Muhammad Ali during the filming of The Greatest Wikipedia Public Domain
Every punch knocked knowledge out of his mouth.
In 1978, I got one of the most significant breaks in my writing career. I worked as a sports feature writer for a local newspaper called ‘The Sporting Chronicles,’ and the editor, Charlie Noland, a retired UPI writer, gave me a life-changing opportunity.
Charlie got me an interview with Muhammad Ali, the world-renowned professional boxer. So, off to the ring, I went. My job was to have an up-close and personal interview with the legend, but little did I know that his words would intimately and personally affect me for the rest of my life.
February 15, 1978, is one day that I’ll never forget. Ali vs. Spinks was due to take place in Las Vegas, Nevada. Despite it being the 1970s, this was one of the most talked-about and promoted fights for Ali.
However, I was not there to cover the fight — I had a bigger mission. Muhammad didn’t need me or the exposure my newspaper brought. It was us who needed him to impart some of his worldly wisdom to us and change the way we viewed ourselves and the world around us, and that’s what he did.
As a sports enthusiast, this interview opened my eyes far beyond just knowing his statistics. I fell in love with his mental strength and was intrigued by the lessons his life provided. The first came right away when he immediately introduced himself to me. Indeed, he needed no introduction, but his level of respect deemed it essential that he properly acquaint himself with me. Lesson one always introduce yourself.
“My pleasure to meet you. I’m the greatest.”-Muhammad Ali-
A short history of Muhammad Ali
Born January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad was initially named Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. Like every young African American man growing up in America, he was subject to bullying, prejudice, and discrimination, but he didn’t let that stop him from practicing his boxing skills.
One day as a child, he rode his bike to the movies with his brother, and when the movie was over, they came out to find his bike stolen. He reported it to the theater staff they directed him to a police officer in the lower level, an old boxing gym.
As he told the officer his story, his anger started to show as he shouted to the officer that he would beat up whoever stole his bike. Officer Joe Martin quickly explained that he needed to learn how to fight if he got involved with fights. It was at this moment he discovered the boxing ring and the euphoric feeling it gave him. He soon put all of his energy into learning how to fight. Focusing your energy allows you to grow and develop. And there, lesson two was shown. Permit yourself to study, expand your skills and knowledge.
The lifestyle he had as a child was the reason he uncovered his exceptional boxing skills. He’d been told by a police officer, ‘learn to fight before you start challenging people,’ so he did.
In no time, Muhammad started winning tournaments and earning titles. With his intimidating figure, super-fast reflexes, and unique footwork style in the ring, he was easily noticeable. In 1960, he won the light heavyweight Olympic gold medal and declared a hero in his home country.
In his entire boxing career, Ali had a whopping 56 wins. He only encountered five losses and had 37 knockouts. Throughout his career, the world heard, “I am the greatest,” and he was. Ali had spent many years training, developing his body and mind. There were times when he pushed himself beyond limits, giving him the confidence he touted so proudly. He taught us to proclaim our greatness. Another lesson, be proud of who you are, do not be timid about your accomplishments. Your struggles and achievements can inspire and motivate others. At 39 years of age, Ali retired from boxing. He decided to retire after he lost to Trevor Berbick in 1981. In that season, retirement became his new victory.
A brief look into his life
One unusual and unexpected decision that Muhammad took was joining the African American Muslim group called the Nation of Islam, only four years after his win at the Olympics. Initially, he stayed with his birth name, but then later changed it to Muhammad Ali. In 1970, he decided to convert to orthodox Islam.
A significant setback that he faced was when he refused to fight in the military because he was a Muslim. It was at the time of the Vietnam War. He was declared a felon, had his titles and boxing license taken away, and arrested. But Ali didn’t let this get the better of him.
He was back in the ring within three years, and the U.S. Supreme Court ended up overturning his conviction. He was ridiculed by many but stood firm on his decision. Forth in our lessons learned is you’ve got to stand for something, or you will fall for everything. It would help if you discovered who you are and what you want to represent.
Faith was important to Ali. Early in his youth, he went around telling people he was going to be the World Heavyweight Champion. Everyone laughed at him and commented about his thin built structure, passed on from one generation to the next. He didn’t care what they thought. He had faith and was going to make his dreams come true.
This time a valuable lesson in faith was revealed. You have to believe in yourself, have faith in what you can’t see. Ali had faith.
He believed everything has a purpose and shared his knowledge with his children. He would tell them you have to figure out your goal; otherwise, how will you know your destiny? The insight gained from his perspective is another lesson. Defining our purpose in life allows us to navigate our paths in life. How can we reach our goals if we do not know what our mission is?
In his personal life, Ali had married four times and was the father of nine children. One of his daughters, Laila Ali, went on to become a champion boxer like her father.
At the age of 74, Muhammad Ali died from septic shock in Phoenix, Arizona. Although the cause of the septic shock wasn’t clear, the boxer had been living with Parkinson’s disease for the past few decades.
Famous quotes by Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali never hesitated to talk about his achievements. His dedication to himself and his strong belief in his abilities often left his opponents feeling ill-equipped.
He declared that he was “The Greatest” and, more famously, that he could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” while fighting.-Muhammad Ali-
He was also a firm believer in making the most of every day he had.
“Don’t count the days, make the days count, because you never know how much time you have left.”-Muhammad Ali-
It’s smarter to focus on making the most of the day before you, rather than worrying about how many more days you have in the future.
Another famous quote that reflected his liberal views and his love for serving his community is often used today by great speakers.
He didn’t think that helping others was a choice you could decide not to make. Instead, he believed that it was every human’s duty to help and support the people in need as a citizen of Earth.
“Service to others is the price you pay for your room here on Earth.” -Muhammad Ali-
On February 15, 1978, Ali lost a match in a split-second decision to Spinks, but he bounced back in 7 months, more resilient than ever, to reclaim the title. Hail to the king, Ali was crowned as the first man to win the World Heavyweight title three times.
“Defeat inspires me. You can’t let setbacks knock you down.”-Muhammad Ali-
I may not have realized the weight in his words as a young woman back then, but looking back, these are words I know we should all try to follow.
He expressed to me, ‘there always has to be one more getting back up in you,’ which changed my life because I immediately was inspired to use his words and perspectives on life and work to encourage and motivate others that were on the brink of giving up.
Muhammad Ali instilled drive and determination that I use daily, and now I understand, the people we admire never got where they were in their first attempt.
“ You can’t give up. I said, Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”-Muhammad Ali-
The only reason influential wise, and multifaceted men such as Muhammad Ali have become evergreen parts of sporting history is because they chose to live differently. Muhammad didn’t see defeat the same way most do. He saw it as a critique of how he could change for the better. He saw it as motivation to take a different approach and get different results until he won.
Muhammad Ali’s work ethic and the words of wisdom he was constantly doling out can inspire and motivate us in our work. The dedication to his passion teaches us how to persevere for the sake of our goals as well.
These seven lessons were revealed in a one hour interview but remain timeless:
- Introduce yourself
- Permit yourself to study, expand your skills and knowledge
- Be proud of who you are
- Stand for what you believe.
- Have faith, belief in yourself
- Define your purpose
- Never give up
The bell chimed, the interview ended, but the insight gained will be passed on forever.