Roger Ebert has had as storied a career as any movie critic can. He came from the golden age of the form, where one of his reviews published in the newspaper could make or break a movie. From 1986 onward, Ebert solidified his place as one of the most important men in the industry by co-hosting one of the top movie review shows on television alongside Gene Siskel. But even before then he was doing cool stuff, like getting to watch the sequel to Rocky alongside boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Originally published by the Chicago Sun-Tribune back in 1979, Ebert documented many of Ali’s thoughts regarding several of the scenes that stand out … and of course, being Ali, his thoughts are classic. Here’s some of our favorite Muhammad Ali reactions as he watched Rocky II for the first time.
When Apollo Creed first appears:
“That’s me, all right. Apollo sounds like me. Insulting the opponent in the press, to get him psyched out. That’s me exactly.”
When Rocky’s trainer Mickey makes Rocky chase chickens to improve his footwork:
“That’s one that goes back to the days of Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, chasing chickens. You don’t see chickens at a training camp anymore except on the table.”
When Rocky’s wife slips into a coma following complications from childbirth:
“Now he don’t feel like fighting because his wife is sick. That’s absolutely the truth. The same thing happened to me when I was in training camp during one of my divorces. You can’t keep your mind on fighting when you’re thinking about a woman. You can’t keep your concentration. You feel like sleeping all the time.”
When Rocky runs through the streets and up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this time with a crowd of children following and cheering him on:
“Now that’s one thing that some people will say is artificial, all the crowds running after him, but that’s real. I had the same kinda crowds follow me in New York.”
When Rocky was praying right before his rematch with Apollo Creed:
“The most scary moment in a fighter’s life is right now. The moment before the fight, in your dressing room, all the training is behind you, all the advice in the world don’t mean a thing, in a moment you’ll be in the ring, everyone is on the line, and you … are … scared.”
So what did Muhammad Ali think of the movie?
“A great movie. A big hit. It has all the ingredients. Love, violence, emotion. The excitement never dulled.”
As for how the fight turned out…
“For the black man to come out superior would be against America’s teachings. I have been so great in boxing they had to create an image like Rocky, a white image on the screen, to counteract my image in the ring. America has to have its white images, no matter where it gets them. Jesus, Wonder Woman, Tarzan and Rocky.”