For years, Chris McCormack viewed Mike Tyson as a better boxer than Muhammad Ali. McCormack is a triathlete, two-time winner of the Ironman World Championship and a boxing fan. She admired Tyson’s savage force in the ring.
But McCormack reassessed her opinion after a friend urged her to study Ali’s career. McCormack began to see how Ali won big boxing matches: He used his mind as well as his physical strength.
Ali’s habit of courting the media and predicting his victories impressed McCormack. She realized that his bravado would intimidate other boxers before the match.
When Ali proclaimed that Sonny Liston was “too ugly to be champ,” it seemed foolhardy to taunt the formidable Liston. But Ali rightly understood that such personal jabs would throw Liston off his game.
McCormack also learned from Ali’s strategic brilliance. When facing the younger George Foreman in 1974, Ali was the underdog.
Knowing that Foreman was a powerful puncher, Ali used the “rope-a-dope” ploy to exhaust Foreman: He leaned on the ropes and allowed Foreman to keep punching him until Foreman grew tired.
McCormack marveled at Ali’s ability to rile opponents. Prior to Ali’s “Thrilla in Manila” bout with Joe Frazier in 1975, Ali repeatedly insulted Frazier by calling him “the Gorilla.”
Frazier was furious, especially since he had voiced support when Ali had lost his heavyweight title in 1967 for refusing to go into the U.S. Army. That didn’t stop Ali from lambasting Frazier and making him so angry that he lost his edge.
— Adapted from I’m Here to Win, Chris McCormack and Tim Vandehey, Center Street.