Muhammad Ali, known to some as the Lip of Louisville, had a way with words that few sports personalities have come close to rivaling.
For decades, journalists have faced an uphill battle trying to outword the boxer, since he usually did a much better job of describing himself or his opponents than they did.
Selecting the best quotes from the millions of words Ali spoke at lightning speed during his career is a challenge, but here are some of the best known, along with some that are less well remembered.
I’m not the best. I’m twice as big. I don’t just knock them out, I pick the round. I am the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, the most scientific and the most skilled fighter in the ring today.”
It’s hard to be humble when you’re as good as I am.”
He even wrote a poem before facing Sonny Liston in 1964:
… now clay swings with a right hand, what a beautiful swing and lifts the bear straight out of the ring; Liston is going up and the referee is frowning because he can’t start counting until Liston is down; now liston is out of sight, the crowd is getting frantic but our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the atlantic; who would have thought when they got to the fight that they would witness the launch of a human satellite? yeah, the crowd didn’t dream they’d see a total eclipse of sonny when they put their money in.”
a quote from 1967 reproduced in hunter’s thompson’s 1978 rolling stone magazine report:
When I’m gone, boxing will be nothing again. there will be the fans with their cigars and their hats lowered, but no more housewives and little men in the street and foreign presidents. he goes back to the wrestler who comes to town, smells a flower, visits a hospital, honks a horn and says he’s fit. old hat. I was the only boxer in history that people asked questions like a senator.”
sometimes there was even a touch of humility:
There are no joys in a fight, but some of my fights have been a joy to win.”
the rumble in the jungle, 1974
float like a butterfly sting like a bee: your hands cannot touch what your eyes cannot see.”
and in an equally famous boast:
I did something new for this fight. I wrestled with an alligator. I fought with a whale. I handcuffed lightning, I threw thunder in jail. Just last week I’ve killed a rock, bruised a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so bad I make the medicine sick.”
Champions aren’t made in gyms. champions are made of something deep inside them: a desire, a dream, a vision. they have to have breaking stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. but will must be stronger than skill.”
I’m so quick that I turned off the light switch in my hotel room last night and got into bed before the room was dark.”
thrilla in manilla, 1975
I saw your wife. You’re not as dumb as you seem.”
Best remembered, perhaps, is this line:
It will be a killer, a chill and a suspense, when I have the gorilla in manila”.
Ali also drifted into the political arena after refusing to serve in the US Army during the Vietnam War. the explanation of it?
I have nothing against the vietcong”
On the US government’s attempts to jail him for evading mandatory military service, he said:
They did what they thought was right and I did what I thought was right.”
and after being convicted of draft dodging in 1970, in one of his most famous phrases, he said:
See also: Boston Red Sox – Closer Monkey
I’m America. I’m the part you won’t recognize but get used to me. black, confident, cocky, my name is not yours. my religion, not yours; my goals, mine; get used to me.”
many of his comments explicitly referred to race and the treatment of black people in the united states:
I know I made it while the masses of black people are going to hell, but as long as they’re not free, I’m not free.”
boxing is a bunch of white men watching two black men punch each other.”
I may not speak perfect English, but I give you wisdom.”
name change, 1964
cassius clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I’m muhammad ali, a free name: it means beloved of god, and I insist that people use it when people talk to me and talk about me.”
later in life
He kept his tongue sharp despite the ravages that boxing had taken on his body:
People say that today I speak very slowly. that’s not a surprise. I calculated that I have received 29,000 hits. but I made $57 million and saved half. so I took some hard hits. do you know how many black men are killed every year by guns and knives without a dime to their names? I can speak slowly, but my mind is fine.”
what I suffered physically was worth what I have achieved in life. a man who is not brave enough to take risks will never achieve anything in life.”
A man who sees the world the same way at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
I’m not afraid to die. I have faith; I do everything I can to live my life well; and I believe that dying will bring me closer to God.”
Live each day as if it were your last, because one day you will be right.”