Muhammad Ali may be the greatest boxer of all-time. He may also be the greatest talker of all-time. Ali, formerly known as Cassius Clay, was known for his swagger and his trash talk, along with his tremendous boxing skills. If not for a former pro wrestler named Gorgeous George, Ali may have done his boxing without all the talking.
Muhammad Ali’s boxing career
Muhammad Ali is widely considered the greatest boxer of all time after winning 56 of his 61 professional fights. Ali was more than a boxer. He was also an entertainer. Ali combined humor, confidence, swagger, and strong boxing skills to become a fan favorite.
Ali began his pro career under his given name of Cassius Clay and made his pro debut on Oct. 29, 1960, by defeating Tunney Hunsaker. The win over Hunsaker began a run of 19 straight victories, including 15 via knockout. He adopted his Muslim name of Muhammad Ali in 1964, according to USA Today.
Ali is the only boxer to be named Fighter of the Year six times by Ring Magazine. He had epic heavyweight bouts with Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and Floyd Patterson. His five losses were to Frazier, Ken Norton, Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes, and Trevor Berbick.
Who was Gorgeous George?
He was born George Wagner but was mostly known as Gorgeous George. When professional wrestling first took off in the 1940s, Gorgeous George was one of the sport’s biggest stars. He was outgoing and flamboyant and, like Muhammad Ali was, a fan favorite.
Gorgeous George wasn’t a physical specimen as far as pro wrestlers go. He was 5-foot-9 and weighed 215 pounds. He took on the name Gorgeous George when his mother-in-law called him gorgeous and the name stuck. Gorgeous George was a great showman as well as a wrestler, but it was his role as an entertainer that helped create his legacy.
As the world of television grew, Gorgeous Geroge became the biggest drawing card. “Gorgeous George was a pop-culture innovator who took risks pushing the social envelope and did things that no other performer had ever dared to do,” said CEO and Chairman Vince McMahon to wwe.com. “He was a cultural tour-de-force who set the standard that many in the world of sports and entertainment still emulate today.” George Wagner died in December of 1963 and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010.
Ali gave credit to Gorgeous George
Muhammad Ali could always back up the talk that usually preceded his fights. He was a true showman and credited that part of his personality to Gorgeous George. Ali said it all began when Ali, known as Cassius Clay at the time, met Gorgeous George at a Las Vegas radio station before one of George’s wrestling matches. Clay was 19 and George was 46.
George said if he was to lose against Classy Freddie Blassie, “I’ll crawl across the ring and cut my hair off! But that’s not gonna happen because I’m the greatest wrestler in the world,” he said, according to Sports Illustrated. Ali recalled being at the match and said, “I saw 15,000 people comin’ to see this man get beat. And his talking did it. I said, ‘This is a gooood idea!'”
In the locker room afterward, George told Clay, “A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing and always be outrageous.” Ali followed suit.