By PHILIP CHANDLER
In a heavyweight coup, a Queenstowner and another Kiwi are creating a giant tourist attraction in the United States dedicated to one of the world’s biggest icons, Muhammad Ali.
Local Stu Robertson — a marketing guru and philanthropist behind global art project, ‘Peace in 10,000 Hands’ — and cultural and tourism leader Andrew Te Whaiti are opening ‘Muhammad Ali Experience’ in Los Angeles late this year.
Arguably the world’s greatest ever boxer, Ali, who died in 2016, was also renowned for his outsized personality and social activism.
Muhammad Ali Experience will honour his memory and, through virtual reality (VR) technology, you’ll be able to talk to him and even punch him, or take a punch from him, in one of 40 boxing rings.
Robertson and Te Whaiti, through their company Genio Global Entertainment, won the
management rights to create the ‘location-based experience’ early last year.
The rights were awarded by Authentic Brands Group, which represents Ali’s family and other huge ‘brands’ like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Munro and Albert Einstein.
Kiwi boys behind a world-first experience
The attraction’s being built out the front of the new multi-billion-dollar SoFi Stadium, which hosted its first concert last weekend.
It’s the home of US football teams, the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, and will host next
year’s Super Bowl final and the 2028 Olympics.
‘‘It’s going to be a huge magnet for people, for tourists, and we will be the only ‘experience’ there,’’ Robertson says.
‘‘People can’t believe a couple of Kiwi boys have literally secured one of the globe’s biggest brands — Ali is not just sport, not just business, not just entertainment.
‘‘Everyone else was shocked — we weren’t, because of course we knew we could do it, we’re Kiwis, we can do any thing.’’
Since Covid, Robertson says they’ve been raising money — it’s costing ‘‘millions and millions’’ — and designing the offering.
Based in Queeenstown for the past 11 years, Robertson’s been inspired by just ‘‘walking around the lake, sitting under a redwood’’.
‘‘It’s special that something so special can come from a place that’s so special.’’
‘It’s going to be incredible’
Beyond the boxing ring and a locker room, visitors will be able to sample ‘‘immersive’’ retail as well as specially-selected food and beverage.
Every detail’s being run by Ali’s widow, Lonnie, and his children.
‘‘If Muhammad Ali only had fruitcake, we will serve fruitcake, if he only had lime milkshakes, we will just have one milk shake and it will be lime.’’
Robertson says he and Te Whaiti ‘‘feel a heavy burden to share his story’’.
They’ll employ cutting-edge technology, including building an Ali MetaHuman, using holograms and simulating some of his greatest fights like his ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ with George Foreman in what was then Zaire.
‘‘It’s VR, the whole thing, so sounds, smell, wind, the feeling of being punched, it’s going to be incredible.’’
The entry fee will be $US40.
The Kiwi pair originally pitched to create an ‘experience’ around US basketball legend
But then they were asked if they’d thought about Ali – O’Neal, however, is on their board.
With Ali’s name opening so many doors, Robertson expects he’ll invite more celebs to be
photographed for his Peace in 10,000 Hands project.
He’s so far photographed about 3500 people worldwide — from celebs to convicted murderers.
Each one’s holding a white rose, symbolising peace, with the aim of raising $100 million for
children’s education and health charities.
In addition to a Queenstown gallery exhibiting some of his photos, he’s also opening one in
Auckland next week.
After that, he’ll jet off to LA for the next six months.