At only 26 years old, Al Satterwhite won the boxing lottery. He picked up the phone and was told that Time Magazine wanted to send him out the 5th Street Gym to cover Muhammad Ali as he trained for his first fight in over three years. It was 1970. Satterwhite would shadow the living legend from his comeback fight against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta through the biggest heavyweight fight of all time Ali-Frazier I. Now Satterwhite is allowing us a never before seen glimpse into that time, with his forthcoming fine art photography book, "The Secret of Muhammad Ali."
Their first meeting was uninspiring. Satterwhite remembers arriving at the gym in Miami Beach, asking around for who was whom, and getting introduced to Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer. He was brought over to the champ, who was having his hands wrapped for the day’s workout. They exchanged some quick greetings, and Satterwhite went on his way.
For rest of 1970 and until Ali finally met Joe Frazier in the ring in March 1971, Satterwhite was a fly on the wall at the 5th Street Gym.
“I didn’t bug him,” Satterwhite said. He let Ali be Ali. In front of the cameras, he watched Ali give better than he got from an often disbelieving and critical press.
Over time, Ali got used to him, or just seemed to forget he was there. That allowed Satterwhite to capture a different side of Ali — an Ali beyond the TV performances, beyond boasts and bravado. It was an Ali who admitted he had a secret and maybe even hinted at what that was, if only through glances and tone.
In the time Satterwhite spent with Ali, he shot over 55 rolls of film. Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated used many of them, but what they left, much of what they never saw — maybe because they were not yet sufficiently distant from to really understand — has been sitting in Satterwhite’s private archive — until now.
Satterwhite is raising money on Kickstarter to publish a very limited number of copies of carefully selected prints from this pivotal period in Ali’s boxing career.
Even just a quick look at Satterwhite’s Kickstarter page will show you exactly why you need to sign up for Satterwhite’s book. There’s something about his angles, his timing, his touch that gives each of his photographs an intimacy that boxing/Ali fans will cherish.
The book will come accompanied by anecdotes of friends and in-ring foes who knew Ali — each indelibly marked by the time spent together with The Greatest.
To Satterwhite, Ali was a “smart, fun guy, so cool and so big. He was intimidating but never intimidating to me.”
Once, Satterwhite was riding in a limo with Ali through a fancy neighborhood near Miami Beach. Ali told the driver to stop the car.
“Hey, Al. Why don’t you go down there and ask how much that house is right there?”
Ali pointed at a nearby home with a "For Sale" sign in the front yard.
“Why me?” Satterwhite responded.
“Because, Al, you’re the only white guy in the car.”
He never pulled any punches. Satterwhite said, even with all his money and fame, Ali realized that his skin color might speak louder than the color of his money, if the home owners were allowed to see it.
Satterwhite’s Ali is real. He’s more than legend — he’s actually man. If you want to see the Ali that Satterwhite got to know, go over to Kickstarter now! Moreover, if you want to get some punches in, you can find boxing gloves at DMBBoxing.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.