A game changer
As Muhammad Ali turns 70, Johnny Nelson looks at a man who transformed the sporting landscape.
Last Updated: 20/01/12 3:02pm
Tuesday marks the 70th birthday of Muhammad Ali, one of the most venerated sportsmen of all time.
Ali claimed the world heavyweight championship on three occasions, winning legions of fans for his bouts with George Foreman and the late "Smokin" Joe Frazier.
But his story outside of the ropes is even more dramatic; his boxing licence was revoked for four years after he opposed the Vietnam War, while his charisma and anti-racism beliefs have seen him become a social icon.
Sky Sports boxing pundit Johnny Nelson gives his thoughts on the man born as Cassius Clay and known as The Greatest...
Muhammad Ali changed professional sport.
He made it a TV business, he made it show business and he captured the imagination of people who weren't even interested in it.
You can question whether Ali was the best technical fighter in the world, but a mixture of personality, talent and bravery have made him probably the most iconic sportsman to ever set foot on the planet.
The main part of Ali's charm is his humanity; he's great but he's relatable.
He speaks his mind, made the most out of his natural talent and proved that anything was possible if you put your mind to it. He has influenced people from all walks of life.
We revere actors who play people like Muhammad Ali and singers who sing about people like Muhammad Ali, but we are truly able to understand Muhammad Ali; that's what makes him a hero.
I can remember Colin Hart, a seasoned boxing journalist, telling me when you wanted an interview with Ali, you'd just turn up at his house.
He'd pull you in and say: 'Come in and have a bit of breakfast'. He'd then gather the reporters around and tell them all these fascinating personal stories. He was a showman you could get close to.
Now if you want to speak to a sportsman, you've got to go through his agent, and his agent's agent, and then someone else so you can get in the gym, and then sometimes the boxer doesn't turn up at all.
It wasn't like that with Ali; he was a master of self-promotion but he also knew that he had to endorse the sport as well as himself. Through natural, rather than academic intelligence, and plenty of arrogance, he was able to generate so much interest in boxing.
Ali's much-publicised battle with Parkinson's syndrome is tragic but also reaffirms he is one of us and just as susceptible to illness. A demigod on one hand, a man on the other.
If he had all his faculties intact, this man's options would have been limitless. I'm not sure he would have run for congress or anything like that, as he wouldn't be able to say all the things he wanted, but whatever he would have done, he would have done it with his infamous gusto.
You may agree or disagree with some of the things he believed in but you cannot deny the impact he made and continues to make.
He has touched everybody. Whether that be in the ring - widely regarded as the greatest boxer of all time, won the world heavyweight title three times, involved in some epic fights - or out of it - suffering for his beliefs, making a stand and challenging people's views.
He laid foundations for every other sporting icon out there today and if you asked them who their favourite sportsman was, their biggest inspiration and their biggest influence, the vast majority of them would have the name Muhammad Ali in in the mix.
Quite simply, the man was a game changer.