He once famously proclaimed that he was “the greatest” and in many sports fans’ minds he probably remains undisputed in that iconic position. Yet visitors to a new exhibition in London this year will have the opportunity to assess for themselves, as the O2 Arena unveils an exhibition devoted to the great Muhammad Ali.

Pulling no punches

With the grand title of “I Am The Greatest: Muhammad Ali” the #Show is clearly pulling no punches from the outset and is being staged thanks to the support of his wife, Lonnie. Scheduled to be open to the public between 4th March and 31st August, it seems set to offer a unique insight into the often turbulent story behind the boxing legend’s life.

Full size ring for interactive demo

Among many exciting and innovative features, the exhibition will allow the British public to enjoy the ring skills of Ali during his pomp through a special ‘interactive’ demonstration involving a full size boxing ring. In excess of 100 artefacts from Ali’s own personal archives will add to the authenticity of the attraction, as the show paints the picture of his 74 years on the planet.

Gold gloves and Olympic memorabilia

Attendees are expected to be able to view a number of interesting displays, with a pair of gold boxing gloves presented to Elvis in 1973 and signed by Ali himself sure to stand out. Other artefacts expected to draw interest from the public include his ‘Three Times World Champion’ ring and items relating to his participation at the Olympics.

Razzmatazz and sharp wit

The three-time World Heavyweight Champion was just as famous outside of the ring as in it for much of his celebrated career. He brought razzmatazz and a sharp wit to the often maligned sport of pugilism. His marriage of “floating like a butterfly” with the sharp contrast of “stinging like a bee” made him a promoter’s dream. There is little need to sell a fight when the star man is just as adept at doing it for you.  

Controversial decisions

However, his beliefs also brought controversial moments, including the decision to refuse conscription into the US military in 1967. Ali cited his opposition to the involvement by his country in the Vietnam War at the time in addition to his fundamental religious beliefs. Videos and films will be utilised at the show to illustrate how the boxer became a civil rights activist in the aftermath.  

Ali’s colourful life contains a plethora of material. Originally headlining as ‘Cassius Clay’, the name by which he famously struck Olympic Gold in Rome in 1960, he was to become ‘Muhammad Ali’ shortly after claiming his first world heavyweight title in 1964 by stunning Sonny Liston. That name change coincided with his joining the Nation of Islam and he was to later convert to Sunny Islam in 1975.      

Organisers hopeful of Ali visit

The O2 successfully staged a similar exhibition last year to allow music connoisseurs a glimpse into the life of Elvis Presley. On that occasion there was clearly no opportunity for personal endorsement by the ‘King’ but organisers of the Ali extravaganza are hopeful that he may be able to visit the UK this year.

British affection

Although Ali’s failing health – he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome back in 1984 - is a constant concern for those closest to him, he has not completely withdrawn from #Society. Many people will no doubt have been emotionally affected at his impromptu appearance at the opening ceremony of London 2012. Just being there was an indication of his ongoing determination to battle against the debilitating health issues he faces on a daily basis.

His British fans demonstrated their affection for Ali by voting him as the overwhelming Sports Personality of the Century Award winner in 1999, a one-off presentation at the BBC’s annual awards ceremony. #Celebrities