In August 1974, photographer Peter Angelo Simon ventured to Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, to document Muhammad Ali at his remote training camp, “Fighter’s Heaven.” At the time, Ali was prepping for what would be one of his most historic fights: the world heavyweight championship against George Foreman. Ali had dubbed the fight “The Rumble in the Jungle.”
Simon wasn’t sure what to expect. “I had never been to a boxer’s training camp,” he wrote in the intro to his upcoming book “Muhammad Ali: Fighter’s Heaven 1974.” It’s an especially timely piece given Ali’s passing June 3.
“While a global audience was fixated on his fate, I was able to record aspects of Ali virtually unknown,” Simon said in a press release for the book. Ahead, see some of the intimate moments Simon captured of one of the world’s most famous boxers.
On his very first day, Simon was up at 4:30 a.m. with Ali, who was running down a remote road in his army boots and grey sweatpants.
At the end of his more-than-five-mile run, Ali warned Simon to get his camera ready. 'Get this,' Ali told him. Ali pulled his sweatshirt up, as well as the rubber liner inside it, and water poured out. 'It's called letting out the sweat,' Ali said.
From that moment, Simon knew that Ali understood what kind of images he needed to capture. 'Our unspoken agreement: he'd do his thing, and I'd do mine,' Simon wrote in the intro of his book.
Ali's family stayed with him, and helped with the upkeep of the camp. His aunt, mother, and father also saw to the cooking.
Boulders were brought in for decoration, and Ali's father, Cassius Clay Sr., painted the names of other boxers upon them. 'I could only speculate what these stones meant to Ali,' Simon wrote. 'The feeling was unavoidable that they served both as tributes ... and cautionary auguries of the perils he faced.'
Simon recalls a memory during the visit: 'A nurse shouted to one old man, 'Do you know who this is?' Peering carefully at Ali's face, he shouted, 'Yes! Joe Louis!' Ali nodded in acknowledgement. Later he joked, 'He's pretty far along. Let him think I'm Joe Louis.''
Ali also had an exhibition match at a local high school during Simon's time with him. 'Although the camp was created as a sanctuary for his training, Ali was nourished by people,' Simon wrote.
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