A film based on Muhammad Ali’s surprise trip to the North East of England in 1977 to help save a boxing gym is due to be shot later this year.
“A God Among Men” will begin filming in August and wrap by the end of 2022, with Top Boy actor Nicholas Pinnock set to play Ali.
Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who) will play Johnny Walker, a painter and decorator, and an ex-boxer who managed to bring ‘The Greatest’ to Tyneside.
James Newton, who co-wrote and will direct the film, said: ‘A God Amongst Men’ is based on the true story of how a man, Johnny Walker, outrageously claimed he would bring Muhammad Ali to Tyneside in 1977 to save a boxing club from closing down.
“Johnny was immediately ridiculed and made a laughing stock. But Johnny didn’t give up on his dream. He found people to help make the impossible possible.
A huge Ali fan, Johnny traveled to America hoping to convince the most famous boxer on the planet to fly to a place he had never heard of to help save a boxing gym local.
Before his trip, the brave Geordie contacted the press in Chicago to tell them about his visit and the story quickly made its way to Ali, who was impressed by Walker’s sass.
Two men in suits were waiting at the airport and escorted Walker and Dick Kirkup, a local sportswriter, to a limo. They then flew by helicopter directly to Ali’s ranch in Michigan, where Walker convinced the champion to visit Newcastle.
At this point, Ali was at the peak of his boxing powers. Just two years prior he had beaten Joe Frazier, and two months after his visit Ali beat Earnie Shavers in 15 rounds.
During his visit, Ali toured the area in an open-top bus as thousands lined the streets to see him. The boxing legend was stunned by the outpouring of love he received on his trip.
“I have never been so honored – not in America even by government officials and authorities,” he said. “I’ve been to London about five times but never heard of Newcastle until now.”