Muhammad Ali’s passing has the entire world reflecting on a man who not only had an impact on the world of boxing but the world in general. That impact extended into the world of professional wrestling. And today, Muhammad Ali’s impact on WWE can be found all over the place.
But before he made his presence felt in the squared circle, wrestling made an impact on him, and that influence would shape and define his career forever.
As Cassius Clay, he found inspiration in one of the most popular, and over-the-top wrestlers to ever step inside the ring.
It was Gorgeous George who helped turn Clay into the champion no one would ever forget.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1992:
“Soon after I turned pro,” Cassius mused, “I discovered that even though I won the Olympic title, I wasn’t making any money. I was the only champion that didn’t have no jack jangling in his jeans. So I studied Gorgeous George and began doing his act better than he did it.”
The rest was history.
His ability to sell a boxing match as the must-see event of the year and his ability to put on a show before, during, and after a match helped influence future wrestling performers and their ability to “cut a promo”.
On March 31st, 1985, Ali made history once again.
That day is more famously remembered as WrestleMania I.
And on that day, Ali helped shaped WWE’s grand spectacle into what it is today.
From Mr. T to Cyndi Lauper and even The Rockettes, none of them had a presence in Madison Square Garden quite like Ali did. Chants of his name roared down on him as he made his way to the ring as special guest referee for the night’s main event.
And while he wasn’t alone in helping to shape WrestleMania into the spectacle it is today, his presence in the main event with iconic wrestling names like Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper certainly helped catapult WWE and WrestleMania into future worldwide success.
Muhammad Ali has yet to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and with Mr. T already in for his involvement in the main event at WrestleMania I, it would only be fitting that WWE honor a man who paid it forward years later after he himself took a page out of the theatrics of wrestling to make him the greatest of all time.