Johnnybio takes a look at Muhammad Ali's autobiography.

Biography of a heavyweight.

Muhammad Ali, three-time world heavyweight boxing champion, BBC Sports Personality of the Century, and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Century released his autobiography The Greatest My Own Story, Graymalkin Media in 1975 when he was thirty-three years old. Here we take a look at the way he constructed his story to show you how he did it. Our aim is to help you pick the methods and tools you might find helpful when writing your own autobiography.

The Greatest.

The Greatest is 424 pages long and has a great many chapters, twenty-two in all. The first page is a dedication followed by a lengthy acknowledgement, and then a chronology listing all the major events of Ali’s life thus far, beginning in 1942 when he was born and ending in 1972 with the birth of his son. Finally, the introductions end with a Professional Fight Record that not only lists his fights but how much he was paid for each and his total lifetime earnings. If you’re unabashed about sharing your triumphs, losses and financial information in such detail this may work for you!

The Greatest includes eight photos.

Write about your working Life.

Ali’s autobiography ends with the 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight against George Foreman with a last minute addition covering the following year’s ‘Thrilla in Manila’ fight as the book went to print.

Each chapter concentrates on a significant life event written in the here and now. From this point, he picks up the threads of his earlier life to deep dive his past. Three heavy dots are used to indicate these scene changes within each chapter.


Ali tackles difficult subjects with honesty and humour. The chapters cover such topics as going home, winning the Olympics, his introduction to sex, his relationships, his exile, serving time in jail, his opponents, and his children.

He devotes a whole chapter to the transcription of a taped conversation he had with his ex-wife where they discuss their past together. And he does the same a with a conversation he taped when he and Joe Frazier took a road trip to New York. A private conversation is fascinatingly irresistible to an eavesdropper. Why not record a conversation with a friend or partner and transcribe it verbatim? You’ll immediately transplant your readers into the midst of your life with a ready-made script.

On the technical side, Ali writes about his training regime and the techniques he used to get to his physical peak.

Rising from the ashes.

Ali’s is an ‘against all odds’ story.

The first chapter begins twenty years into his career and sees him returning to his hometown of Louisville Kentucky to recover from an ignominious defeat. He tours the town using re-enacted scenes and dialogue with relatives and friends at a reunion to tell his backstory.

The reader finishes the first chapter knowing an awful lot about Muhammad Ali. About his parents and extended family, how he met his wife, his hometown, the local bully, how it was growing up in poverty as a black man in the 1950s in the Southern United States, how he got into boxing, and why he changed his name. That he loved children and horses and dreamt big from an early age.

Ali uses this ‘fly on the wall’ tactic to great effect throughout his autobiography, reimagining dialogue or transcribing taped conversations. The reader feels as if they were in the room listening. He also includes some of his famous ‘poems’.

Johnnybio’s Adult Life chapter is the perfect place to start if you wish to excavate your story from a mid-point in your life  For Ali, the scene is all set for a comeback.

The penultimate chapter covers his victory over George Foreman in Zaire where Ali gives a blow-by-blow account of every round and what he whispered into Foreman’s ear throughout. He writes about what was going on in the crowd, and the strategy and tactics he used to regain the World Heavyweight Championship. His telling is visceral and present. If you’ve ever faced a make or break situation, a full 360º on who was there, who said what to whom and what was going on in the periphery is a powerful way of telling it.

Ali alludes to his faith and his teachers many times throughout his autobiography, and race is a constant preoccupation. Similarly, if you struggled because of what you believed in or because you felt like an outsider, write about what happened.

He also shares what he learned from studying others. How a winners’ complacency is a dangerous thing. He writes about his profession and how it affected his family and how what he did to his opponents affected their families. What nagging doubts did you have about your own profession or work? Did you sacrifice a relationship to focus on your career, or fall from grace and have your own comeback? Did you watch someone benefit from a failure of yours? What did you do about it? And what was the greatest victory of your working life?

Now write your autobiography.

If you only want to write about your life in your twenties and thirties then Johnnybio’s Adult Life is the right chapter for you. Pick the events that were most important to you at the time and use them to create your chapter titles then dive back into your past to write about the things that led up to those events.

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