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Why Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer in the ring

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Muhammad Ali at 31 years-old posing for a picture.

Nicknamed as the ‘greatest’ for his feats both outside and inside the ring, Muhammad Ali’s prowess in the ring has left an imprint so deep that the title of G.O.A.T might never be associated with anyone else in boxing. His accomplishments and skills have often been heralded as the pinnacle of what a boxer can achieve, and his boisterous & extravagant attitude has contributed to the huge amounts of prize money made available to the most popular boxers.

Muhammad Ali has certainly trailblazed his way in the boxing world, but behind the countless images of Ali representing determination, willpower, strength and a plethora of other attributes, his fighting legacy seems to have taken a backseat to the iconic ‘larger than life’ image that he now represents. To minorities he’s a voice for justice, to the fighters he’s an inspiration, and to the masses he’s a legendary figure for modern times.

But notwithstanding Muhammad Ali’s perceived greatness, Ali’s ingenuity in the ring along with his comebacks and perseverance have not been accentuated as much as his battles for social justice throughout his life. His rope-a-dope, for example, was not just an inventive way to avoid punches (which is hard to do in the first place) while backed to the ropes, it was a move ahead of its time, a move that while proven to be incredibly hard to execute can also be very effective.

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Mohammed Ali in action against George Foreman in their Heavyweight Championship bout at Stade du 20 Mai in Khinsasa, Zaire (N. Leifer / Sports Illustrated via Getty Images).

Ali’s footwork was exceptional, not just because he was a Heavyweight that seemed to be able to move as elusively as a Welterweight, but because his ability to maintain a pace and a balance where he could move in every direction quickly was almost revolutionary to the sport at the time. Muhammad Ali was a master of moving in and out of range, and the ‘Ali shuffle’ – a name described for the movement of moving in and out of range to confuse an opponent before landing blows – was inspired by Muhammad Ali’s movement of hi feet. His footwork was so popular that Bruce Lee reportedly incorporated it into his own fighting style.

To further top it off, Muhammad Ali’s skills were so well-rounded even his peers acknowledged his abilities both during and after his active boxing career. His clinching, counters, and in-ring strategies were said to have contributed to him beating the best of his era. While his victories against opponents who are generally considered to be amongst the best boxers in history are often illustrated in some shape or form, Muhammad Ali’s ability to win a world title three times in different stages of his career against these type of opponents is far more impressive, and he is still the first and so far the only Heavyweight to do so.

Ali excelled in so many aspects that several reputable fighters – who would end up as legends themselves – applied his fundamentals to their own boxing styles throughout their successful careers, including Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Roy Jones Jr. He was also the greatest of time in trash talking, and by now is already known for his countless memorable quotes.

Athletic-wise, Muhammad Ali also seemed to be ahead of the curve, outshining many opponents in power, and even more in speed. Mentally, he was also unrivaled, not only due to his creative arsenal of moves in the ring, but his mental fortitude, determination and confidence in himself, the latter of which was often attributed to arrogance in his earlier career.

Muhammad Ali’s work ethic was also an underrated aspect of his career; he seemed to always be in shape, was capable of doing every sort of exercise from calisthenics to weightlifting, and he even dabbled in other martial arts in the latter stages of his career and after retirement.

Muhammad Ali is without a doubt an icon, the face of fighting social inequality and overcoming every hurdle in one’s path, but in the boxing world, Ali will forever be a timeless symbol, representing the zenith of what a great boxer is because of all he did, all he could do, and all he was.