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Ali's 'Whole Story': A Saga of Strength


To the younger generation, former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali is a tragic figure, seemingly incapable of the momentous feats he is credited with.

The greatest of all time?

All they see is a frail man, barely able to light the Olympic torch in Atlanta with his quivering hands.

That's why tonight's TNT special, "Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story," should prove quite informative to those too young to have lived through the Ali era.

As it turns out, "The Whole Story" is an old story. There is little new to be seen or learned, except for those seeing the younger Ali for the first time. Don't bother to tune in if you're looking for unexpected revelations.

Most of the fight footage, press conferences and reminiscences have been shown before in countless Ali retrospectives over the years. Only the last few moments of the special are devoted to his current life and his struggle with Parkinson's disease.

But the old material holds up well. Even for those who experienced it all the first time around, it's still thrilling to watch Ali move around a ring with the grace of a ballerina, entertaining to watch him charm and captivate the most hard-bitten of reporters and riveting to watch him battle out of the ring for his right to refuse to serve in the armed forces.

In an age when athletes change their names as easily as they change their uniforms, the resistance and hatred Cassius Clay encountered when he became Muhammad Ali provide stark contrast.

"You keep calling me a white man's name," Ali tells a reporter. "I'm not white."

And to an audience he addresses during his exile from boxing for opposing the draft, Ali says, "You want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won't even stand up for me at home."

Other memorable segments include:

* Civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson opposing Ali's stance on the draft.

* Television host Bryant Gumbel choked with emotion as he discusses how Ali inspired him in his childhood.

* A revealing look at the relationship between Ali and the Black Muslims.

* The saga of Ali's four wives and the other women in his life.

In the year when the whole world watched Ali's hands shake as he lighted the Olympic torch, it's only fitting to recall a time when those hands shook up the world.

* "Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story" will be broadcast at 5, 7 and 9 p.m. today on TNT.

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