Champions are not made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” – Muhammad Ali
Float like a butterfly, Sting like a Bee — the rhyming flashy boxer was the pride and joy of American boxing fans and television viewers throughout much of the 1960s. Born Cassius Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1942, the athlete rose to fame with his physical prowess and braggadocio as a darling of sports television.
Clay converted to Islam and took on the name Muhammad Ali, the monicker under which he won the Rumble in the Jungle, the Thrilla in Manilla, and other prime-time boxing championships against long-reigning professionals such as George Foreman, Joe Frazier, and Sonny Liston. Many of Ali’s accomplishments and records remain unbroken, including his three consecutive championships.
Ali made waves as a political activist for a few years when he refused the draft for the Vietnam War, citing his belief that the war was not a just one and that the US should not be involved in Vietnam in a militaristic capacity. Ali was barred from professional boxing for a few years, during which time he pursued acting and other publicity to keep himself relevant and forward the causes of racial justice. He returned to boxing in 1971, but in his time off, his quickness and athletic prowess wore off. Ali passed away in 2016 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
In his prime, Ali would give riveting interviews in which he talked about what made him such a great athlete, competitor, and ultimately, champion of heavyweight boxing. He often pointed to the exemplary coaching he received, but more than anything, he cited his intense work ethic and unquenchable thirst for the title of World Champion for what drove him to the soaring heights he reached.
Glimpses of his workout regimens and his light-footedness in the ring made it clear that Ali was something special and driven by an entirely different force than were his opponents. It was unarguable that Ali was an intrinsically skilled man, with a phenomenal physique and unbeatable technique. However, as he says in his above quote, there’s more to it than just skill — there’s the will to be the best and see yourself through the excruciating training, intense workouts, restrictive diets, and long days and nights.
The willpower Ali exerted throughout his career is highly inspiring and should be a paragon to all who want to be the best at whatever they do. In his own words, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”