"I am the greatest".
A statement that's easy to make, but much harder to prove to millions all over the world. Well, Muhammad Ali said those words back in 1964 and no one ever rose to challenge him for that title. He sadly passed away on Saturday and although the famous dancing and charismatic shuffle have faded away, he still remains one of, if not the, most famous person to ever grace this earth. But what exactly made Ali the greatest?
Image in public domain.
Here, I will break Ali's greatness into its constituent parts, in an attempt to explain why there has never been anyone greater and possibly never will be.
Muhammad Ali worked hard. Very 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". And a champion he became. There is no substitute for hard work; the ability to work hard saw Ali achieve what other had deemed impossible. People who pay the price early on in life are generally successful in what they want to achieve.
Muhammad Ali believed in himself.
The strongest belief Ali had was that no one out there was better than him - he was not going to be beaten. Ali believed anything he touched would be great; he was born to win. This is what made him so good in the ring.
"It's hard to beat a guy when he's got his mind made up that he's going to win."
Before you actually win or achieve anything in life, you need to visualise it. You need to be a winner mentally before becoming a winner in reality.
"I would have been the world's greatest at whatever I did. If I were a garbage man, I'd be the world's greatest garbage man! I'd pick up more garbage and faster than anyone has ever seen. To tell you the truth, I would have been the greatest at whatever I'd done!"
Self-belief enabled Ali to conquer obstacles the world had deemed impossible. He took on all challengers, even when the public didn't give him a chance. Most chuckled at the idea of, a then 22-year-old Cassius Clay, defeating the terrifying and hard-hitting Sonny Liston, but that is what happened when the two met in 1964, and then again a year later.
Muhammad Ali was a champion inside and outside of the ring.
He was the best at what he did, although not the greatest boxer ever - he agreed with many that Sugar Ray Robinson held that honour. However, when the topic turns to who is the greatest sports figure in history, there is undeniably no contest. His unorthodox technique, speedy feet and lightning-fast reflexes saw him extraordinarily become world heavyweight champion three times, recording just five losses over a 61 match career. But Ali's boxing accomplishments were just part of a package. No sporting icon has ever matched the popularity of the man from Louisville and it can be said that what he did outside of the ring made him the "greatest".
In 1967, Ali's refusal to be inducted into the American army, due to religious beliefs, earned him a three-year ban from boxing. It's quite startling to think we might not have seen the best of him either, with Ali being banned from boxing between the ages of 25 and 28, robbing him of his peak years as a professional boxer.
Initially hated for his anti-war beliefs, Ali was branded a traitor but began to gain support during his exile as disapproval of the Vietnam War grew and by 1971, his ban was overturned much of to the joy of millions of fans.
The biggest irony can be found in the reduction of the greatest sporting voice to a slur and tremble, paralysed by Parkinson's disease, despite the unrivalled prowess of his youth. Known for being overly confident, described by many as arrogant, Ali came out with a statement that shocked the world one last time: "God gave me this illness to remind me that I'm not number One; he is." In old age it seemed that the silver-tongued boxer was almost subdued, no longer the loud youth of ages past, but rather a legend with invaluable knowledge to impart to others.
He was a man who stood out, and that made him an inspiration. This, among other things, is why Muhammad Ali will go down in history as the greatest.