“I am the greatest.”
Ali told the world he was the greatest and he made good on that proclamation by becoming the most charismatic, irresistibly entertaining boxer of the 21st century. The champ took on the world head on and never backed down from anyone. Whether it was in the ring, with the Government or with the racist leaders of the 60s Ali stood tall representing everyone without a voice.
Ali truly was a champion.
“It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
“Don’t count the days, make the days count.”
Before Parkinson’s disease ravaged the champ’s body, Ali was truly the king of the world.
“6 pounds 7 ounces!” Screamed the nurse as she weighed this butterfly of a newborn. Cassius Clay was born on the 17th of January, 1942 in rural Kentucky to a father who was and a mother who was. His childhood was nothing special and was pretty average when compared to most childhoods in the area at the time.
376, that was young Cassius’ ranking in his school. Clay was ranked 376th of 391 when he graduated from Central High School in Louisville Kentucky. The beauty of this was that Clay didn’t care. He didn’t listen to what other people thought of him and how other people would rank him in their systems of checks and balances. Ali knew early on that this life is what he made of it and as long as he found his lane and thought of the world differently his life would change.
After being ranked 376th out of 391 from his High school graduating class, Clay would go on to win the Olympic Gold Medal in Rome and declare himself as a professional boxer with an amateur record of 100 wins under his belt.
Floating like a butterfly
In the Ring, Ali had a truly unique fighting style. The mantra of ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ will forever be echoed in the gyms and hallways of boxing facilities around the world for years to come. As a professional fighter Ali would win the heavyweight championship of the world on three separate times over the span of 14 years. But what made Ali the Greatest in the ring? It wasn’t his natural fighting strength and power. It can be argued that most of Ali’s opponents were bigger, stronger and more intimidating, with legends like George Foreman and Ken Norton possessing the almost god-like punching strength to knock the head off of any other unsuspecting fighter. At a young age, Ali knew this when he was fighting. His intelligence taught him to focus on his other attributes like his speed, agility, and footwork. Ali knew that if he could outlast his opponents in the ring and dance circles around them that these bigger stronger more intimidating fighters would eventually tire themselves out and he could finish them with ease. Ali’s secret was that he moved like a lightweight and punched like a middle-weight. His intelligence allowed him to master these skills to achieve his goals in the ring.
Ali’s speed in the ring was unparalleled
When it came to the psychological aspect of the fight game. Ali had no peers. He invented the modern day trash talk. With his poetic prose and intellectual wit, Ali could talk circles around his opponents, winning over all the fans and the media painting every opponent that Ali faced as the dullard bad guy who was there just to collect a paycheck. Ali’s wit and humor was able to win over the allegiance of even his opponent’s fans! Ali knew that if he won the psychological battle before the fight had even begun, that he was more than halfway to a victory.
With his rap style slam poetry press conferences, his well known intimidatory stare downs and in fight trash talking, Ali’s opponents were always unsettled and thrown off of their game plans, using all of their mental energy to try and deflect Ali’s words. Every Ali opponent had to fight two fights whenever they stepped into the ring with him.
“When you fought Muhammad Ali, you not only fought this man in the ring, but you also had to fight this man in your mind.”
Muhammad Ali was truly a man ahead of his time. He knew that in order to escape a life of racism and poverty he needed to choose himself. He needed to stand up and never be intimidated. He needed to have the mental tenacity and determination to face down every opponent that stepped up to the plate. Ali may have been scared, but he never let it show. He knew that if he trained hard and honed his skills every single day that no matter what challenges came at him, he would always be ready.
Ali knew it was never by selection. Always by choice.