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Born January 17th, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, Muhammad Ali is arguably one of the best boxers of all time. He fondly called himself “The Greatest.” His name given at birth was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.
His autobiography-The Greatest with Richard Durnham gives a detailed account of his childhood and life as a prizefighter. Feel free to buy a copy of this book on Amazon by clicking HERE.
Ali shared poetic commentary which predicted which round he will knock out his competitor added flair to the sport. People either loved his confidence or considered him to be a loud-mouth braggart and wanted to see him lose.
Muhammad Ali was also friends with Malcolm X who attended several of his fights. There are several other articles on this blog on life lessons of influential leaders. These individuals include Kobe Bryant, Phil Knight, Lee Iacocca, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. I have also written an article that summarises the greatest life lessons from these successful leaders. Feel free to click to these articles if you are interested in content of this nature.
The following points below are the golden nuggets from his biography that resonated with me. In certain instances the pointers are supported with quotations from the book.
The power of belief
Muhammad Ali believed that he would become the World Heavy Weight Champion. His father predicted that he would be The World Heavyweight Champion after he won his first fight against Ronny O’Keefe.
At the age of 14, he heard Rocky Marciano announced as the World Heavyweight Champion and that was life changing for him.
“Heavyweight Champion of the World. All the world? And from that day on I want to hear that said about me. I pull my head out of the car and stand there in the rain. Still Heavyweight Champion of the World, Cassius Clay” (p. 50).
He even introduced himself stating that he was going to be the World Heavyweight Champion in professional circles. He believed that he was and he became.
Faced his fears
Earning the title of World Heavyweight Champion was his life mission but he had fear of flying. He understood that becoming a fighter demanded that he travels both within the USA and abroad.
Overcome it or giving up boxing was his only options. When the opportunity presented itself for him to go to Rome for the Olympics, Ali wanted to take a boat to Rome. However, that mode of transportation was too slow.
“What I was afraid of most was the plane crashing, and nothing would satisfy me until I called the Air Force and asked them to give me a record of plane flights between Rome and America. They said they couldn’t even remember the last time one had crashed. That calmed me down enough to take the flight to Rome” (p. 86).
Attentive to details
In his book, Ali described how he studied fighters. He watched carefully those who were the best in their fields to improve his understanding and fighting techniques.
“I examined styles, stances, moves, feints, jabs, crosses, hooks, bobs, weaves. And I adopted all I could from those who made the trade, bloody, vicious and savage as it might be, an art. As Sugar Ray, Kid Gavilan, Johnny Bratton had done. They were the Picassos among fighters, and they made it all seem a thing of pride, poise, courage, strength, class” (p.89).
Courage was demonstrated when he described his fear every time he stepped into the ring. In his case his poems which predicted which round his opponent will fall in added to the pressure. He knew he had to win the fight.
“The truth is, every time I go into the ring I’m scared to death” (p.109).
Bounce back from defeat
Ali believed that a fighter needed to bounce back quickly from defeat no matter how painful the loss.
“No fighter can survive if he feels sorry for himself when he’s defeated” (p. 27).
The Blessings of Failure
Defeats were viewed as a learning opportunity. One of his popular sayings emerged from a defeat which sent him to the hospital. At the hospital he received some mail and on a brown bag the words written were: “The butterfly has lost its wings, the bee has lost its sting” (p. 29).
Ali believed that defeat is a reminder not to be complacent.
“I’d started believing I couldn’t be whipped, that I didn’t have to work hard, train hard, discipline myself, dedicate myself in order to win. Now I know that too many easy victories can ruin a fighter just as much as a long line of defeats” (p. 28).
When Ali began learning how to box, he was not good at all. In fact he described that he was fighting as a girl. However, he was persistent with his training.
His dedication was evident in the number of hours he trained even while at school. After school he worked for 4 hours then trained at one gym for 2 hours. He then trained at another gym from 8pm to 12 midnight.
Ali mastered coping under pressure. In fact his wife Belinda indicated that she learnt that from him.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from him is how to cope with pressure. How to live under pressure in the ring and out of it. He’s a genius at that” (p.336).
Ali described in his book the preparation required for a fight. He stated that most heavy weight champions train for about four to six months. Prior to a fight, a routine is created which is closely adhered to.
Ali described his routine when preparing to fight George Foreman as:
“I must have a plan when I’m training and I try to follow it as close as possible. I have a time to run, time to get back to my cabin, time to eat, to rest, to go to the gymnasium. I must clock myself so I spend a certain time in the boxing ring, certain time jumping rope, certain time at the heavy bag. All these things must be worked out before I get down to business” (p. 363).
Practiced as he played
Ali maintained the same routine required in a fight during his training. He divided his workout into three minute rounds just as if he was in a fight. He also took that same one minute rest during his preparations. No shorter or no longer.
When he began training with Archie Moore, he challenged him to run up a mountain. Ali decided to go ahead of Archie running at a faster pace.
However, Archie kept his cool and continued running slower but remained cool, calm and in stride. That was the first lesson that Archie taught him, the value of pacing himself. After running half a mile, Ali was tired and almost collapsed.
Stuck to his convictions
Ali expressed his sentiments about America’s involvement in the Vietnam War which led to the rescindment of his boxing license. When asked to take back his statements, Ali maintained his position. He refused to be inducted into the US Army to fight in Vietnam. This decision left him in exile for about 3 ½ years. He received his first state boxing license after exile in September 28th, 1970. During this period, Ali delivered several motivational speeches at schools throughout his country.
Muhammad Ali’s biography was an exciting read. He shared many stories of the ups and downs of his professional and personal life. Feel free to pick up a copy of this book on Amazon by clicking HERE !
The power of belief and speaking your future into existence are two of my most memorable nuggets from this book. One of my favorite quotations from his life story was:
What counts in the ring is what you can do after you’re tired.
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