DeSantis super PAC copies Muhammad Ali photo for ‘War on Woke’ ad

A campaign caricature of Ron DeSantis shows the Florida Governor standing over his opponent like Muhammad Ali following Sonny Liston knockout.

By: Karim Zidan | 1 month ago
DeSantis super PAC copies Muhammad Ali photo for ‘War on Woke’ ad
Credit: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Never Back Down—the super PAC supporting Ron DeSantis—has caused some controversy following a campaign ad comparing the Florida governor to Muhammad Ali. 

MSNBC host Chris Hayes shared a photo of the DeSantis ad, which consisted of a caricature of the 2024 presidential hopeful wearing a pair of red boxing gloves and standing over an unconscious man wearing a mouse nose. 

“When the world lost its mind…When common sense suddenly became an uncommon virtue…RON DESANTIS FOUGHT BACK AGAINST THE WOKE ELITES AND WON,” read the ad. 

The caricature is believed to be a nod to the famous photo of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston during their infamous rematch in 1965. It is one of the most famous sports photos from the 20th century and was captured by photographers Neil Leifer and John Rooney. 

While the image appears to depict the violent conclusion of the fight, it is actually capturing Ali taunting Liston after dropping him with an awkward punch that has since become known as the “phantom punch.” “Get up and fight, sucker!” Ali yelled. 

Liston did get up and briefly resumed the fight. However, the referee stopped the fight after claiming that Liston had actually missed the count, raising concerns that the bout could have been fixed. 

The opponent in DeSantis’ ad is not meant to be Liston but a reference to Mickey Mouse and the governor’s ongoing feud with Disney World, Florida’s biggest private employer, over LGBTQ+ rights. 

DeSantis and the UFC

This is not the first time that DeSantis has attempted to rub shoulder or attempt to associate himself with combat sports. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Florida governor hosted two UFC events (UFC 249 and UFC 261) in an attempt to boast about his government’s handling of the pandemic. 

DeSantis, who is viewed as a contender for the Republican nomination in 2024, has been criticized for using his state’s limited Covid restrictions to increase his political clout. Hosting a capacity-crowd UFC show during a particularly difficult period during the pandemic was a clear show of defiance.

“Welcome to Florida. You guys aren’t the only ones looking to come to this oasis of freedom,” DeSantis said during the UFC 261 press conference. 

DeSantis also hosted Jorge Masvidal at a campaign event last year even though UFC fighter was facing felony battery charges after attacking a fellow fighter at a restaurant. 

The Florida governor has also recently come under fire for signing an extreme six-week abortion ban, which appears to have cost him significant backing ahead of the 2024 presidential elections. He also passed a series of bills restricting gender non-conforming expression, including a bathroom bill that bans businesses from using gender-inclusive bathrooms, a bill that allows the state to take action against businesses that host LGBTQ+ friendly shows or drag performances. 

DeSantis also passed a bill allowing trans children to be removed from their parents’ custody. 

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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