Creating an account with gives you access to more features and services, like our weekly newsletter and other special features just for the film community.


Film & Sports: Muhammad and Larry

Former heavyweight champ Larry Holmes charmed the audience at last night's screening of Muhammad and Larry, the new doc by Albert Maysles and Bradley Kaplan, part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series.

Muhammad Ali   Larry Holmes

We've already told you about the embarrassment of riches that is ESPN's 30 for 30 series: 30 docs about 30 seminal moments in the last 30 years of sports history. Though the works were commissioned in honor of ESPN's 30th anniversary, it's not all about ESPN; it's about their bread-and-butter, i.e., being in the moment when sports history is made. The series kicked off a few weeks ago, with a new doc each Tuesday night on ESPN.

Last night, Tribeca and ESPN co-hosted a premiere party for the fourth film in the series (on deck for next week), a documentary called Muhammad and Larry, co-directed by the great documentarian Albert Maysles (using the original footage he and his brother David shot in 1980) and Bradley Kaplan. Muhammad and Larry tells the story of the much-hyped 1980 fight between Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes, in which the 38-year-old Ali was relentlessly pummeled by Holmes, then 30. The fight is considered by most to be the end of an era—one in which Ali was actively "The Greatest." The film captures not only the fight itself, but also months of lead-up and hype, during which the two champions (and former sparring partners) trash-talked in the media, albeit with respect and obvious affection for one another.

Following the screening, ESPN assembled an impressive panel to discuss the film and its message, including an effervescent Holmes, directors Maysles and Kaplan, and legendary sports writer Pete Hamill. As moderator, ESPN's Jeremy Schaap acknowledged the elephant in the room, asking Holmes if he felt responsible for Ali's decline in health, which became apparent soon after the fight. Holmes said no—and in the film, it's clear that Ali had begun to develop renal and neurological symptoms much earlier—but he did express regret that his name was associated with the the downfall of one of the greatest fighters of all time. "Ali was my idol. He is my friend. When he gave me a black eye, I loved every minute of it because I could show people the black eye Ali gave me."

Larry Holmes and John Hennegan
Larry Holmes with TFF/ESPN Sports Film Festival alum John Hennegan (The First Saturday in May)

Holmes was clearly enjoying the spotlight now, explaining that he doesn't often receive his just due because of the long shadow cast by Ali. From the audience, sports writer and cartoonist for the NY Daily News Bill Gallo compared it to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra both living in the same time; in any other era, Crosby would have been the superstar, but Sinatra was always there to outshine him.

The two directors emphasized they were impressed with both their subjects equally. Maysles explained, "We loved both of these guys. We hope we were able to portray them with equal love—we were not prejudiced towards one or the other. Larry, we hope that you felt the love we felt for you." Kaplan concurred: "The film is an homage to the brilliance of both Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali, in and out of the ring. Nobody sacrificed more to be heavyweight champion than [these two]. Larry, you are a true champ."

Hamill, who covered Ali's entire career, added. "When boxers talk about having a big heart, they are talking about the ability to endure pain in order to inflict it. For our entertainment, they are willing to get hurt and be cut and bleed." Maysles added: "It's the psychology of fighting. They really don't want to hurt each other."

Holmes retorted, "Not me!" Not that he wanted to hurt anyone, but in his case, Holmes admitted the money mattered. "I came from the projects. Someone wants to pay me a million dollars to fight somebody and I won't get in trouble?" He also recounted the story of how he was persuaded to fight Mike Tyson in 1988: the main reason? The $3.5M he was promised.

Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali in Muhammad and Larry

The erudite Hamill continued, explaining that when Aristotle was writing his rules for tragedy, he claimed that tragedy could only happen to to remarkable men; Hamill suggests that both Ali and Holmes fit the bill. "It's far more important to be a good man than a good fighter." In addition to his eloquence, his charm, and his memorable oneliners ("Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee"), Ali was not short on confidence. Hamill, who recalled seeing the Champ reciting poetry at The Bitter End, in Greenwich Village, observed, "The only reason Ali was able to get away with the arrogance was that there was always a wink attached to it." The confidence, the charm, and the wink are all on display here.

After the Maysles brothers originally shot the footage almost three decades ago, there was little-to-no interest from the networks in turning it into a film at the time. With Muhammad and Larry, ESPN has righted that wrong. And you can see it for free next Tuesday (October 27) on ESPN, at 8:00 pm ET, with repeats through Christmas.

The great Albert Maysles on Muhammad and Larry:


Follow 30 for 30 on Twitter.

Check out the 30 for 30 homepage.

ESPN put together a trailer for the series:


Eagle-eyed readers will remember we gave out several pairs of tickets to the event through the Tribeca Swag Bag. We were happy to welcome the winners, and asked some of them to chime in with their analysis of the event:

I had a great time! The documentary was a wonderful portrayal of both fighters. Albert Maysles did incredible work in showing not only Ali and Holmes while they prepared for the fight, but also the impacts of them and upon them by their friends, family, and training team. Tribeca Film got a fantastic group together for the panel discussion following the film. Jeremy Schaap did a wonderful job of leading a very interesting discussion with Holmes, Maysles, Pete Hamill, and Bradley Kaplan. Thanks so much for a great evening!

I had a great time at the Muhammad and Larry premiere last night! Thank you very much for the tickets. The film was a compelling story about a controversial fight between true friends and competitors. The audience was afforded an intimate glimpse into the lives of two champions as the paths of their shooting stars intersected. The filmmakers capture the rare vulnerability of the entertainer, Ali, and the quotidian charm of the family man, Holmes. It was a pleasure to meet those involved at the reception after the show. Thanks again!

All in all I felt moved by the style and grace of the film. The boxers loved the sport and were willing to give everything for it, because it meant that much to them as athletes and friends. The portrait is sad at times for its realism of the subject matter, but the brutality is overshadowed by the quality of people Muhammad and Larry were, then and now. Larry loved the pace of it all and appreciated the recognition for being a heavyweight champion, because as a boxer he doesn't get much attention for being the man who defeated the legend. He is a quality boxer and has deserved a lot in his life, but never asked for it and never tried to change the imprint the fight had on his life. Afterward I shook Larry's hand and told him that I heard about him growing up but never was able to put an accurate photo with the name, but after seeing the film I will never forget his name and what he did for boxing in the the best way possible. He smiled and shrugged it off, but I hope he know that this film is going to cement his career as the epitome of what a boxer should be and one of the best that ever went in the ring.

I had an amazing time. The documentary was nothing short of stellar, as to be expected from the 30 for 30 series. I got to meet my dad's favorite boxer and one of the all-time heavyweight greats in Larry Holmes, as well as one of my favorite boxing writers/commentators, Bert Sugar. The reception was great as well. I really couldn't have asked for anything more. Thank you for the opportunity to attend such a marvelous event.


What you need to know today