For those of you who aren’t old enough (or weren’t even alive) when Muhammad Ali was in his prime, it’s difficult to truly explain the impact he had on sports and society as a whole. There was no internet, social media or smart phones. People didn’t have access to the almost limitless range of news and information sources we have today. Television, radio, newspapers and magazines ruled the entire media landscape, and Muhammad Ali ruled them.
He was like nothing anyone had ever seen. More than an athlete, he was a showman, a social activist, an entertainer—but most of all, he was the ultimate marketer. He knew what his audience wanted and he made sure to give it to them. As millions across the globe pay tribute to him, very few will remember him for his marketing skills, but I believe in this regard, he was the greatest of all time.
Believe in yourself
“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.”
When he fought his first fight against World Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston, Cassius Clay had yet to convert to Islam and change his name to Muhammad Ali. He was a brash, fast-talking 22-year old with limited professional experience after winning a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games.
Sonny Liston on the other hand was widely considered to be perhaps the greatest boxer of all-time and almost unbeatable. At the time of the fight, Clay was a seven-to-one underdog. Of the 46 sports writers sitting ringside, 43 predicted Liston would win by a knockout. No one gave Clay a chance in hell.
Despite the doubters, Clay never lost confidence in himself and went on to win the fight by technical knockout after six rounds in front of a stunned crowd in Miami’s Convention Hall. The cocky showman did exactly what he said he would, taking both the WBA and WBC World Heavyweight Championships.
A huge part of success, whether it be in boxing or writing, is believing in yourself. Like Clay, you’ll likely face a number of challenges along the way. The key to working through them is to trust your abilities and trust that you have what it takes to achieve your goals. No one will ever believe in you as much as you.
Put in the work
“The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
Most people knew Muhammad Ali for his exploits in the ring, his stance on societal issues and his larger-than-life personality. What most people didn’t know is that his work ethic and dedication to the art of boxing were just as impressive as his public achievements.
Ali was known by insiders as one of the hardest working boxers in the history of the sport. “I never had to ask him to come to the gym,” long-time trainer Angelo Dundee recalls. “He was there before I even got there. As soon as he got there, he’d start working. He was always first in and last to leave. He’d even come to train when he wasn’t fighting.”
As any author knows, the writing process can be as mentally taxing as boxing is physically. Constructing a plot, developing characters and building whole worlds from nothing but the power of your imagination all require an extreme level of dedication and creativity. Developing a writing routine is as critical for a writer as a training routine is for a boxer. Set aside regular time on a daily basis where you’re focused on nothing but your writing. Dedicate yourself to studying the techniques of other writers and reading as often as possible. The commitment to your craft will pay off in the final results.
Always be promoting
“It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”
Before Donald Trump, before Kim Kardashian and before Jay Z, Muhammad Ali was the greatest self-promoter of all time. He understood like no one before him how to take advantage of the media and use it to his advantage. Ali never missed an opportunity to take command of an interview and get his message out to the public rather than allowing others to dictate how he would be perceived. He was the ultimate marketer, promoter and showman.
For Ali, being a great boxer was only half the battle. By constantly promoting himself, he ensured every one of his fights was a “must see” event. For authors, writing a great novel is just the beginning. Building an author platform to market and promote your book is every bit as critical to success. Take the time to research your target audience and develop a plan to engage with your readers through multiple channels.
Have some personality
“If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.”
Love him or hate him, the one thing you couldn’t do was ignore him. Cassius Clay burst onto the boxing scene in the early 60s and immediately shook up the tired, steeped-in-tradition sport with his loud, bombastic style and flair for self-promotion. From his press conference shouting matches to his poetry-delivered fight predictions, Muhammad Ali captured the attention of the entire sports world.
When you think about your favorite authors, you don’t just think about individual novels or characters, you think about their writing style and voice. The way they tell a story, describe a scene and craft dialogue is what makes them unique. To stand out from the crowd, every author needs to develop a voice of their own, a personality that’s one-of-a-kind that brings authenticity to their work. Take the time to establish individuality in your writing and you’ll be more likely to develop a loyal following of readers.
Muhammad Ali was, without question, the greatest of all time. To become the best writer you can be, take the time to study his unique qualities and apply them to your work. There’s no guarantee you’ll become the GOAT but you’ll at least ensure you’re the best writer YOU can be.