Muhammad Ali TV Series The Greatest a Go at Amazon 5

Amazon is stepping into the ring with the estate of the late and great boxer Muhammad Ali.

Following months of negotiations, the retail giant/streamer has handed out a formal series order for The Greatest, a scripted drama following the life of Ali. The estate of the former heavyweight champion boxer, who died in June 2016 after a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, has signed on to the series and will executive produce alongside showrunner Ben Watkins (Cross), Michael B. Jordan and Josh Wakely, who secured the rights to Ali’s life story and brought the project to Amazon.

Jaalen Best, whose sparse credits include episodes of All American: Homecoming, Magnum P.I. and American Horror Stories, will star in the career-making role of Ali.

Jordan’s Outlier Society Productions, which has a first-look film and TV deal with Amazon, will executive produce the series as the actor-producer has an interest in boxing after starring in Creed and its sequels. Amazon MGM Studios, Watkins’ Blue Monday Productions, Authentic Studios, Roc Nation, Universal Music Group partner Polygram Entertainment and Wakely’s Grace: A Storytelling Company are also producing.

Originally conceived as a limited series but shifted to an ongoing drama, The Greatest intimately explores the life of one of the world’s most celebrated athletes and the victories and defeats that made Ali a legend in and out of the ring. Amazon says the story is fueled by all the moments that took place outside of the spotlight and explores his life as a husband, father, brother and son.

The first season is subtitled I Shook Up the World and begins in 1960 when an 18-year-old named Cassius Clay wins the Olympic gold medal. The series is described as a coming-of-age story that unfolds against the backdrop of cultural shifts, the Civil Rights movement and Ali’s own spiritual awakening.

“I’m thrilled to be producing The Greatest alongside Ben Watkins who captured the essence and nuance of Muhammad,” said Lonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali’s widow. “With Jaalen Best, we have uncovered a soulful gem. He is such a talented young man who not only embodies Muhammad, but exudes his resilience, courage, charisma and confidence.”

Watkins is already in business with Amazon on its Alex Cross drama starring Aldis Hodge, which he executive produces with his Blue Monday partner and wife, Kandi. Watkins’ credits also include Amazon’s Hand of God, USA Network’s Burn Notice, Apple’s Truth Be Told and Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga. He started his career as an actor playing Wesley Carter on The Young and the Restless.

“To be trusted with the honor of telling the story of my most cherished hero, Muhammad Ali, is humbling and scary, and a dream come true,” said Watkins. “I am filled with an overwhelming sense of pride, responsibility, and most of all, gratitude.”

Added Wakely, who spent several years securing the rights to Ali’s story and developing the show, “It’s been a longtime dream to tell Ali’s remarkable life story as a television series, which is the only way to truly capture his greatness, and I’m grateful to Lonnie and the assembled team who also share my passion for getting The Greatest to the screen.”

For his part, Jordan is in preproduction on Creed IV and will reunite with Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler for a supernatural thriller. His TV producing credits include Netflix’s Raising Dion, OWN’s critically acclaimed David Makes Man and AMC/The CW’s 61st Street.

“On behalf of the Outlier Society team, I want to thank the incomparable Lonnie Ali for entrusting us to tell the story of one of the greatest humanitarians in the history of the world,” said Elizabeth Raposo, Outlier Society’s president and an executive producer of the series. “It is with humility and gratitude that we will begin the journey of making this wonderful show.”

“Muhammad Ali defined commitment and passion for multiple generations of Americans. His journey is best told in full by a team whose dedication reflects that example,” said Vernon Sanders, head of television at Amazon MGM Studios. “Ali’s is an awe-inspiring story of one of the most significant global figures of the 20th century. We are proud to work with Ben alongside Outlier, Roc Nation, Polygram, Grace, Authentic Brands, Lonnie Ali, and the very talented Jaalen Best, who we know will do a remarkable job bringing The Greatest to life.” 

Roc Nation’s CEO, Desiree Perez, said, “We are excited to participate in a project celebrating the iconic athlete, trailblazer, and activist, Muhammad Ali. His impact extended far beyond the boxing ring, using his platform to inspire and transform culture. It’s an honor to collaborate with all our partners, especially Lonnie Ali. The Greatest is a perfect title for a show dedicated to his legacy.”

“It’s been an honor to work with Lonnie to tell the incredible story of how Cassius Clay became the iconic Muhammad Ali. We look forward to sharing this personal portrait with his fans around the world,” said Michele Anthony, executive vp Universal Music Group.

The executive producers of The Greatest are Watkins, Jordan, Raposo and Lonnie Ali; Authentic Brand Group’s Corey Salter, Marc Rosen and Matthew Gross; Roc Nation; Michele Anthony and Boyd Muir for Polygram; and Wakely. Stefano Agosto, executive vp television at Outlier Society, will oversee the project on behalf of the company. Polygram’s David Blackman is a co-EP.

Jordan is repped by WME, M88 and Johnson Shapiro. Watkins is repped by UTA and Hirsch Wallerstein. Best is with Luber Roklin Entertainment and Goodman Genow.

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