Books | Eric Bachmann: Muhammad Ali, Zürich, 26.12.1971

On March 8, 1971, Muhammad Ali faced Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden, New York, for “The Fight of the Century”. Both contenders held legitimate claims to the title of World Heavyweight Champion. Ali had won the title from Sonny Liston in 1964, and defended the belt until he was stripped of it in 1967 for refusing to serve in the military. In his absence, Frazier won two championship belts. The time had come for the undefeated fighters to meet in the ring n a fight that split the nation in half. Ali represented the left; Frazier stood for the right. It went the full fifteen rounds, with Frazier winning the title.

Of that time, a little known fight has emerged, a fight between Ali and Jürgen Blin of West Germany on December 26, 1971 at the Hallenstadion Arena in Zürich, Switzerland. This fight was the upshot of a bet: in a Zürich bar, the flamboyant event promoter Hansruedi Jaggi had bet society reporter Jack Stark a bottle of Ballantine’s that he would bring Muhammad Ali to town. Jaggi, who was notorious for setting up rock concerts that ended in street riots with the police, was determined to make it happen, flying to the United States three times in order to gain access to Ali’s Nation of Islam clan, before finally signing an contract to bring Ali to Switzerland.

During Ali’s ten-day stay, Swiss photographer Eric Bachmann accompanied him everywhere he went, jogging alongside him through the snow-covered woods of Uetliberg, the local mountain; accompanying him on a shopping trip for waterproof shoes in a working-class neighborhood; in the gym training for the upcoming bout, and eventually in the ring with Blin, who he knocked out in the seventh round.

Muhammad Ali, Zürich, 26.12.1971 by Eric Bachmann (Edition Patrick Frey) is a tremendous piece of sports reportage and an intimate portrait of one of the most celebrated figures of the twentieth century. In the photographs you feel Ali’s sense of distance combined with the respectability of his profession. Despite the shots he fired at his opponents, slandering them relentlessly in the press, when it came to shaping his public image, Ali knew how to give the people what they wanted. In Zaire he was running with the people; in Zürich, he moves quietly, always able to read what his audience needs.

Muhammad Ali, Zürich, 26.12.1971 also includes a facsimile reproduction of the event program, a cast of characters, an essay by Swiss journalist Peter Hartmann, and an interview with Jürgen Blin, who observes that boxing taught him, “You can fall down, but you always have to get on your feet again. That’s the only way to do it.”

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.


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