the greatest

Photography: Thomas Hoepker

The icon and the man were always wrapped around each another. Muhammad Ali's public persona was designed to sell tickets, but as revealed by photographer Thomas Hoepker, the private truth was more complex. Hoepker's images of the champ from 1966 and 1970, along with his commentary, offer a full portrait of our quintessential athletic hero.

1 / 11

South Side, Chicago, 1966

2 / 11

Angelo Dundee's 5th St. Gym, Miami Beach, 1970. “We liked Angelo a lot. Good, really smart Italian technician. He was in good hands there.”

3 / 11

Bakery, Chicago, 1966. “We were driving around and he stopped the car and said, ‘I have to buy some doughnuts.’ A couple of hours later he said, ‘Let's go back to the bakery and get more doughnuts.’ When it happened a third time, I got suspicious and followed him in, where I found that he was going for the girl not the doughnuts. A year after that Belinda became his second wife. But this was the first day they met.”

4 / 11

Knockout, London, 1966. “I didn't cover any of his fights except that very first one against Brian London, which was over in the third round. I was not a boxing fan—not a sports fan even. But I found personal interest in Ali himself.”

5 / 11

Nation of Islam temple, South Side, Chicago, 1966

6 / 11

Miami Beach, 1970

7 / 11

Ali relaxes in his limousine, Chicago, 1966. “I got the sense that he was very much at home on the South Side of Chicago, that he felt out of place staying in chic hotels. You sensed it wasn't where he belonged, wasn't his choice. The South Side is where he totally relaxed.”

8 / 11

Miami Beach, 1970

9 / 11

Gym, Chicago, 1966. “I had been through Mississippi and Louisiana so I understood the context. Ali was a glorious figure to come out of that segment of the population and suddenly shine and be a worldwide hero.”

10 / 11

Chicago, 1966. “That just happened. We were just crossing and they said, ‘Hey that's a nice view!’ And he got out and jumped on that bridge railing and took off his shirt—that was just to show off—and then he jumped. Once, you know? He jumped once and that was it. Today you would bring a producer and crew, and he would jump 25 times.”

11 / 11

Miami Beach, 1970. For more images and a full interview with Thomas Hoepker, see Victory Journal #4, “The Greatest.”