“Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami,” a documentary about the Greatest’s years in Miami, airs tonight at 8 on WLRN Public Television.
When I got an invitation to attend the premier screening at the Byron Carlyle Theater last Thursday, I called up ex-boxer Grady Ponder, who came to Miami as a runaway, lived with the Champ himself, and who’s always game for watching anything about Ali, and the two of us went together.
The movie, we agreed, is disappointing.
“Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami,” a documentary about the Greatest’s years in Miami, airs tonight at 8 on WLRN Public Television
After writing a New Times feature about Grady Ponder, a young runaway who Muhammad Ali took in for about a year, I got an invitation from WLRN to attend the premier screening at the Byron Carlyle Theater last Thursday. I called up Ponder, who’s always game for watching anything about Ali – and the two of us went together.
The movie, we agreed, is disappointing. Ponder – who can talk about Ali endlessly for hours on end, who modeled himself after Ali for nearly twenty years and who once told me that he spent an entire day glued to his television while the station played all of Ali’s fights – put it this way: “It didn’t seem like they had anything new.”
The movie’s narrative is loosely ripped off New Yorker editor David Remnick’s excellent book King of the World, which builds to Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Auditorium. It worked for Remnick, but it doesn’t work for Miami filmmakers Alan Tomlinson and Gaspar Gonzalez. The only thing they add to the Ali-Liston fight is shitty techno music – I felt like I was watching the Karate Kid Part 3. From there, the film seems to forget its promise to be about Miami, and plods clumsily on after Ali, covering the rest of his career in an amazing twenty minutes or so, and then throwing in an obtuse (and probably planted) quote about Miami at the end.
And that’s a damn shame – because Ali’s years in Miami meant a great deal to him, and he meant a great deal to Miami in turn. The filmmakers interview a paltry handful of Miamians, mostly the usual suspects: Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer; Ferdie Pacheco, Ali’s ringside doctor – important people, but whose names have been mentioned in every half-assed article and generic tribute to boxing that made ink.
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Miami was once a Mecca of boxing, one of the last places in the country a kid could come in off the street and become a great boxer. For scores of Miamians– most of them young, poor, and black – Ali was the greatest inspiration the city had ever known. Miami is full of ex-boxers who knew Ali as a friend: Gomeo Brennan, a one-time champion, who now runs a boxing gym for kids on 27th Avenue and has a picture of Ali kissing his daughter on his mantle; Eddie Linder, who unexpectedly beat world-champion Ishmael Laguna at the Miami Beach Auditorium and now teaches his young son to box; Willie “Cadillac” James, who left boxing and became a preacher; Grady Ponder, the scrawny runaway whom Ali took in without question.
In one scene in the movie, we see Ali driving around Miami in his pink Cadillac. “That’s the one I rode in,” Ponder said, smiling at the screen.
There is an untold story of Muhammad Ali in Miami – but the makers of “Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami” missed it. It’s on the streets of Overtown, Liberty City, Allapattah, where Ali lived. And it’s in the hearts of everyday people – the folks Ali liked best.