Late Friday night, the world learned that Muhammad Ali, boxing legend and one of the most famous people in the world, had passed away at age 74. I reflected for a minute or two about how many things this man accomplished during his life.
What an incredible life this man lived. He was controversial. People loved him or hated him. However, make no mistake, people from all walks of life respected Ali. When he made up his mind, he stuck to his guns. He was the definition of commitment.
In my second book, Millionaire Maker Manual, I wrote about Ali and how he became such a superstar in the early 1960s. Below you can read what I wrote in a section of the book titled “Talk the Talk.”
Talk the Talk
When I was growing up, I loved watching professional wrestling. Now, it’s pretty much just World Wrestling Entertainment, but back then wrestling was really “rasslin.’” That’s how you spell it in the South.
Back in the day, you had all these different independent organizations like National Wrestling Alliance, World Wrestling Federation, American Wrestling Association, World Championship Wrestling, etc. Those are all gone now, except for the WWE.
But when I grew up, you had all these different outfits and all these crazy characters that were superstars. You had guys like Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Wahoo McDaniel, the Road Warriors, etc. They were all bad dudes, and they could charm the pants off an audience and entertain crowds with the best of them.
These are a lot of names that most kids don’t even recognize today. But, young wrestling fans will know today’s names like John “You Can’t See Me” Cena, Rey Mysterio Jr., Mike “the Miz” Mizanin, Randy Orton, and Triple H. Those are the superstars now.
One thing that all those names have in common is that they are charismatic, athletic, driven workers that are among the best in the business.
I love the way they talk and I love the powerful image they projected. They are a lot like these big-time coaches you see in the NCAA or the NFL. There is just something about them that sucks you in. It was OK to be quiet winner, but it was not OK to talk the talk and not win. It seemed like the wrestlers that talked the talk and walked the walk, by winning, had this dynamite element to them. When you put that combination together, it’s awesome.
I was thinking about that when I ran across a story about Muhammad Ali, and how he thought he was confident in his abilities entering a boxing match until he heard the professional wrestler Gorgeous George Wagner, a champion in the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s, talking about an upcoming “bout” in Las Vegas many years ago. Ali, who was 19 at the time, was blown away by Wagner, who was then 46.
Ali and George were both on a radio show promoting their respective events. Ali was confident and told the host he was going to beat Duke Sabelong, a tall, big Hawaiian fighter at the time. Ali told them he was sure he would win, but it was spoken in a sort of “matter of fact” manner. Nothing over the top and nothing that would be considered controversial or headline news in today’s world.
When Ali was finished, they turned to Wagner and asked him about his match. Wagner grabbed the microphone and started shouting, screaming, and bouncing around the studio like a mad man. He deemed himself to be the “greatest wrestler in the world.” He was talking about tearing “Classy” Freddie Blassie’s limbs off, “killing” the guy, and how he would cut off his own “beautiful blond” hair if he lost this match with Blassie.
Now, boxing’s “Greatest Of All Time” is shocked. He cannot believe Wagner’s antics. Ali was fired up to see this match just based on the “promo” Wagner just cut for the radio show. Well guess what? Ali did go see the match. The arena was packed. Thousands of people showed up to see Wagner – including the heavyweight champion of the world.
Want to guess what happened?
An arena of 15,000 watched Wagner beat Blassie. They showed up to see Wagner get beat because he was talking. After the match, Wagner told Ali that people will always pay to see someone shut your mouth. He told Ali to keep bragging, keep on sassing, and to always be outrageous.
Ali admitted to people that he started boasting about his triumphs before fights thanks to Wagner, who was often referred to as “the man you love to hate.” But, Ali took it to a higher level, when he started rhyming about what round he would “finish” off opponents in.
It was not just Ali that had picked up on Wagner’s genius. James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul” also admitted that he took notes and promoted his talents in music in the same manner that Wagner did with wrestling and Ali did with boxing. Brown wrote in his 2005 book, “I Feel Good: A Memoir in a Life of Soul” that Wagner helped “create the James Brown you see on stage.”
Singer Bob Dylan also credited Wagner with changing his life. In his book “The Chronicles: Volume One,” Dylan talked about meeting Wagner. “He winked and seemed to mouth the phrase, ‘You’re making it come alive.’ I never forgot it. It was all the recognition and encouragement I would need for years.”
Professional wrestling might not be real, but Wagner being credited with shaping the careers of three icons is!
From that point on, Ali’s approach to things changed. He was never shy even when he was known as Cassius Clay growing up in Kentucky, before converting to Islam and changing his name. Ali started talking more. He talked a lot more. He talked so much that fighters like George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton nicknamed Ali “The Louisville Lip.”
Ali had realized he had to do more than just fight. He had to talk the talk and walk the walk. He had a responsibility to make people want to watch him compete and fight. His interviews sparked debate and made people care about what happened in the ring. They would convince their friends to watch and take an interest. It was like starting a wild fire in a forest. The excitement would build and millions watched Ali and loved his persona.
These days it is called good “PR,” but it was like nothing people had seen back then. Ali just called it “talking.” By talking, Ali built an audience. Soon, Ali had built up a network of promoters, endorsement deals, and was a media darling/target. Whether you liked him or not, you knew what Ali was doing, and you knew when a big fight was coming up.
Ali was able to back up all the talk by performing, and that made his brand even more valuable.
Ali had an OK career. He won an Olympic gold medal for the United States in the 1960 Rome Olympics, became the heavyweight champion three times during a 56-5 career, and was named “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated.
Now, back to the wrestling element.
My son is a teenager, and he – on occasion – will watch wrestling on television or go see a show when the WWE is in town. It’s fun and it’s a great entertainment.
My wife saw my son watching wrestling one day, and said, “Are you going to let him watch that junk?” I told her that I didn’t think he would fall in love with it and go crazy, but I knew that he would learn how to talk the talk from watching wrestling. It is scary how he’s learned to mimic that attitude, learned to talk crazy junk as a young man, and it is going to be fun to watch where he goes and what he will do. I do not think he is eyeing professional wrestling as a career, but I do think he learned from watching it. He learned that the WWE, like Ali and even me, can talk the talk with the best of them.
If you are not excited by what you are doing, then it will be difficult to expect others to be fired up about things. If you have a meeting, event, etc. coming up, then you should be talking it up and getting others interested. Doing that is almost as important as backing it up with work. Take Wagner’s example and imagine the impact it could have on another person. You might not influence the next Ali, Brown, or Dylan, but you could have a huge, positive impact on another person, and it could have a major impact on your business.