Sports and music have long gone hand in hand; music at football and basketball games, ring walk songs for boxers, the list goes on.
There’s also another connection between the two – athletes trying their hand at music and producing songs. It might sound crazy, but some have actually found a lot of success doing this.
There is arguably no other athlete that has had as much cultural impact as Muhammad Ali, who became icon not just for his achievements in the ring, but also his actions outside of it.
A lesser-known part of his life is the music he made – not the songs inspired by him and his story, but songs he actually created himself. It might seem strange to think of the heavyweight champion of the world to be making music, but Ali set somewhat of a precedent with it.
Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua – the two current heavyweight champions, who are expected to meet later this year with Fury being a very slight betting favourite – have both dabbled in music.
Joshua has been known to do some freestyle rapping while Fury often sings in the ring after his fights, and even featured on a Christmas song with Robbie Williams in 2019.
In 1963, shortly before becoming world champion, Ali – then still known as Cassius Clay – released a primarily spoken word comedy album on Columbia Records titled I Am the Greatest. The album’s title track was even nominated for a Grammy. Ali also included a rendition of Stand By Me on the album, to even more critical acclaim.
(Stand By Me – Muhammed Ali)
Not only is Ali considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, he clearly had many other talents, including within music.
Arguably the most famous instance of a professional athlete turning to music is that of Julio Iglesias. Initially, the Spaniard was a professional goalkeeper for Real Madrid between 1960 and 1963.
In ‘63, Iglesias was involved in a serious car accident that left him unable to walk for two years, ending his football career. While in the hospital, Iglesias was given a guitar to revive the dexterity in his fingers, and it was there that his desire to pursue a music career began.
After representing Spain in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest, Iglesias soon found fame across Europe before becoming a worldwide star in 1984 with the release of his album 1100 Bel Air Place, which sold over 3 million copies in the US alone.
The first track from the album, To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before, a duet with Willie Nelson, hit No. 1 on the Country charts and went Top Five in the Billboard Hot 100.
Iglesias’ accomplishments as a singer are staggering. He is recognised as the most commercially successful continental European singer in the world and one of the top record sellers in music history, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide. It is estimated that during his career he has performed in more than 5,000 concerts, for over 60 million people across five different continents.
Another surprising career pivot came from Justin McBride, a professional bull-riding champion who turned to music in 2007. Having won two world titles and earning more than $5 million as a bull-rider, McBride then became a country singer.
His debut album, Don’t Let Go, was released in 2007 and featured the song Cowboy Til I Die, which became one of McBride’s most famous records.
Wayman Tisdale was a gifted basketball player, but he himself admitted that music was his first true love. A member of the 1984 gold-medal-winning US Olympic basketball team, Tisdale went on to carve out an impressive career in the NBA.
He retired to focus exclusively on music, more specifically as a bass player specialising in smooth jazz. He recorded eight albums, with his 2001 album, Face to Face, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz ranking.
Men of Many Talents
For athletes like Iglesias, McBride and Tisdale, turning to music was a full-time commitment and came after they’d finished their sporting careers. For other athletes, music was more of a side-hustle while they continued competing in their respective sports.
Boxers Roy Jones Jnr and Oscar De La Hoya both released studio albums, Jones’ being a rap one while De La Hoya’s a Latin pop one. In fairness, they weren’t commercial flops, but they were not well reviewed, and neither did much more within music afterward.
Manny Pacquiao, still an active fighter, is also a passionate musician, having released several Filipino albums, further adding to his iconic status in his home country as a sportsman, politician and musician.
NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal also tried his hand at music, releasing five rap albums in total and collaborating with the likes of Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z and Warren G. Again, Shaq’s fame led to very good sales figures, but the music itself was panned by critics across the board.
Over the years a lot of athletes have turned to music, with mixed results. Some have made the move full-time and found great success as recording artists, while others gave it a go and did not quite hit the mark.