It’s fascinating to me that this Sports Illustrated gallery of the magazine’s “favorite Muhammad Ali fight photos” doesn’t include what is perhaps the most famous Ali fight photo ever, a photo shot by Neil Leifer that was considered so amazing it appeared on the cover of the SI double-issue carrying the headline “The Century’s Greatest Sports Photos”. I’m assuming that the prominent “license photos at” link below each of the photos is a big part of the explanation; although has SI printed the photo a few times over the past 40 years, the magazine doesn’t own the rights to the picture. (Neil Leifer himself still owns the rights, and has told his story about being in the right place in the right time a few times.)

So, I guess the photo gallery might more appropriately be entitled, “SI’s favorite Muhammad Ali fight photos for which we can sell you a license”. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some amazing shots in there, but it’s like a list of best steakhouses that doesn’t have Peter Luger on it, or a list of worst movies that doesn’t have “Random Hearts” on it.


Good question, Paul, but nope — for example, look at the position of the older photographer with the dark-rimmed glasses that’s behind Ali. In the Leifer photo, he’s between Ali’s legs; in the black-and-white (which was an AP photo), he’s to the left of Ali’s right leg.

The story I’ve heard over time is that there were only two photographers at the ring with color film in their cameras, both shooting for SI. Neil Leifer was on the side of the ring to get the money shot; the other shooter was behind Ali and got nothing of note. Everyone else there had black-and-white film in their cameras, so that’s why Leifer’s image is the one that has lasted.

• Posted by: Jason on Jan 19, 2007, 10:56 AM
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