Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson in 1996
If photography was a sport, Neil Leifer would certainly be the undisputed world champion in his category. In the second half of the 20th century, Sports Illustrated's iconic photographer quenched the edges of the boxing rings in the world's biggest boxing fights, in which blood was sometimes flowing freely and tension was often high.
It was at the end of the 1950s that he began to attend the NFL games (football league) with his personal camera. In 1958, when he was only 16, he managed to sell his first shot to the famous magazine Sports Illustrated. Later, he found his passion in boxing, this brutal and at the same time, elegant sport, with the frequent twists and emotions so intense on the face of the physical monsters that would clash. He was able to convey the strength of the fighting and the pressure exerted by the public, he is endowed with a sense of timing and anticipation that allows him to capture the athletes at the perfect moment.
Dick Tiger vs. Roger Rouse in 1967 in Las Vegas
Neil Leifer's other talent is in his ability to immortalize surprising moments, during which we have, briefly, access to the real personality of boxers outside the ring. These are moments of tenderness, for example, the photograph of Mike Tyson with his child, or other moments of innocence, as when Mohamed Ali observes the weight of his opponent. There is a certain magic in Leifer's pictures, it is this magic that makes them engrave in our memory and gives us the impression of having lived the games. For many, Neil Leifer's photographs have become legendary, and some of them are often considered as the most beautiful sports photographs of all time. He is the author of the photograph of Mohamed Ali, overpowering, crushing Liston after two minutes of combat, or the air fish eye of the same fight.
Mike Tyson in the intimacy of his role as a father. After the fight against Lewis in 2002, when he has just returned to the locker room, he asks to hold his son in his arms and Neil Leifer is the only one to stand so close to him at this moment.
In recent years, the New Yorker has gradually withdrawn from the edges of the rings and edges of the grounds to focus on feature films and other themes outside of sports. Although, he isn't too active today, his shots are always a great source of inspiration and true models to follow for the current sports photographers. One thing is certain, part of the legend of the fights he photographed was built on his photographs and it is because he knew how to capture them in the best way.
Ali vs. Liston in 1965. The fight lasted less than 3 minutes. These are the 3 most productive minutes of Neil Leifer's life since he took 3 shots that became known worldwide afterwards (this one and the two following photographs). A real nice evening for Mohamed Ali as for the photographer.
Ali vs. Liston 1965
Ali vs. Liston 1965
One of Neil Leifer's first boxing snapshots. He attaches a certain tenderness because at the time he didn't have a photographer's card yet, that's why he took the photograph so far from the ring.
Patterson vs. Johansson 1961.
Foreman vs. Frasier, 1973
The celebration of Norton after his victory against Ali, in 1973. The match is best known for the breaking of Ali's jaw very early in the fight, which didn't not prevent him from standing up to the end.
John "Dino" sprinkled with water by his coach during a fight against Obie English in 1976
Ali vs. Foreman, 1975
Ali vs. Williams, 1966
Ali vs. Liston, 1965, during the weighing in.
Photo Credits : Neil Leifer (Sports Illustrated)