In the words of ‘The Greatest ’

18 July 2024, Thursday


At the halfway point of 2016 the world has already lost an inordinate amount of great performers, artists,public figures and sporting celebrities. Towering over all of them was the figure of Muhammad Ali- a colossus of humankind who passed away on June 3rd at the age of 74.


Great is not something one is given in life. Great is something one must take in life.

Muhammad Ali’s story , like so many great athletes, is one of using his innate and gifted physical talents to both shield himself from hurt and deliver himself from a life of adversity , poverty , struggle and  injustice.

In so doing Muhammad Ali went on to become arguably :

The Greatest of all time

Pain and fear were the twin evils that shaped his character while growing up in a deeply segregated Southern American town of Louisville, Kentucky.

Pain and fear drove him to become one of the most recognizable and celebrated people in the world, and it was a worldwide recognition which transcended the sports world.


He achieved what it is to be great :

Sustained Success and Significance

He was a three time heavyweight champion of the world ( itself an astounding feat of multiple come-backs over many years ), he championed civil rights, he questioned and denounced the purpose of war, and he championed the fundamental human right of freedom of religion. In all of this Ali was the embodiment of a better America – a better world.

His legend was built on performances such as 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle’, as this hot October night was billed by promoter extraordinaire Don King.

1465035477_rumble-in-the-jungleMuhammad Ali arrived in Kinshasa, as a boxing legend.

With age stacked heavily against him, Ali had clearly lost speed and reflexes since his twenties, and almost no one gave him a chance against a man who was considered one of the hardest punchers in boxing history: George Foreman

But, Ali was not adverse to risk. He did not see what other people believed.

He was wildly popular in Zaire, with crowds chanting “Ali, Bomaye” (“Ali, kill him”) wherever he went.

The provocative and outlandish trash-talk of his younger years in the sixties had earned him the nick name , ‘The Louisville Lip ‘ , but when “The Rumble ” came around he had elevated that ability to the next level of  high wit , deep wisdom and  soulful poetry .

If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait ’til I whup Foreman’s behind! I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick;I’m so mean I make medicine sick.

Born into adversity, Ali was to become so much more than just a boxer.

He instilled hope and pride in generations of Americans, and there are many life lessons one can take from the great man – both from inside and outside the ring.

Here are just five of those lessons on leadership – and life:


If Ali was the greatest thing in the ring, it has to be said that he was near genius out of the ring when it came to personal branding – which comprises the 3 P’s  namely : Purpose, Priority and Performance

Every living being was born to accomplish a certain purpose. It is the knowledge of that purpose that enables every soul to fulfil it.’

Where one’s passion meets the universe’s need,that is where one finds one’s purpose.

Ali lived life on purpose. And with purpose, everything becomes possible.

He was an Entertainer. He was an Educator. He was an Enricher.

Proud , inspirational ,confident , charismatic ,contrarian and principled –  Ali was very clear on his priorities in life – as well as his purpose-  and purpose and priorities always become the key ingredient of one’s performance .

When you saw me in the boxing ring fighting, it wasn’t just so I could beat my opponent. My fighting had a purpose. I had to be successful in order to get people to listen to the things I had to say.

Ali knew he would not lose.

He had very high levels of a champion’s cocktail known as FCB: Faith, Confidence and Belief.

That cocktail is served up on the tray called self -branding.

Champions are not made in gyms. Champions are made from something deep inside them– a desire, a dream, and a vision.’


Ali was no stranger to adversity. He understood adversity.

He not only fought sporting opponents, but he fought the oppressive systems of the US government. For four years during the prime of his boxing career he was banned from fighting in the United States.

Such loss of one’s best years would be tough for anyone to take , but a measure of true human greatness is how one reacts to the worst of times, as well as the best of times.

Ali knew how to bounce back from adverse times. And how to turn adversity to advantage.

Thomas Carlyle summed it up best when he wrote that adversity is the diamond dust that heaven polishes its jewels with.


Leverage comes in many different forms and sizes.

Ali’s choice of leverage was the power of affirmation. It was an integral part of his armoury.

SONNYAfter just 15 professional fights he found himself up against the much feared Sonny Liston – and no one had any hope for him.

Ali’s response? He simply called Liston a big ugly bear.

He’s too ugly to be world champion. The world champion should be pretty like me



Great Champions apply leverage to create and build a position of strength.

Affirmation was Ali’s way of doing it.

He believed that repetition of affirmations leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen

Mind you, some said his lips were often faster than his gloves.

I’m the greatest, I said that before I knew I was


It’s never easy taking a balance when one’s job is to be the greatest, but the great champions who do manage it – go on to live long fulfilled lives of happiness and health.

Great examples are Nelson Mandela and Warren Buffett.

Sadly Ali was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984 at an early age of just 42.

Ali was suddenly in the biggest fight of his life.

Did Ali’s boxing career cause Parkinson’s, was the question on everyone’s lips?

Medical experts are divided on this one, so no one can say for sure. However if  you ask meta – physicians on what triggers Parkinson’s, they will tell you that it is a human emotion dis-ease – an imbalance created when one has an obsessive desire to control everything and everyone.

In Ali’s case it must have been near impossible to achieve what he did, without this obsessive desire to control.

Control was Ali’s way of dealing with pain and fear, to which he was exposed to, very early in life

But, every great sporting champion has to eventually grapple with the reality that one’s ability to control wanes the day that one hangs up the gloves – or boots.

Life teaches us that to be great comes with the very high risk of falling into the human trap of imbalance.

Only now are we beginning to learn how unbalanced human emotions can play havoc with one’s life and health.

Boxing created a superstar, but pain was the price he paid.



Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.

Ali-charityMuhammad Ali changed the world in the ring , but perhaps more significantly he changed the world out of the ring. He made it a better place for all.

He made a difference and, at the final bell, that is all that really matters .

When asked,what would you like for people to say about you when you are gone? Ali responded:




I’d like for them to say he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, one teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness, he took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, then he mixed willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith and he stirred it up well, then he spread it over a span of a lifetime and he served it to each and every deserving person he met

Ali was true legend, who inspired and gave hope to millions around the globe.

A legend who had an unique human ability to mix authority –  with humour and humility.

I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way, but if I have changed even one life for the better, I haven’t lived in vain.

Ali wrote his own story. He created history.

And he transformed the world.





Rob Opie is a Brand Strategist, Inspirational Speaker, Author and Performance Coach to Business executives, Corporate teams, Organizational teams. Sports teams and Individuals. For more Insights, Innovation and Inspiration please visit:


His new eBook: The Game Changers: Good to Great to Greater is available free to all readers on his home page.


Rob Opie can be contacted at