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Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee: Lessons Of Success From Muhammad Ali

Today marks the 72nd birthday of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, a man who, throughout all his years in the ring, truly earned and merited the name by which he is otherwise known: “The Greatest.”

Born as Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali went on to amass 100 wins with just five losses during his amateur career, as well as one Olympic gold medal from the 1960 summer games in Rome.

In his illustrious professional career, Ali won 56 fights out 61, competed in some of the most infamous bouts in history — including the most famous of them all, the “Rumble In The Jungle” — and gained a reputation as one of the best trash-talkers in history.

Yet, as good as Ali was at talking the talk, he was much better at walking the walk. His career proved this fast and resulted in a few valuable lessons. So, on his birthday, here are the lessons of success we've learned from The Greatest, Muhammad Ali:

Nothing Is Worth Betraying Your Deeply Rooted Values

In 1967, Ali was at the peak of his power. The man was undefeated (29-0), a reigning world champion and an increasingly popular figure.

However, all that popularity dissipated when he refused to back away from his religious and political stance. It was during that year that Ali refused to be drafted into the US military to fight in the Vietnam War:

“No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder, kill and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people the world over,” Ali is quoted as saying. “This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end.”

Ali was subsequently stripped of his license to fight in all 50 states and was even tracked by the NSA. Meanwhile, his suspension spanned four years, from the ages of 25 to 28, a critical period in any athlete's career.

Eventually, when Ali's case made it to the Supreme Court, the conviction for his refusal to fight in Vietnam was overturned. This granted him not only a judicial victory, but also a moral victory, one that goes right up with every one earned in the ring.


The Mental Battle Is Just As Important As The Physical

As stated before, Muhammad Ali was a master of mind games. Let's just be frank here: He is probably one of the greatest trash-talkers in the history of man, not just sports.

His constant taunting of opponents reached maddening levels, but there was a method to his madness. Even when Ali was an underdog, like he was against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in 1964, the Louisville slugger was brash to no end:

“I'm gonna whoop him like I'm his daddy,” Ali said.

Despite being a 7-1 underdog, Ali eventually won the fight via TKO. However, the simple fact that he won isn't the only notable memory of that bout in Miami 50 years ago; it's the fact that Liston was noted for fighting in a style that made him seem awkward.

Liston was so unnerved, reports say, that he charged at Ali from the start, wildly flailing at the man who'd promised he'd “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” prior to the fight.

What's the bottom line? Ali threw Liston off. As a result, Liston ultimately became just another one of Ali's victims in mental battle, which made him all the more vulnerable in the ring.


Each Individual Has His Or Her Form Of Genius

Have you ever had that friend who is supremely intelligent, yet constantly tempts you to label him or her as “dumb as rocks” in situations that only require a bit of common sense?

If you do, that is just a testament to the fact that there are several different types of intellect, and the notion that there is one standard of intelligence is wildly outdated.

How do we know for sure? Just consider the career of Ali. The man wasn't just considered a great fighter. He was a master craftsmen in the ring, a contender who executed clever, devised strategies with surgical precision.

Ali was forensic in the manner which he achieved many of his wins; the true beauty of his game was in the intricate nuances of his style.

Muhammad Ali's success wasn't just about big, strong muscles and poised physique. Some of his moves were hailed by journalists as strokes of genius — GENIUS!

Ironically, when it came time for young Ali — then Cassius Clay — to graduate from Central High School in Kentucky, the soon-to-be legend ranked 376 out of 391 students.

What can explain the disparity between his proficiency in school and in the ring? It was his craft. Boxing was Muhammad Ali's art. Everyone has an art. As Ali proves, it's all about finding and mastering the art.


People's Opinions Will Wane, But What You Do Will Stand With Immortality

Make no mistake, Ali was a hated figure. His conversion to Islam made him unpopular; his denial for entry into Vietnam made him infamous; yet, he became a beloved figure just a decade later, earning a trip to the White House in the late 70s.

Up and down went the opinions of his critics, the general public and the fans who'd once been his haters. The one constant, though, was Ali's greatness. From the time he first picked up his boxing gloves, to the day he dropped them for the last time, Ali was great. That never changed and for that, he had to be recognized.

Before the whole world, shaken by Parkinson's Disease and barely able to talk, the once hated Ali, like all greats, eventually received his recognition in a touching ceremony that was beautifully chronicled by Larry Schwartz for ESPN:

“At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ali again stood alone in the spotlight. With the world watching, his hands trembling, he steadied them to light the flaming cauldron to signal the start of the Games. Tears were shed by many as the man whose beliefs had once divided a nation was now a unifying – and beloved – force.”

Happy Birthday to The Greatest.

Top Photo Courtesy: Wiki Commons

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Joseph Milord

Editor

Joseph is a Senior Writer, Editor and early member of the Elite Daily team. He studied Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University and will probably call Jersey home forever.
Joseph is a Senior Writer, Editor and early member of the Elite Daily team. He studied Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University and will probably call Jersey home forever.

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