I remember a while back I watched the movie “Ali” with Will Smith in the title role of Muhammad Ali. It was a powerful movie, especially since it was based on the true life story of one of the most dominating boxers who ever lived.
I had known about Muhammad Ali even before, but the movie made me want to dig deeper into his life story, how he became who he became. The “Rumble in the Jungle” and the “Thrilla in Manila” are the stuff of legend and have entered the mainstream, however there was an entire journey that preceded those two fights, one that is often not talked about.
There was a story of how a skinny, black kid rose to become arguably one of the best boxers ever. He wasn’t always a guy who dominated over everyone. In fact, the entire path to becoming who he would later become, started off when his bike was stolen.
Muhammad Ali was born as Cassius Clay into a middle-class black family. He grew up in a nurturing home, so his upbringing was not one of living in a gutter, but instead that of supportive parents. One day, him and his friend took the new expensive bikes that they had just gotten to a convention in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. They parked their bikes and walked around, but when they got back they found that their bikes had been stolen.
A young Cassius Clay (12 at the time) was led fuming to one of the police officers in attendance, where he told the police officer that he would “whup” the guy who did this. The police officer responded that if he wanted to do that, he better learn to fight and offered to give him boxing lessons.
That was the start of Muhammad Ali’s boxing career. The police officer turned out to be Joe E. Martin, a boxing coach, who became his first boxing coach and taught him how to box. The little boy grew up to be a big man, and as Cassius Clay, went on to dominate the amateur ranks and win the gold medal at the Summer Olympics.
Cassius Clay would later change his name to Muhammad Ali and become the most dominant boxer of his era. He was also a polarizing figure, one who was suspended from boxing for 4 years during his prime, but came back after that long hiatus stronger than ever.
Muhammad Ali was driven right from the start to succeed. He was determined to become the best there ever was. In a later interview, Christine Martin, the widow of Joe E. Martin, gave an insight into the early workings of the kid who would go on to become Muhammad Ali:
“Cassius was a very easy-to-get-along-with fellow. Very easy to handle. Very polite. Whatever you asked him to do, that’s what he’d do. His mother, that’s why. She was a wonderful person. On trips, most of the boys were out looking around, seeing what they could get into, whistling at pretty girls. But Cassius didn’t believe in that. He carried his Bible everywhere he went, and while the other boys were out looking around, he was sitting and reading his Bible.“
He was focused right from the start. While other kids would be fooling around, he knew to stay away from distractions and work hard.
The story of how someone becomes a champion is always fascinating and one that everyone can learn from. You will probably not become the greatest boxer that ever lived, but you can apply the same types of principles that champions use in order to become a champion at whatever you want to accomplish. Let the words of Muhammad Ali serve as motivation and inspiration.
On working hard:
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.‘” Muhammad Ali
In order to become a champion you need to work hard. If you want to accomplish something, you need to work for it. Stuff in life usually doesn’t come free, but instead only after having taken a long, winding road full of obstacles. In order to succeed you need to be prepared to work hard and to suffer through long hours of pain. However the light at the end of the tunnel will make it all worth it.
On taking risks:
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Muhammad Ali
If you want to accomplish something in life you need to take a risk. Without taking risks, you will never be able to succeed. So take the plunge. Take a risk.
“Life is a gamble. You can get hurt, but people die in plane crashes, lose their arms and legs in car accidents; people die every day. Same with fighters: some die, some get hurt, some go on. You just don’t let yourself believe it will happen to you.” Muhammad Ali
Everything in life is a risk. You gotta get luck on your side. You can never be sure about anything. Even if you are taking the safe road and don’t think anything can happen, there are always potential dangers and obstacles lurking somewhere. You just have to have faith that nothing will happen to you and if something does happen, then have the courage to overcome it.