In Los Angeles on the 19th January, 1981 a young man stood on a building ledge ready to jump and end his life. What the suicidal jumper probably didn’t expect was a visit from boxing legend, Muhammad Ali.
The news was, of course, on hand to report on the event:
This was just months after his humiliating defeat in the ring at the gloves of Larry Holmes. In a match billed as “The Last Hurrah,” a 38 year old Ali came out of retirement in an ill-thought-out bout (it has since transpired that Muhammad had, in fact, failed a neurological test beforehand). It is roundly acknowledged as a sad end for the boxer with Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Ali’s physician, commenting: “All the people involved in this fight should have been arrested. This fight was an abomination, a crime.”
It is with this in mind that Sky Arts’ Urban Myths examines, in its now established “true…ish” stories style (not to be confused with Fake News incidentally), what Ali did next – talking down a distressed jumper from a ninth story apartment block window.
The episode opens on a meeting to discuss his future between Ali (played by Noel Clarke) with his manager
(Lucian Msamati) and charismatic boxing empressario Don King (Danny John-Jules). With his manager favouring retirement and the promoter looking for a money-making rematch, the inventor of trash-talking is left in a pickle – though he desperately wants to fight again and prove his legacy by even “defeating retirement”.
And, as if luck would have it for both concerned, another human needs the help that only The Champ can deliver. What unfolds is a heartfelt – and at times hilarious – exchange between the two men; one of whom wants to die whilst the other needs a cause to live by. At only twenty minutes or so, around the same length of time the actual incident took, Urban Myths crams in an emotionally-charged punch.
Ali’s wonderful and hyperbolic phrasing is delivered with great charm by actor Noel Clarke; familiar to fans of BBC show Doctor Who as sidekick Mickey Smith in the Noughties, and director of the Kidulthood film trilogy. Though four inches shorter than Muhammad Ali, Clarke captures humour and sensitivity in a role that transcends the brash, loud and universally adored persona synonymous with the boxer. Clarke’s Ali is hugely sympathetic.
Highlight of the piece, however, has to be the retort from Ali when he’s informed of Sylvester Stallone’s negative thoughts on his woeful final performance in the ring. Ali says, “When I want the opinion of a fake boxer, I’ll call up Joe Frazier.” Zing!
Filmed beautifully, capturing early 80s LA, with a touching and consistently humorous script, Urban Myths remind us of the man behind the gloves, and posits an insight into the mind of a man who fought and cared in equal measure. A knockout achievement.
Urban Myths 1×05 aired on Sky Arts on Feb 16, 2017