Tony DeMeo

The Muhammad Ali Rule

The recent passing of The Champ, Muhammad Ali, has brought out many beautiful, inspiring eulogies. The word “icon” is one of the most overused words in the English language but in this case it’s a perfect fit. Ali was much more than The Heavyweight Champion of the World. He was much bigger than that. He was a man of myth & legend but most of all he was a man of conviction and courage. He was a man who earned courage when many of his super human skills eroded after a three and a half year exile from the ring. After is exile when his mercurial speed was gone he became mortal and could be punched and could be hurt, he relied on his inner courage & indomitable determination to enter the land where only heroes tread. Only Champions win Championships and Muhammad Ali may have been the Greatest of them all. Rest in Peace Champ.

The following is a short excerpt from my book: Commonsense Rules for Everyday Leaders. It features close to 100 of these types of rules that every leader can find helpful. The book is available on and signed copies are available on my website.

Enjoy this excerpt on the late but always great Muhammed Ali:

The Muhammad Ali Rule

“Even the Greatest gets knocked down, but the greatest always gets back up”

Muhammad Ali was arguably one the greatest boxers to ever enter the ring. He won the heavyweight championship three times, all against very long odds. He was a heavy underdog in his first two title wins against “unbeatable” opponents. Although Ali declared himself “The Greatest” and some might argue against that claim, few would argue that he was certainly among the greatest.

What made Ali such an enduring icon was not his unbelievable talent in the ring but rather his ability to come back and win the heavyweight crown after his talent had faded.

Ali was a young man with lightning speed and gazelle-like grace when he won the Olympic gold medal in 1960 in Rome. From then until 1963 Ali marched through the heavyweight ranks to an 18-0 record. In his 19th fight Ali had to get off the canvass to come back and knock out Henry Cooper. This was a show of the Ali resilience that made him an icon.
Despite his undefeated record, Ali was a heavy (7-1) underdog against Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston who had destroyed everyone he faced. Few gave Ali a chance, but Ali overcame the odds to win the Championship on a 7th round TKO.

Ali had nine title defenses and won all nine, polishing off seven by knockout. His future seemed limitless with a 29-0 record and no one close to him in talent. Then his title was stripped from him for refusing to enter the US Army. Ali stood up for his religious conviction and took on the US government by refusing to fight in Vietnam.

After three and a half years, Ali was allowed to fight again – he had won his battle over his religious belief. However, no one gave him a chance to regain his title after such a long layoff. Ali had two tune-up victories and then took on Smokin’ Joe Frazier for the heavyweight championship in the “Fight of the Century” – two undefeated heavyweight champs squaring off. Frazier pounded out a victory over Ali and knocked him down in the fifteenth round but Ali got back up to finish the fight. This was Ali’s first loss as a pro.

Ali was determined to win back the crown from Frazier, but he faced a long road ahead. He won his next ten fights, six by knockout, but it was clear that the three and a half year layoff took away much of Ali’s speed.

Next disaster struck, Ali lost a decision to an unranked, unheralded fighter by the name of Ken Norton. Critics said Ali was through, washed up and should retire at age 31. Ali suffered a broken jaw in the first round against Norton but fought eleven more rounds with a broken jaw – another clear testimony to his courage and resiliency.

Ali’s speed was gone so he had to reinvent himself as a fighter. He could no longer float like a butterfly but he could hit with more power and he could outlast his opponents because of his conditioning. Ali came back and beat Norton in the rematch and then beat Joe Frazier in their rematch. However, Frazier had lost the title to Big George Foreman.
Ali was a huge underdog to Foreman but bucked the odds again to regain his crown with a seventh round knockout. Ali used the now famous “rope a dope” strategy to wear Foreman out in one of boxing’s biggest upsets.
At age 37, Ali regained the title a third time over Leon Spinks, but then lost the battle to Father Time and lost his last two fights.

There are many lessons we can learn from the career of Muhammad Ali. His courage and indomitable will made him a legend. Despite his great early talent, it wasn’t until after the talent was gone, that he became a legend. So talent alone is never the answer, it goes far deeper into the very heart of a champion. It’s the ability to get back up after getting knocked down.

So how can we use these lessons from “The Greatest” in our trials and tribulations? The following are a few tips to take on your “Smokin’ Joe”:

1. Ali called himself “The Greatest” but worked hard to back it up. He conditioned himself and developed his ability to live up to that title.

2. Stand up for what you believe in. It would have been easier for Ali to go into the army and fight exhibitions but he chose to stand up for his belief. It’s easy to have conviction when it’s not challenged. When you stick to those convictions when all is on the line that’s being “The Greatest”.

3. Always remember that “will is more important than skill” if you have a strong enough will you can accomplish almost anything. It was Ali’s strong will that made him regain his title after a three and a half year layoff and two crushing defeats. It was Ali’s strong will that prepared him for the tough fights against Frazier, Norton and Foreman. The harder you work, the stronger your will becomes.

4. You may have to change strategy or reinvent yourself to accomplish your goal. Ali changed his style as a boxer once his superior speed had faded. Sometimes you have to adjust and adapt in order to advance.

5. Never get discouraged over things you can’t control. Ali was determined to comeback and regain his title from Joe Frazier. But Frazier was knocked out in the third round by a younger, bigger and stronger George Foreman. Now Ali had to face Joe Frazier and this seemingly invincible new champion. But Ali took them on, one fight at a time, and regained the crown.

6. Always believe in yourself even when no one else does. No one gave Ali a chance against Liston except for Ali. Then people were afraid for Ali’s safety against Foreman yet Ali prevailed. The secret was that Ali believed in his abilities and he also used whatever strategy it took to win.

Ali was “The Greatest” to a generation of admirers, but the lessons learned from his experiences are where his real greatness lies.