
Where you at?
Foreman ain’t no mummy. He’s
knocked out eight out of eleven
before the end of the third round.
He the most dangerous fighter I
I’d worry if I was hearin’ anything
Ali loosens up his neck.
And I can’t WAIT!
Dance. That’s the most important…
Ali looks at Dundee enigmatically. Before Angelo can ask…
throws towels across Ali’s shoulders. Ali puts on his long
African robe, which is white with African-graphic trim on
the cuffs of the sleeves and the hem.
Forget every battle of man against
man, of mind against mind, of soul
against soul. This is the one.
This is the greatest.
Ali nods to him.
This is it.
The prophet’s come back to claim
his own! Get the pretender off
Rumble, young man, rumble! It’s
the “Rumble in the Jungle”!
WIDE FROM ABOVE: ALI’S CAMP
starts moving towards the door. They open the door. It is
guarded by a handpicked squad of paratroopers and Lieutenant
Paratroopers on either side like a wedge, guarding Ali with
Angelo, Bundini, Rudy and Herbert, as they push through the
door, out into the hall.
TRAVEL WITH THEM AS
people in the corridor at the end see Ali. The chant begins…
Ali! Ali! Boma ye, Ali! Ali!
The sound from the corridor picks up a second reverberation
that booms from a distant vast space. As we move towards it,
to encounter it. And suddenly we…
BURST OUT INTO THE STADIUM…
EXT. KINSHASA ARENA – WIDE: EVERYTHING – NIGHT
Lights flood it. They pour down artificial sunshine.
Ali, boma ye! Ali, boma ye! Ali,
ROARS from 65,000 voices at a quarter to four in the morning.
The moon is out, revealing storm clouds.
HIGH + WIDE SHOTS: ALI
and entourage. The crowd goes nuts.
TRAVELING WITH ALI THROUGH THE MASS
The crowd roars; Angelo behind, Bundini on one side, Pacheco
EXT. RING – WE ENTER
They cheer. Ali raises his hand and salutes them. Ali
dances from one end of the ring to the other…dances into
George’s corner… The crowd roars.
ANOTHER ANGLE: ALI
dances back to his corner…
George is playing prima donna. He
wants to make you wait.
Ali laughs. You won’t psyche out Muhammad Ali with that
stuff. Instead, Ali uses the time. He tests the ropes. He
gets the feel of the distance between the center and the corner.
circles the ring. He looks at the crowd from different
angles, from the corner, the center… He looks up at the
lights and gets used to the heat from them.
do a shuffle. He feels the canvas. He feels the soft spots.
The firm spots. He feels how much slide there is because of
the resin on the canvas, how much spring there is in the
sheds his robe, now, and throws a blistering array of jabs
and hooks. The crowd goes nuts. Ali looks ringside and sees…
ALI’S POV: JIM BROWN
Lloyd Price…further along…Robert Lipsyte.
EXT. ARENA – AISLE – SUDDENLY
out comes Foreman in his red robe, Archie Moore following in
his blue pea-cap, and Dick Sadler — never a fashion
plate — in the world’s least-attractive T-shirt, followed
by former featherweight champ Sandy Saddler.
Foreman! Foreman! Foreman! Foreman!
THE RING – ALI
is shadowboxing as Foreman climbs in the ring and crosses
past him, near to him. The look on Ali’s face is indifferent.
Foreman goes immediately to his stool. He doesn’t move
around the ring. He doesn’t touch the ropes.
as tall as only three other men: Foreman, Ali and Bundini,
walks into the ring wearing black…
the referee, moves to the center of the ring. A great roar
fills the air: “ALI, BOMA YE! ALI, BOMA YE! ALI, BOMA
YE!”…another one. “FOREMAN! FOREMAN!”
as Ali, Foreman and both their crews meet in the center of
Now, both of you know the rules.
When I step back, I want a good,
(Clayton keeps going)
No hitting below the belt, no
kidney punches, no…
Motherfucker, you ‘bout to discover
you ain’t nothin’.
Ali, be quiet!
George’s eyes glare. Ali rocks back and forth, ready to rumble.
No kidney punches. Now…
(past the ref;
You been hearin’ about me for years.
All your life you been hearin’
about Muhammad Ali. Now you gotta
Ali, I’ll disqualify you. Now, I
want a good, clean, sportsman fight…
You never should have come to Africa.
Foreman is unfazed by all of this. His cold eyes say
“battery and homicide.”
Now go to your corners and come out
fighting when you hear the bell,
and may the best man…win…
Ali turns his back and continues to shuffle and shadowbox.
OVERHEAD: ALI + FOREMAN’S
corners are clear. Ali is facing his corner, praying to
Allah. Foreman is bent over at the waist, flexing and
releasing the last tension in his huge shoulders, as the
bell for ROUND ONE clangs…
THE RING – BOTH
charge out and stop as if they ran into a brick wall five
feet from each other. Then Ali dips, throws a left, which
George takes on the shoulder…a BIG RIGHT HAND to George’s
head. The crowd goes nuts. George clinches, picks up Ali
and swings him through 180 degrees with his power. As he
puts Ali down, Ali pushes George’s head down and away and
Ali clocks him with ANOTHER RIGHT. Foreman clinches and
drives Ali back to the rope. Ali throws ANOTHER RIGHT that
lands. Ali dances, circles, stays out of Foreman’s way.
Then he slams him again with a right.
Foreman gets Ali in the corner, throws vicious combinations
and a hook that nails Ali in the body and a wild shot hits
Ali on the side of the head. CLOSER ON ALI…stunned, his
eyes clear. He’s just taken a Foreman shot. He pushes
Foreman, the stronger man, out of the way and dances and
circles. Foreman ties him up again. Ali pushes out, dances
and hits HIM with a RIGHT. Ali ties him up, and there’s the
ALI’S CORNER: ALI
Legs heavy…air’s heavy…like sand…
SLOWLY MOVE IN ON ALI
as Angelo and Bundini’s talk fades away. We see Ali’s
awareness in a deep concentration. He is holding counsel
with himself. Ali stares into space across the diagonal to
the other corner, but not really at Foreman. Ali is
weighing something. A gamble. He blinks, and whatever it
is, he’s decided it NOW. AMBIENT SOUND starts to come back
as Ali’s attention returns to the present and he ignores…
…keep moving. Don’t let him put
you into the corner. Stay off the
THE BELL FOR ROUND TWO
Ali charges into the center of the ring, provoking Foreman
to chase him, and Ali immediately BACKS TO THE ROPE. And
stays there! Seizing opportunity, Foreman throws big hooks.
ALI IS DOING EXACTLY WHAT HE’S NOT SUPPOSED TO DO. He gets
off the rope and backs to the rope on the other side. Most
of the shots are blocked by the gloves of both men. No
damage. Then George throws a left, which Ali blocks, and a
big right hook.
turns away. Nevertheless, it crashes into his jaw.
TIME SLOWS. He ties up George. We SEE Ali’s hurt. Dazed.
But he must make George believe he’s unhurt.
That all you got…? That it?
Foreman reacts. Ali takes vicious hooks to the midsection,
hangs on and goes right back onto the ropes, tying Foreman up.
George’s shots are taken on Ali’s elbows and gloves. But
for every four that are thrown, one or two tremendous hooks
get through to Ali’s ribs, his side.
reveals impact, but nothing diminishes the TERRIBLE
FORTITUDE with which he endures. Now, he ties up George.
Now, George drives Ali into the corner and pummels him.
ANGELO + BUNDINI
going crazy in the corner!
Get off the ropes! Get off the
ropes! Get off the ropes! Dance!
Ali blocking, getting hit. WORRIED FACES in the crowd. One
woman looks away.
alive, more than alert, the sharpest eyes in boxing.
FOREMAN’S LEFT JAB
coming in. Ali feints, shifts. It misses by a quarter of
FOREMAN HOOKS OFF HIS JAB
Ali leans back on the top rope. Foreman’s punch falls short
and connects with little effect. That’s how good is Ali.
The techniques BECOME CLEAR.
Foreman goes upstairs, throws three hooks, all get taken on
Ali’s gloves. Foreman slams a hook that began in Cape Town
and ends up in Zaire, into Ali’s abdomen. And another. Ali
takes the shots, hangs on.
are bright like stars. His white mouth guard shines. A
grimace? A grin?
There is nothin’… Nothin’!
…I cannot take.
Ali pushes Foreman off and Ali connects with a left and a
straight right to the jaw. They pound but don’t stop George.
Ali ties him up. Ali’s jabs end the round. Nothing
effective, but Ali shakes his head, disapprovingly, puts his
hand on the back of George’s neck, and as the BELL sounds…
Thought you was bad!
George laughs. He won the round overwhelmingly.
Get off the ropes! What are you
(it gets quiet; to
Here come George’s “murder” round.
(refers to Round Three)
Ali pushes away from his handlers and rises. He opens his
arms to the crowd. We hear a massive “ALI, BOMA YE” start up.
opens his arms as if the roar of 65,000 voices is sunlight.
By opening his arms, his skin soaks it in and converts it to
power. And the BELL STARTS ROUND THREE.
EXT. THE RING
They trade. Nothing. Foreman advances, Ali backs to the
ropes, tags Foreman with a couple of harmless left jabs.
Now Foreman opens up with heavy artillery. Ali gets in a
couple of shots, but for the center of the round he’s
pummeled by Foreman. Midway through…
FOREMAN accepts a left jab, and while Ali’s left arm is out
with it, Foreman hammers a right into the exposed lower
midsection of Ali and then follows it with six tremendous
hooks to Ali’s abdomen. Ali pushes him away. Foreman comes
in again. Foreman gets him on the rope again, and a
surprising right on the left side of Ali’s face.
ties up Foreman’s left in the crook of his elbow, and they
stagger, married, awkwardly, into the center of ring. The
referee separates them.
ANOTHER ANGLE: FOREMAN
charging and throwing heavy shots. Ali takes some on his
elbows, arms, biceps and shoulders. NOW we see Ali lean
BACK. WAY BACK. 45 degrees back… We start to hear the
TWANG of the rope. We get it. Ali is using the rope as a
shock absorber. Some Foreman punches get through, but the
rope TWANGS and Foreman’s hitting a trampoline with a hammer.
Between deflection and being ring-wise, Ali dilutes much of
what George throws. Then Foreman drives three powerful
hooks into Ali’s side.
ALI’S BODY SPASMS
But, as if inconsequential…
George! Show me something.
Ali — insulting, taunting — snaps jabs into George’s face,
talking through his mouthpiece…
Where’s your punch, man?!
Ali, get off the ropes! Stick ‘em!
Jab! Off the ropes!
UP CLOSER: ALI
blocks a rage of Foreman head shots with his fists, the
abdominal shots within his elbows. Each Foreman punch is a
FROM THE FLOOR: FOREMAN’S UPPERCUT
comes from camera and slams right through Ali’s guard, right
into his jaw.
hurt! He holds on.
Off the ropes! Dance, champ, dance!
Ali’s pushed back like a rag doll.
throws a right hand. It, too, slams through Ali’s guard.
He’s in trouble.
flash. Roll in his head. He sees neon. TIME SLOWS…lights
…been here before.
ANGELO DUNDEE (V.O.)
Ali glances at the crowd. He SEES: the OLD MAN with the
transistor radio on his shoulder from the shantytown, urging
Open the door, Richard…outta this
room… Put on your coat,
THE RING: FOREMAN
slams shots into Ali’s kidneys, his ribs. Ali will piss
blood for two months. But Ali stays on the ropes. AS TIME
CATCHES UP TO NORMAL…
Think my fight’s over…? That…
…all you got? That the hardest
ALI comes off the rope, and Ali hits Foreman with a terrific
three-shot combination, a right-left-right. WHAM-WHAM-WHAM.
Feints. Hits Foreman with a left-right. WHAM-WHAM!
The BELL. It’s an Ali rally at the end. He throws Foreman
a look of contempt as he walks to his corner.
Get off the goddamn ropes!!
Took somethin’ away from him, Angie,
You gotta move! Stick and MOVE!
They don’t know what’s happenin’.
Ali looks to the left and sees Jim Brown.
(to Jim Brown)
You bet the wrong horse! He can’t
fight no better than you can act!
Jim Brown laughs.
WE DON’T HEAR A BELL. INSTEAD, WE’RE SUDDENLY IN THE LAST 15
SECONDS OF ROUND FOUR.
EXT. RING, ROUND FOUR, FIVE, SIX – FOREMAN BARRAGE
Ali is braced on the ropes, as far back as the ropes will go.
Foreman throws a barrage of shots, he slams in five and six
at a time. THE BELL.
covers with gloves at his head. Elbows at his ribs. When
head shots come in, Ali slips them the right or left, or
turns them into glancing shots, or just leans straight back
so that they all fall short by quarter of an inch. The BELL.
covering, taking the most powerful hooks Foreman’s thrown in
the fight, one after the other to the body.
Take it! Terrify him with what you
Ali’s eyes are stars. He sees everything. He sees things
no one else can see in the quantum physics of deflecting the
force of Foreman’s blows.
desperate, pounds a left to Ali’s side, a blocked left to
the head, three lefts to the belly, which get through!
Ali’s left arm convulses downwards, involuntarily, with the
blows. What Ali’s not ready for and doesn’t block is the
right hand that follows. This shot is jarring and concussive.
He grabs Foreman’s neck and has to hold on.
EXT. RING – ALI – MID-ROUND SEVEN
leaning way back at impossible angles — soaking up George’s
shots. George is SLOWER…BUT Ali’s not throwing at all!
(hisses to George)
Eight more rounds… You runnin’
Then…Ali comes out from under.
WHAM. WHAM. WHAM. WHAM. WHAM.
Five hard shots are followed into Foreman’s puffed face.
They surprise and enrage him.
drives Ali with his 220 pounds…George’s arms and fists now
SWING HEAVILY. Some get through. Ali’s right eye is puffy.
Both tie up. And BELL ends the round.
EXT. RING – ALI’S CORNER
Angelo and Bundini talk. Neither we nor Ali hear them.
(to himself to George)
…can’t let you get that second
wind which you don’t know is out
there for you.
(talking to George in
Want the title…wear the
Jaw broke? Nose smashed? Face
busted? You ready to die? Is that
‘Cause you gonna meet a man who
will die before he let you win.
A tall African Girl walks by with the number “8.” As she
passes near Ali, she has the audacity to wink at him. ALI
happens to see it. He winks back at her. She smiles. He
brightens right up! THE BELL RINGS.
EXT. RING – ALI
goes to the ropes, throws a couple and, now, comes off the
ropes. He’s in the center of the ring. HE’S HUNTING. A
couple of lefts from Ali. Foreman throws a haymaker and
almost falls out of the ring. Ali’s in the corner, having
avoided the shot.
gets in a couple of lefts that Ali deflects. Ali takes
another on the cheek, leans way back again. Suddenly, he
seems tired, as is Foreman. Tied up, they go diagonally to
the other corner of the ring, both fighters exhausted,
leaning against each other. Resting. BUT…
EXTREMELY CLOSE: WE SEE ALI’S EYES ARE DEAD SHARP
backs Ali into the corner.
hits Foreman with a left. Foreman launches a short left
that Ali counters with a BIG RIGHT CROSS that connects.
head snaps around. Sweat sprays in a parabola of light.
Crowd ROARS with expectation. George Foreman tries a right
uppercut, fails as Ali circles, guiding Foreman onto the
ropes. Foreman’s on the ropes NOW.
know the moment is…
short, chopping right turns Foreman’s head down.
comes over the ropes and turns back into…
ALI’S RIGHT HOOK
slams his head down and sideways. And Foreman charges into Ali.
CLOSE SLO-MO: ALI
snaps a combination: an overhead right to Foreman’s face, a
short chopping left and a right hook. Ali’s eyes light up
like white phosphorus.
wrestles Ali into the center. And the most significant
SLO-MO: ALI ON THE LEFT + FOREMAN ON THE RIGHT
…and Ali’s left hand is extended way behind him with the
wrist bent, no power. As it passes his body, Ali converts
it into a left hook. As he’s doing this, he’s dropping his
left foot back. The left foot DOES NOT support a left hand.
It’s for a right hand so the body can untorque across with
the punch. And Ali is already cocking his right. Meanwhile,
the left connects with Foreman’s jaw and raises his chin.
As the left is departing Foreman’s chin, Ali launches the RIGHT.
SLO-MO: AS ALI’S RIGHT HAND
comes in, Ali’s torso untorques, transitioning all 217
pounds to Ali’s left foot and putting that weight and power
behind his right fist that crashes into George Foreman’s
chin…and the impact transfers to Foreman’s skull…and
Foreman’s head snaps around. He is gone. He is falling in
a spiral…a metaphor for vertigo…turning downward into
unconsciousness. And through the spiral, Ali has moved with
him, pivoting with the falling Foreman, his right fist
cocked to unload again if he has to. He never does…
MASSIVE OVERHEAD: FOREMAN
down. Ali is pushed into the corner by referee Zack Clayton.
Foreman is counted out. Clayton raises Ali’s hand. 65,000
people go crazy!
Ali is seized by Rahaman, Dundee, Bundini. And in the
corner, hardly seen by anybody, Ali, now, faints. Veronica,
with a DON KING AIDE, is overcome. Tears stream down her face.
EXT. THE ARENA
As if finally released from the suspense, the sky opens.
The monsoon begins.
EXT. THE STREETS OF KINSHASA, OUTSIDE THE STADIUM, ZAIRIANS –
celebrate. The city is crazy with the air of liberation in
the rain. People are drunk, bowing to one another,
extending their arms and legs in strange gestures. Laughter.
THUNDER is deafening in the downpour. People celebrate
despite the storm, dancing on sidewalks on Rua Absini.
EXT. KINSHASA ARENA – NIGHT
Almost empty. The downpour. The last fans rip down one
gigantic image of Mobutu…
INT. MOBUTU’S PALACE – THREE MEN
waiting, now rise. One, in Saville Row, is from a London
Bank. The other is Bradley, the USIA/CIA character. The
third is Idi Amin of Uganda. As everybody shakes hands,
they sit down and servants appear. Everyone is pleased with
Ce soir, le Zaire a été le sujet
central dans le tous les centres
européens. Félicitations, Monsieur
le Président pour la vie.
Zaire was the center of the world
tonight in every banking capital,
all over Europe. Congratulations,
President for Life.
(then in Lingala to
What’s on the menu…?
INT. CITROEN ON KINSHASA ROAD – ALI – NIGHT
rides through the downpour with Belinda and Bingham in the
front seat. She gently holds, almost supports his hand.
(low; about them)
I don’t know what’s gonna happen.
Maan, everything is crazy.
…I didn’t come this far to quit.
They drive through a fishing village with dense foliage in
part. Ali looks, sees…
ALI’S POV: WOMEN + SOME MEN
have brought their children out into the rain to see the
champion so they can say when they grow up they saw him pass
by. Plastic or clothing protect the children from the rain.
One man holds up his son. Ali rolls down the window.
INT. INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL, BAR – DICK SADLER
shouting French to the bartender. Folks who look like Jim
Brown, Schulberg/Mailer types…hang out, half drunk…and
argue about flights out with extortionate petty bureaucrats
like Zairian Official #2. Flights have been cancelled,
tickets rendered no good, passports confiscated, etc.
There’s a stoned Hunter Thompson/Bill Cardoso type with a
couple of Zairian hookers. The Hunter Thompson type is not
very discreetly smoking Congolese weed.
REVEAL: IN THE BACK CORNER OF THE BAR ARE…
DON KING + HERBERT MUHAMMAD.
King is importuning Herbert, his hands work the air,
gesticulating madly, building whole castles of hype and
hustle. We can’t hear what he’s saying. Herbert listens.
Then Don King stops and looks at him, and Herbert nods his
head “yes.” Then Herbert starts saying something and Don
King nods his head “yes.” Whatever’s happening here, a deal
for the future has been struck.
EXT. ALI’S COMPOUND, N’SELE – ALI – PRE-DAWN
Rain stopped. The cold, blue light is illuminated with
magenta at its base as dawn starts to rise over the Congo River.
in a pale green shirt and slacks, walks towards the water,
followed by Zairians, teenagers, some kids who snuck into
the compound, two older men. No media; no elite; no hype.
One policeman who staggers, drunk. Ali doesn’t so much as
walk to a destination as amble. He rubs the head of a 12-
year-old boy who starts shadowboxing five feet in front of him.
You think you got a chance, chump?
Now you in trouble.
Ali begins to spar with the 12-year-old, who is fast and
knows a little bit about boxing.
You even dream of beating me? You
better wake up and apologize!
Kid throws a punch. Ali collapses to his knees.
He too much for me!
Some laughter. Then Ali stands and puts his hand on the
boy’s shoulder. He ambles with the group towards the river.
The sun’s coming up on the other side.
FADE TO BLACK.