HBO's 'What's My Name' Explores Muhammad Ali's Challenges, Comebacks & Triumphs

Rick and Christina Gables

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali, chronicling the extraordinary life of one of the 20th century’s most iconic figures, debuts Tuesday, May 14, with both chapters airing back-to-back in a special television event. The documentary will also be available on HBO GO, HBO NOW, HBO on Demand and partners’ streaming platforms.

Exploring Ali’s challenges, confrontations, comebacks and triumphs through recordings of his own voice, it paints an intimate portrait of a man who was a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world and, in his later years, was recognized as a global citizen and a symbol of humanity and understanding.

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In addition to relying on Ali himself to guide viewers through his remarkable journey, What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali features archival footage, some of it previously unseen.

Chapter one looks back at the Louisville, Ky. native’s childhood and early boxing career as Cassius Clay, including a gold medal win at the Olympics in Rome. Turning pro, he becomes heavyweight champion at age 22 with a stunning win over Sonny Liston. After converting to Islam, he forges close ties with Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, and changes his name to Muhammad Ali.

Courtesy of HBO

Stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing induction into the military to fight in Vietnam, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the war, Ali spends three years away from the sport in legal battles. He returns to the ring for an epic fight with Joe Frazier at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

In chapter two, determined to avenge his loss to Joe Frazier, Ali builds a rustic training camp in Pennsylvania and goes on to battle a parade of elite fighters, including arch-nemesis Frazier, as well as Ken Norton, George Foreman and Larry Holmes. Though he becomes the first three-time heavyweight champion of the world, the toll of so many historic ring encounters starts to show.

“The Greatest” travels the globe as a goodwill ambassador, philanthropist and activist and is defined as much by his humanity as his exploits in the ring. Ali lights the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, an unforgettable moment seen by billions of TV viewers worldwide.

What's My Name: Muhammad Ali, Documentary Premiere, Tuesday, May 14, 8/7c, HBO