The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay
Apr 2016 back issue
The Champ: My Year with Muhammad Ali
by Michael Gaffney
A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous! Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
The Champ: My Year with Muhammad Ali, is an intimate photographic portrait of Ali the fighter, the friend, the father and the inspiration as seen through the lens of close friend and award-winning photographer, Michael Gaffney. The exhibition at Proud Camden will reveal rare and never-before-seen photographs of ‘the people’s champion’.   Photojournalist Michael Gaffney was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: a year as Muhammad Ali’s personal photographer – travelling the world, photographing the boxer both in the ring and behind the scenes. The resulting images captured the dramatic trilogy of Ali’s fights from 1977-1978; a triumphant victory against Earnie Shavers, a devastating loss to Leon Spinks, and a redemptive win to recapture the World Heavyweight Championship for an unprecedented third time.  A feat never accomplished before or since, Ali transcended his title and became one of the most extraordinary and influential athletes in history, winning the attention and hearts of millions who admired his courage and raw honesty.  
17th March – 15th May 2016  Proud Gallery Camden, London NW1 www.proud.co.uk 
Muhammad Ali, The Champ, Fifth Street Gym, Miami Beach, Florida, 1978  © Michael Gaffney  We were in Angelo Dundee's Fifth Street Gym in Miami shortly after Muhammad had suffered a shocking loss of the World Heavyweight Championship to Leon Spinks.  The loss to Spinks rekindled the fight within the aging fighter with a burning determination to win back the belt. Champ vowed to work harder than he ever worked before and said, "I must retire Champion and not go out on my back."  Seven months later, Muhammad kept his promise and beat Leon Spinks to win the World Heavyweight Championship for an unprecedented third time. His true character and legendary will to win is why he will always be known as "The Greatest." 
Muhammad Ali, Miami Beach, 1977 © Michael Gaffney Champ had finished his morning workout at Angelo Dundee's Fifth Street Gym in Miami when I asked him to run on the beach. Ali agreed and told me it would be good training for his leg strength running on the sand in combat boots. He told me he always ran in heavy combat boots so his boxing shoes would feel lighter when he was in the ring. I thought of something Muhammad had said years before, "The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights."   
Muhammad and Laila Ali, 1978  © Michael Gaffney While in Miami Beach, Florida, Veronica and Muhammad gave birth to their second daughter Laila. We went to their apartment where he lay on the floor and held his child in his hands for this rare, tender moment of father and daughter. 
Muhammad Ali mirror boxing, Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, 1978 © Michael Gaffney The legendary Muhammad Ali checks his skills, mirror boxing at his Deer Lake Boxing Camp. Champ felt that all the celebrity and fame was created through boxing and challenged himself to remain at the top of his game. He was at his core a fighter who used his fame to fight for racial equality, religious freedom and people's rights.
Muhammad Ali, In the Corner, 1978 © Michael Gaffney The most famous corner in boxing history headed by Angelo Dundee. Here cornerman Wali "Blood" Muhammad and Ali's guru and cornerman, Drew "Bundini" Brown go to work on the Champ. Late in the fight against Spinks, an exhausted Ali knew he was behind as Bundini screams, “Knock ‘em out Champ, we’re down on rounds!”  Ali  said, “He’s only had seven fights…how can he beat me?”  The 15th round ranks with the classic Ali fights of Frazier and Norton.  Ali now had to go for the knockout to retain the Heavyweight Championship and nobody wanted to take the belt more than Spinks. Ali gave it all he had but it would not be enough and lost the title to a young Leon Spinks in a decision. This corner earned Muhammad Ali 56 wins, 37 by knockout and 5 losses in some of the greatest heavyweight fights in history.  
The Champ relaxes in locker room, Madison Square Garden, NYC, 1977 © Michael Gaffney The Champ relaxes in the locker room before the Shavers fight. He was calm, cool and confident because he had put in three months of sparring, training and road work. He knew he was ready. 
Muhammad Ali and Earnie Shavers, Madison Square Garden, NYC, 1977 © Michael Gaffney  In one of his best rounds of his career, Muhammad Ali showed courageous heart and skill to win the decision with a brilliant finish in the 15th round over Earnie Shavers.  He said after the fight, "I put a whomping on him," which recalled a quote Ali had made years before, "I'll beat him so bad, he'll need a shoehorn to put his hat on." 
Muhammad Ali at a press conference, Madison Square Garden, 1977  © Michael Gaffney The press loved covering Ali’s wildly entertaining press conferences. Hours before the Earnie Shavers fight a simple weigh-in, rarely if ever covered before Ali arrived on the boxing scene, becomes a must-have international news event.
Muhammad Ali with his fans, Detroit, Michigan, 1977 © Michael Gaffney Muhammad Ali lived for the spontaneous moment of meeting and having fun at every opportunity everywhere he went. Champ loved to stop the limo and mix it up, usually a shocked reaction to seeing the world's most famous person would soon give way to a memorable time with "The People's Champ." These brief, spirited encounters with everyday people have made Muhammad Ali one of the most beloved, extraordinary treasures of our lifetime.
Muhammad Ali with his family, Pennsylvania Turnpike, 1977 © Michael Gaffney Muhammad cherished family time as celebrity demands on his personal time was excessive. Here they are in the Ali RV heading from Deer Lake, PA to Washington, DC for a special White House visit to see President Jimmy Carter.
Muhammad Ali, Three Time Heavyweight Champion, 1978 © Michael Gaffney September 15, 1978 Muhammad Ali beat Leon Spinks to win the Heavyweight Championship of the World for an unprecedented third time.  This feat stands today, having never been accomplished before or since.  Pat Patterson shot his hand high into the historic night as the Champ was triumphantly raised on shoulders but there was this sadness in his eyes, as he kissed and waved what might be the ending of his legendary career.
In the locker room with Sylvester Stallone before the Earnie Shavers fight, Madison Square Garden, NYC, 1977  © Michael Gaffney  Sylvester Stallone, actor who wrote and starred in the movie “Rocky”, inspired by the Muhammad Ali-Chuck Wepner fight, meets with the Champ to wish him luck.
Muhammad Ali at Deer Lake, 1977 © Michael Gaffney The Champ getting in some road work at his Muhammad Ali Boxing Camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. Ali had the names of  boxing greats painted on the boulders, among them Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Joe Frazier.
Float Like A Butterfly...Sting Like A Bee"- Muhammad Ali, Madison Square Garden, NYC, 1977  © Michael Gaffney  Muhammad Ali constantly worked on his speed and fight strategies for every fight. He also mastered "psychological warfare" trying to get an edge on his opponents with his "scientific" approach to boxing. He was a student to the game of boxing with a powerful champion's will to win.
Muhammad Ali training, Miami Beach, Florida, 1977 © Michael Gaffney Muhammad trained for many of his fights at the famous Angelo Dundee's Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach. This is where he began his boxing career after winning the Olympic Gold Medal at Rome in 1960. It is a gritty gym, complete with signs that say, "Don't spit in the water bucket." It is also the home of the world's best Boxing Manager, Angelo Dundee and two great fighters, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.
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