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Inside the ring he astounded crowds with his feats of athleticism and skill, while outside of it he captivated news headlines the world over for his bombastic and supremely confident personality.

By 1974, as he waited to retake his heavyweight champion of the world title from George Foreman at The Rumble In The Jungle, everyone in the world had heard of Muhammad Ali.

But precious few could claim to know the man behind the camera. The calm, thoughtful, focused athlete who enjoyed afternoon tea an poetry in between training sessions. Photographer Peter Angelo Simon is one of those few.

Invited to go behind the scenes with Ali for two days as he trained for the fight which would define his career, which Ali won by knockout at the end of the eighth round, Simon captured rare images of arguably the greatest boxer the sport has ever known.

In never-before-seen images, Simon photographed Ali at his Fighter’s Heaven training camp in Pennsylvania, standing among boulders with the names of boxing greats written across them, or training in a mirror set on a wall surrounded by photographs and press clippings of himself.

Simon said: 'Here was the most famous and contentious personality on the planet in his private retreat – the eye of the public hurricane – which was most of his life. While a global audience was fixated on his fate, I was able to record aspects of Ali virtually unknown.

'I was astonished by what I discovered at Deer Lake. The camp had an air of playfulness and creativity - power boulders bearing the names of boxing greats of the past, magic tricks, tea and poetry, Ali relaxing in a rocking chair receiving visitors in a log cabin. 

'While Ali prepared his body with rigorous physical training, the camp's congenial atmosphere was clearly essential to the nourishment of his soul. Everything I saw at the camp, I felt, was part of Ali’s imaginative formula for success.'

Mail Online

17 Apr, 2016

Chris Pleasance