Muhammad Ali: the Greatest in Photographs

Following the death of boxing’s greatest fighter, here at The Mango Lab we’ve decided to curate some of Muhammad Ali’s most iconic shots and the stories behind them. With 56 wins over the course of his career, a facetious energy and a defining poetic finesse, Muhammad Ali was never shy of the camera, and his charisma translated effortlessly onto film inside and out of the ring.

IMG_5414Photograph: Neil Leifer

Arguably the most recognisable photograph is that of Ali standing over Sonny Liston during the 1965 World Heavyweight title fight. Taken by Neil Leifer, in colour, the photograph has a ‘David and Goliath’ quality- the unvanquished stance of Ali and the defenceless, floored body of Liston captures a great moment in sport photography.

Leifer subsequently photographed Ali more than 50 times during the course of his career. He said of Ali: “He loved the camera and the camera loved him.”


IMG_5415Photograph: Flip Schulke

This shot taken by Flip Schulke in 1961 of then Cassius Clay at the Sir John Hotel, Miami has a beautiful iridescence about it. Again, it’s akin to the inspiration for statues and paintings. Ali later joked with the media that he trained underwater, whether it’s true or not is another question!


AttachmentPhotograph: Thomas Hoepker

Magnum photographer, Thomas Hoepker photographed Ali in Chicago in 1966. It is a photo with great perspective – the Chicago skyline as a backdrop and Ali’s fist punching into the camera in a Superman-esque pose. It was subsequently used on The Sunday Times tribute cover to Ali.


IMG_5419Photograph: Neil Leifer

Another Neil Leifer photograph taken from an overhead perspective shows a victorious Ali after his two-round match with Cleveland Williams during the 1966 World Heavyweight title fight. The flagrantly perfect shot taken in the Astrodome, Texas was voted the best sports photograph ever taken.

Leifer said of the photo: “If you ask any photographer ‘what’s your one favourite picture?’, which is an awfully hard question to answer for most people, in my case I have one – this one – and it has always been my favourite. For my money it is the best picture I ever took in my life.”


IMG_5417Photograph: Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol’s print of Muhammad Ali in 1978 was originally taken in 1977 as part of Warhol’s ‘Athletes’ series. Before printing the image Warhol painted over its surface to give the impression of movement.


Attachment copyPhotograph: Harold Evans/Esquire

A lesser known but nevertheless iconic shot of Ali’s fist featured in Harold Evans’ ‘Pictures on a Page’ published in Esquire in 1974. The bandaged hand appeared in the magazine as the actual life size of Ali’s fist – it is an ineffably simple photograph, and coupled with the knowledge of what Ali’s punch could do makes it a striking print shot.


IMG_5418Photograph: Carl Fischer

Another shot that appeared in Esquire is of Ali’s body pierced with arrows. This shot taken by Carl Fischer in 1968 was a reproduction of Andrea del Castagno’s painting The Martyrdom of St Sebastian. The shot was a protest against the US Army after Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War on the grounds of his faith.


IMG_5413Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

This photograph of Ali was taken in1981 after he passed a high-rise building and realised a man was threatening to commit suicide. Ali asked the police if he could talk the man down from the ninth-floor ledge. Ali leaned out of the window and said: “You’re my brother. I love you and I wouldn’t lie to you. You got to listen. I want you to come home with me, meet some friends of mine.” In the end he managed to convince the man to come down.

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