‘The Greatest’: 5 Muhammad Ali Documentaries Every Fan Must Watch

Published 09/21/2021, 10:29 AM EDT

Heavyweight icon Muhammad Ali is an inspiration for every era and for people who have a love for the sport of boxing. However, Ali’s stardom and preachings go beyond the circle of pugilism. Fighting several adversaries outside the ring and taking a stand for several social causes, Ali could reach out to the mainstream audience even without the support of his boxing associates.


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A career filled with glory and controversy, Muhammad Ali saw both the bright and the unpleasant side of human life while in his pugilistic prime. Even post-retirement, he continued appearing on several television shows, sports events, and other interactive sessions. Hence, Muhammad Ali is exposed to a broader audience, which no other boxer from his time could do.

Several people have depicted Ali’s life in fiction and documentaries. Hollywood actor Will Smith’s portrayal of Muhammad Ali might remain the most notable one. However, several real-life documentaries provide a cleaner picture of Ali’s life.


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While it’s been over five years since we lost the legend, there are more than a few documentaries that continue to bring back memories. Here’s a look at the five best documentaries made on Muhammad Ali’s life.


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Muhammad Ali in When We Were Kings

The 1996 award-winning documentary series talks about some of the most important phases in Muhammad Ali’s life, inside and outside the ring. A huge portion of the documentary revolves around the preparations of Ali vs Foreman fight, nicknamed ‘Rumble in the Jungle’.

While it was one of the most important bouts in Ali and Foreman’s career, the documentary provides several insights through behind-the-scenes footage.

It also talks about the Vietnam war and the effects it had on people around the world. The particular phase was also very crucial in Ali’s life. Thus, ‘When We Were Kings’ sheds light on the most important incidents in The Greatest’s career.

‘Thrilla in Manila’

Akin to the fight, the documentary related to it was also named ‘Thrilla in Manila’. It revealed several aspects of Ali’s heated rivalry against Joe Frazier, a fight that is still talked about. Both Ali and Frazier had started a mental war before they traded blows in the ring. So this special documentary is an exciting watch that has a lot to offer to anyone interested in the aforementioned event.

Moreover, HBO’s special initiative in immortalizing the fight urged them to produce the documentary from Frazier’s point of view. The viewers learned Frazier’s overview on Ali, which remains a historic incident in the sport of boxing. Hence ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ is a must-watch for Ali loyalists.

Muhammad Ali in ‘I am Ali’

Two years before the legend passed away, Director Clare Lewins released a documentary named ‘I am Ali’. The 1 hr 51 mins long cinematic experience reflects the personal archive of Ali’s audio journals. It also offers several interviews and testimonials from the Ali family clan and associates who had watched ‘The Greatest’ closely.

Also, being one of the latest documentaries made on the life of the heavyweight legend, ‘I am Ali’ talks about aspects that many former documentaries have missed.

Facing Ali

Ali has danced around the boxing ring against several A-listed rivals whom many considered superior to ‘The Greatest’. The ‘Facing Ali’ documentary speaks from the perspective of all those men who had locked horns with Muhammad Ali. The documentary shows interviews of Ali’s in-ring rivals like Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Ken Norton, George Foreman, Leon Spinks, and several other legends.

The documentary also unfolds several unknown facts about Ali’s life outside the squared circle. Moreover, it reflects what people around Muhammad Ali had thought about the boxer. Thus, it is one of the most entertaining yet unique series made about Ali ever.


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The Trials of Muhammad Ali

Arguably the most controversial documentary made on the former heavyweight champion, ‘The Trials of Muhammad Ali talks about the legal aspects surrounding the boxer. While most of the other cinematic display talks about the boxing chain, this documentary shows the aspects that affected Ali other than combat.


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From changing religion to taking a stand for his people, Ali had created controversies on several occasions. However, he never feared to speak his mind, and that made him the people’s favorite. So, this particular documentary stands out among all for its unique features.

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Raj Sarkar

2570 articles

A senior boxing writer at EssentiallySports, Raj Sarkar is a mass media graduate who is currently pursuing his master’s degree in broadcast journalism. In addition to his current role, he has worked with the MMA team at EssentiallySports and has interviewed prominent fighters such as Ritu Phogat and 'The Red King' Rory MacDonald. He combined his bachelor's degree with his adoration for combat sports and has a combined 2000 plus bylines in MMA and boxing over the last two years.