What Made Muhammad Ali So Great?

Background

One may have a huge impact not just on oneself but also on his family, the people around him, and the entire world by discovering inner greatness. They will undoubtedly respect and treasure this effect for the rest of their life. Muhammad Ali was a former heavyweight boxing champion from the United States and one of the best athletes of the 20th century. In his 21-year professional career, Ali, an Olympic gold medalist and the first fighter to win the heavyweight belt three times, triumphed 56 times. Throughout his career, Ali was a popular figure due to his outspokenness on racial, religious, and political matters. The heavyweight was also known for his lightning-fast insults and jabs. More often than any other boxer, Ring Magazine named Muhammad Ali “Fighter of the Year” five times, and he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame [1].

Who was Muhammad Ali?

Cassius Clay and his trainer Joe E. Martin

Muhammad Ali, whose real name is Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 17, 1942.He was raised in the American South during a time when public spaces were segregated. His father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., painted billboards and signs to support a wife and two sons. Odessa Grady Clay, his mother, was employed as a housekeeper.

Clay began boxing when he was 12 years old under the instruction of Louisville policeman Joe Martin. At the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, he won the gold medal in the 175-pound division after rising through the amateur ranks. The Louisville Sponsoring Group, a group made up of 11 wealthy white men, managed his entry into the professional world.

Clay defeated Zbigniew Pietrzykowski, 1960 Summer Olympics

Clay’s charm and demeanor were more highly recognized in his early professional fights than his ring prowess. Although he declared himself to be “the Greatest,” the harsh realities of boxing seemed to suggest otherwise. As much as he impressed fans of the sport, Clay enraged them. Purists scowled when Clay foretold the round in which he would knock out an opponent, and they scowled again when he did it and boasted of each fresh victory [2].

Ali – the “Greatest Boxer”

Ali vs Frazier

One of the greatest boxers in history, Muhammad Ali was the first person to earn the heavyweight world title three times [2]. Muhammad Ali realized that in order to become a truly outstanding boxer, he needed to remain active. Consider that from 1970 to 1975, he answered the bell twenty-two times, giving sports fans his trilogy with Joe Frazier, two tense matches with Ken Norton, his iconic knockout of George Foreman, and victories over a number of elite-level competitors like Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, Jimmy Ellis, George Chuvalo, and Ron Lyle. This puts his level of activity into perspective [3]. To better visualize Ali’s matches in his professional boxing career of more than two decades, below is a table showing how great as a boxer he is [4].

No.

Result

Opponent

Type

Round Time

Date

Location

Notes

1

Win

Tunney Hunsaker

UD

6

October 29, 1960

Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S

-

2

Win

Herb Siler

TKO

4 (8), 1:00

December 27, 1960

Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.

-

3

Win

Tony Esperti

TKO

3 (8), 1:30

January 17, 1961

Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.

-

4

Win

Jim Robinson

KO

1 (8), 1:34

February 7, 1961

Convention Center, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.

-

5

Win

Donnie Fleeman

RTD

6 (8)

February 21, 1961

Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.

-

6

Win

LaMar Clark

KO

2 (8), 1:27

April 19, 1961

Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.

-

7

Win

Duke Sabedong

UD

10

June 26, 1961

Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.

-

8

Win

Alonzo Johnson

UD

10

July 22, 1961

Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.

-

9

Win

Alex Miteff

TKO

6 (10), 1:45

October 7, 1961

Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.

-

10

Win

Willi Besmanoff

TKO

7 (10), 1:55

November 29, 1961

Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.

-

11

Win

Sonny Banks

TKO

4 (10), 0:26

February 10, 1962

Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.

-

12

Win

Don Warner

TKO

4 (10), 0:34

February 28, 1962

Convention Center, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.

-

13

Win

George Logan

TKO

4 (10), 1:34

April 23, 1962

Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California, U.S.

-

14

Win

Willy Daniels

TKO

7 (10), 2:21

St. Nicholas Arena, New York City, New York, U.S.

-

15

Win

Alejandro Lavorante

KO

5 (10), 1:48

Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California, U.S.

-

16

Win

TKO

4 (10), 1:35

Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California, U.S.

-

17

Win

KO

3 (10), 2:04

Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.

-

18

Win

Doug Jones

UD

10

March 13, 1963

Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.

-

19

Win

TKO

5 (10), 2:15

Wembley Stadium, London, England

-

20

Win

RTD

6 (15), 3:00

Convention Center, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.

21

Win

KO

1 (15), 2:12

Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

22

Win

TKO

12 (15), 2:18

Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.

Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

23

Win

UD

15

Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

24

Win

TKO

6 (15), 1:38

Arsenal Stadium, London, England

Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight title

25

Win

KO

3 (15), 1:40

Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

26

Win

TKO

12 (15), 1:30

Waldstadion, Frankfurt, West Germany

Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

27

Win

TKO

3 (15), 1:08

AstrodomeHouston, Texas, U.S.

Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

28

Win

UD

15

Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.

Retained WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles;
Won WBA heavyweight title

29

Win

KO

7 (15), 1:48

Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.

Retained WBA, WBC, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

30

Win

RTD

3 (15), 3:00

Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.

-

31

Win

TKO

15 (15), 2:03

Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.

32

Loss

UD

15

Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.

For WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

33

Win

TKO

12 (12), 2:10

Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.

Won vacant NABF heavyweight title

34

Win

UD

12

Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.

Retained NABF heavyweight title

35

Win

KO

7 (12), 2:12

Hallenstadion, Zürich, Switzerland

-

36

Win

UD

15

Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan

-

37

Win

UD

12

Pacific ColiseumVancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Retained NABF heavyweight title

38

Win

TKO

7 (12), 0:19

Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.

Retained NABF heavyweight title

39

Win

TKO

11 (12), 1:15

Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland

-

40

Win

RTD

7 (12), 3:00

Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.

Retained NABF heavyweight title

41

Win

KO

8 (12), 0:40

Retained NABF heavyweight title

42

Win

UD

12

Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.

-

43

Loss

SD

12

Lost NABF heavyweight title

44

Win

SD

12

Won NABF heavyweight title

45

Win

UD

12

Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Jakarta, Indonesia

-

46

Win

UD

12

Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.

Retained NABF heavyweight title

47

Win

KO

8 (15), 2:58

Won WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

48

Win

TKO

15 (15), 2:41

Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

49

Win

TKO

11 (15), 1:08

Las Vegas Convention Center, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.

Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

50

Win

UD

15

Stadium Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

51

Win

RTD

14 (15), 3:00

Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

52

Win

KO

5 (15), 2:46

Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

53

Win

UD

15

Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

54

Win

TKO

5 (15), 2:05

Olympiahalle, Munich, West Germany

Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

55

Win

UD

15

Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.

Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

56

Win

UD

15

Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, U.S.

Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

57

Win

UD

15

Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.

Retained WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

58

Loss

SD

15

Las Vegas Hilton, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.

Lost WBA, WBC, and The Ring heavyweight titles

59

Win

UD

15

SuperdomeNew Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.

Won WBA and The Ring heavyweight titles

60

Loss

RTD

10 (15), 3:00

For WBC and vacant The Ring heavyweight titles

61

Loss

UD

10

Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre, Nassau, Bahamas

-

One of the ironies of Muhammad Ali’s career is that for many years, his bravery and toughness were questioned by the boxing veterans. Ali ended up being too tough for his own good. Few boxers have ever survived the amount of firepower Ali received from Frazier, Norton, Foreman, Shavers, and Holmes. In his career, Ali was only knocked out four times: by Sonny Banks, Henry Cooper, Joe Frazier, and Chuck Wepner. It should be recalled that “The Bayonne Bleeder” stepped on Ali’s foot as soon as he threw a right hand to the ribs, which contributed to the Wepner knockout [3].

Bush embraces Ali

In 1990, Muhammad Ali was in the first group of individuals inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In 2005, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom [2]. Ali’s demise has caused sadness among a lot of people, especially among his many supporters who, for some reason, had a very strong sense of sharing in his victories and losses, both inside and beyond the ring. In the end, the traits that made him legitimately “the greatest” as a boxer allowed him to leave behind a lasting and profoundly important legacy [5].

Ali – the Great Influencer

Muhammad Ali’s life story is one of a guy of strong convictions and religious faith who was adored by millions and who, in turn, desired nothing more in life than to interact with as many of those people as he could [3]. He was also well-known for refusing to be admitted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War and for spreading a societal message of black pride and resistance to white dominance [2].

Ali was a people person who wouldn’t isolate himself from the media or the wider public. Visitors were always welcome at his training camps, and he rarely turned down requests for interviews. Wherever he was, Ali never hesitated to mingle with his admirers and only ever had one bodyguard on duty [3].

And while modern boxers might avoid talking about their personal lives or appearing in the media, Ali did the exact opposite. He kept nothing back during interviews because he loves responding to questions and being tested. Along with his prowess in the ring, his ethics, the fact that he stood for something more than boxing, openness, sense of humor, and natural charm all combined to make him a superstar [3].

In spite of his health issues in retirement, he apparently still loved being Muhammad Ali. That pleasure had been earned. He created cultural change, empowered countless people all over the world, and inspired them [5].

What Made Muhammad Ali the “Greatest Boxer”?

Muhammad Ali’s speed, excellent footwork, punch-absorbing skills, and immense bravery helped him become a legendary boxer. Others have matched his final record of 56 wins, 5 losses, and 37 knockouts, but the caliber of his opponents and his resounding success during his heyday made him one of boxing’s all-time greats [2]. Ali’s outstanding boxing prowess was at the heart of the fame he attained.

Unique Style

Ali has been rated as the greatest heavyweight boxer in history by various boxing experts. He and the renowned Sugar Ray Robinson are regarded as the best in all weight classes. It most certainly wasn’t just brute force and power. More than one-third of his professional fights went the distance, yet he was never regarded as one of boxing’s hardest punchers. He wasn’t very tall or heavy either. The qualities that set Ali apart from other competitors the most were his speed, agility, footwork, and general athleticism. He was rumored to be a heavyweight who moved light.

Ali also had exceptional aerobic endurance in the early part of his career, persevering in keeping up his up-on-the-toes dancing technique. Without a question, Ali possessed special talent. But he used methods that were not conventional, although being obviously effective. Ali described his own approach as having the ability to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” In keeping with his passionate independence and defiance of conventions in other facets of his life, his unique, unconventional fighting approach piqued interest practically everywhere [5].

Mental Strength

Ali also displayed significant psychological prowess. He was well known for his confidence, which frequently went beyond outspoken pre-contest declarations of assurance to include specifically picking the round that he would win. It’s possible that Ali’s self-confidence and fantasy of superhuman abilities helped him survive a number of grueling competitions.

In the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali used a fabricated “rope-a-dope” technique to absorb some really powerful blows from George Foreman. This ultimately led to an unusual victory for him, which turned out to be the icing on the cake of his remarkable boxing career [5].

Interesting Facts about Muhammad Ali

Ali was a gifted poet who integrated his artistic endeavours into his athletic goals, while he is most known for his boxing and anti-war activism. Ali later advocated for rights for persons with Parkinson’s disease [6]. Here are some interesting facts about Muhammad Ali.

  1. He and his father were named after anti-slavery activist Cassius Marcellus Clay.
  2. He earned a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics, but he threw it into the Ohio River after being denied service at a restaurant in his home state while wearing it due to his race.
  3. He was a poet who wrote verses to provoke his rivals in the ring of battle, which gave him a nickname as the “Louisville Lip”.
  4. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 42 after displaying signs of slowness and slurred speech. But this did not stop him from travelling around the world for humanitarian and charitable causes.
  5. He earned the major titles WBA heavyweight champion four times and WBC heavyweight champion twice [4].
  6. The only three-time lineal heavyweight champion is still Ali. He was involved in more Ring “Fight of the Year” contests than any other boxer and is the only one to have received that honour from The Ring magazine six times [7].
  7. Ali had two sons and seven daughters over his four marriages [7].

Conclusion

Indeed, Muhammad Ali lived a great life, a reason for him to be recognized as “Fighter of the Year” five times. In fact, he is a testament that one can achieve anything just by having a strong conviction. In his career of more than two decades, he did not just only become an athlete loved by sports experts but loved and cared for a lot of people because he became an inspiration and made a change.

References

[1] History.com Editors. (2018). Muhammad Ali. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/muhammad-ali/ [Accessed September 02, 2022]

[2] Hauser, T. (2022). Muhammad Ali. Encyclopedia Britannica.https://www.britannica.com/biography/Muhammad-Ali-boxer/ [Accessed September 01, 2022]

[3] Carbert, M. (2022). Top 12 Reasons Why Muhammad Ali Is The Greatest. Retrieved from https://www.thefightcity.com/top-12-reasons-muhammad-ali-forever-the-greatest-cassius-clay-joe-frazier-george-foreman-boxing/ [Accessed September 01, 2022]

[4] Wikipedia. (n.d). Boxing career of Muhammad Ali. Retrieved from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_career_of_Muhammad_Ali#Professional_boxing_record/ [Accessed September 03, 2022]

[5] Hahn, A. (2016). What made Muhammad Ali ‘The Greatest’ in the ring? Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/what-made-muhammad-ali-the-greatest-in-the-ring-60521/ [Accessed September 01, 2022]

[6] Callahan, S. (2022). 10 Facts About Muhammad Ali. Retrieved from https://www.historyhit.com/facts-about-muhammad-ali/ [Accessed September 01, 2022]

[7] Wikipedia/ (n.d). Muhammad Ali. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali#Legacy/ [Accessed September 06, 2022]