To millions of fans all across the globe, he’s simply known as “The Greatest.”
Late, great, heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali, is one of a select few fighters in history to have transcended the sport of boxing, captivating audiences with his flair and charisma, and mesmerizing them with his incredible performances inside the ring.
He is considered by many to be one of the most significant and celebrated sports icons in history, and is regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time. One of the reasons he was so loved was because of his exciting and unique style. No matter where you are in the world, you can find people imitating Ali’s signature movements. Even if you visit a boxing gym in Singapore, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see someone practicing the Ali shuffle or playing around with the rope a dope tactic.
Ali’s long, reaching jab fires like a piston, snapping the heads back of every foe he’s ever stood cross from in the ring. His feet shuffle as fast as a deck of cards. His combinations, blindingly quick, and powerful enough to quell the mightiest of opponents.
But what made Ali so great was his ability to not only defeat the opponents put in front of him but to do so in style. His ability to break down opponents strategically was ahead of his time. Ali was beguiling to watch, one of boxing’s most electrifying showmen.
If you’ve ever wondered what made up Ali’s particular boxing style, we’re here to help clear things up for you. Let’s take a closer look at Ali and how he menaced foes throughout his career.
Today, Evolve Daily shares four unique characteristics of Muhammad Ali’s boxing style.
1) Superior intelligence and mental strength
In a way, Ali revolutionized the sport of boxing, throwing out the basic playbook, at the same time pioneering the modern-day fighting style we see now. In boxing, you’re supposed to have your hands up, protecting yourself at all times. Ali did the opposite, he baited his opponents with calculated traps. He threw unorthodox punches from the hip. Ali marched to the beat of his own drum.
It was all part of a grand scheme to defeat opponents mentally before they even stepped foot in the ring with him. Without a shadow of doubt, Ali’s greatest asset was his superior intelligence. His mental strength was far too much for his opponents to overcome.
Ali was renowned for his self-belief and supreme confidence. This mental fortitude was a primary ingredient in his success.
Hall of Fame boxing coach Teddy Atlas, who has been around the sport of boxing forever, said it best.
“He’s the greatest talent I ever saw. Watching Ali was like watching Jimmy Hendrix play the guitar. Ali was a pioneer. He did things his own way,” said Atlas.
“Ali defeated his opponents mentally. Ali had tremendous willpower, which in some ways, remains unsurpassed. He broke down his opponents, and made them believe they couldn’t hurt him.”
2) Speed and footwork
Many consider Ali to be the fastest heavyweight ever. While Ali was certainly stronger than his opponents mentally, he was also physically imposing, and lightning-fast, which proved too much to handle for the majority of his foes. Speed was one of his greatest assets.
In 1969, Sports Illustrated covered the speed of Ali’s jab, measuring it with an omegascope. His jab was found to have smashed a wooden board 16.5 inches away, in 4/100 of a second, as fast as the actual blink of an eye.
For a guy that big and that tall, Ali was faster than most lightweights. He threw his combinations with not only speed, but with laser-like precision.
In addition to his hand speed, Ali was unmatched with his footwork.
Ali’s footwork was fast and slick. He moved around the ring with effectiveness and efficiency, and he kept moving from start to finish in all of his fights. It was his trademark. Opponents simply had too much trouble trying to keep up with him.
“Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” was Ali’s mantra and how he famously described his movement. Ali bounced around, shuffled his feet, dashed, threw feints, and pivoted around his opponents the way heavyweights just aren’t supposed to be able to do.
3) Defense and technique
While Ali was no doubt an offensive menace in the ring with his many weapons, what made him so great was actually his impregnable defense. His defensive skill is still considered today as one of the best in the sport. The combination of Ali’s speed, agility, footwork, athleticism, intelligence, and timing meshed together in a unique defensive style that his opponents would never decipher.
Ali’s defense, however, was unconventional. He was far from the textbook boxer, and mostly relied on his superior reflexes to outclass his opponents. He often held his hands low and pulled his head straight back, which trainers tell you never to do. But Ali was a master at making his opponents miss by a hair, before knocking them off balance with his sharp counters.
Perhaps there is no greater depiction of the greatness of Ali’s defense than in his 1974 Rumble in the Jungle against former world heavyweight champion George Foreman.
Taking on a feared knockout puncher in Foreman, Ali would employ a controversial tactic that ultimately got him the victory. He would lay on the ropes, goading Foreman to come forward and unload his best offense. Ali utilized all of his defensive skill, blocking and parrying most of Foreman’s punches, while content to simply pass the rounds.
Foreman would oblige, and fire off his hardest haymakers. Whenever the rare punch got through his defense, Ali would shrug it off, even taunting Foreman many times. In the end, Foreman was both physically and mentally broken down, and lost confidence in his ability to hurt Ali. That’s when Ali closed the show.
George Foreman later said: “I thought Ali was just one more knockout victim until, about the seventh round, I hit him hard to the jaw and he held me and whispered in my ear: ‘That all you got, George?’ I realized that this ain’t what I thought it was.”
4) Mind games
Ali was the king of trash talk in his era. But he didn’t do it to sell fights, unlike boxers of the modern-day. Ali would try his best to get under the skin of his opponents, anger them, and get them invested in fights emotionally. When his opponents acted on their emotions, and fought while riled up, they made mistakes which Ali capitalized on. Ali was the original cerebral assassin.
Whether you like it or not, competitive sports brings about a lot of trash talking, and Ali understood that better than anyone. The sharp-tongued fighter was quick and witty, and psyched out his foes with debilitating insults. By the time they got in the ring with him, they were fuming and lost the ability to make rational decisions.
Ali was a master of the trash talking arts. This was a guy who once said Sonny Liston was too ugly to be the heavyweight champion.
To be fair, Ali’s trash talking was very poetic at the time, and much unlike the trash talk that exists in sports today.
In the pre-fight buildup against Foreman, Ali famously told the media, “I’ve wrestled with alligators, I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning and throw thunder in jail. You know I’m bad, just last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like: