Mahershala Ali to Star as Jack Johnson in HBO Series 'Unruly'

Ryan Phillips
Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson / Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Mahershala Ali is finally getting his dream role. The two-time Oscar winner will star as heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson in Unruly, an HBO limited series about the heavyweight champion's life.

Ali has reiterated a number of times that his goal was to eventually play Johnson on screen. He played the fighter in a stage production of The Great White Hope back in 2000, but this is obviously something bigger. Tom Hanks' production company Playtone is developing the project.

Deadline has the description of the series:

"Unruly is described as an unapologetically Black, no-holds-barred telling of Jack Johnson (Ali), the world’s first Black Heavyweight Boxing Champion. This bold exploration depicts the champion’s rise to athletic greatness and the costs he paid for his skin and defiance, which created a blueprint for Black resistance in every justice movement for generations to come."

Johnson became the first African-American heavyweight champion in 1908 when he defeated Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia. His 1910 fight against James J. Jeffries was dubbed the "fight of the century." Johnson won the bout by TKO in the 15th round. He held the heavyweight title for nearly seven years, until he lost to Jess Willard in April of 1915.

Johnson fought on and off into his 50s and finished his career with a record of 70-11-11. He died in a car crash on June 10, 1946 at the age of 68.

This should be a great series given everyone involved. Ali is at the top of his game so having him play his dream role now is perfect timing.