The HyperTexts

The Best Muhammad Ali Poems, Songs, Epigrams, Quotes, Jokes, Anecdotes, Nicknames and Trivia

Was Muhammad Ali a poet? Were his poems any good, really? Absolutely!

This page contains a collection of the best poetry, prose, quotes and epigrams by Muhammad Ali that I have been able to find. I have also included two poems that I wrote as tributes to the great man: "Ali's Song" and "For Ali, Fighting Time." Some of Ali's poems, to my knowledge, have not been reproduced in the correct original form anywhere else on the Internet. I went back to videotapes of Ali reciting the poems himself and transcribed them to correct glaring errors I found elsewhere. Good examples of such transcribed poems are the ones I have titled "Confidence Man,""Smokin' Joe" and "Watch Out!"

If you want to read Ali's best poems as he recited them himself, you've found the right webpage.

On a somber note, we also have a new page of poems from around the globe: Poems for the Victims and Survivors of the Coronavirus

On this page I have included a selection of Muhammad Ali quotes, epigrams, anecdotes, nicknames and trivia. My favorite Ali anecdote is the one about Chuck Wepner and the powder blue negligee he gave his wife for the night of the gore-fest that inspired Sylvester Stallone's Rocky movies. Her teasing response is priceless! The section on Ali's quick-witted repartee with interviewers like Howard Cosell, Dick Cavett and Mike Douglas contains more priceless moments.

Ali was many things to many people: a superstar athlete, a worldwide celebrity, a cross-cultural icon, a lightning rod for attention and controversy, a poet, a philosopher, a prophet, a human rights advocate, a champion of peace and nonviolence (outside the ring, at least), a comedian, a humorist and a provocateur. He was also, at times, a bit of a ham, clown, conman and shaman. And he may have been the greatest promoter since P. T. Barnum, making himself and his opponents richer than kings. To his detractors, Ali was a coward, a traitor, a philanderer, an arrogant braggart and/or a pariah. But whatever Ali was or wasn't, he was always original and NEVER boring! And most of the men he beat in the ring expressed real respect and admiration for him, sometimes even love, as we shall see ...

compiled by Michael R. Burch

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.
Muhammad Ali

The two lines above are the most famous Muhammad Ali poem; hell it's probably the most famous poem in sports history. There are different versions, because this poetic epigram was adapted for various fights. Maya Angelou, perhaps the most famous living American poet, said of Ali's poetic creation: "As a poet, I like that. If he hadn't put his name on it, I might have chosen to use that!"

I've wrestled with alligators.
I've tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning.
And throw'd thunder in jail.
—Muhammad Ali

The four lines above comprise my favorite Muhammad Ali poem. I think this is outstanding poetry in anyone's book.

Muhammad Ali said that he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio river after being denied service at a hometown restaurant due to his race: something I address in my tribute poem "Ali's Song" ...

Ali's Song
by Michael R. Burch

They say that gold don't tarnish. It ain't so.
They say it has a wild, unearthly glow.
A man can be more beautiful, more wild.
I flung their medal to the river, child.
I flung their medal to the river, child.

They hung their coin around my neck; they made
my name a bridle, "called a spade a spade."
They say their gold is pure. I say defiled.
I flung their slave's name to the river, child.
I flung their slave's name to the river, child.

Ain't got no quarrel with no Viet Cong
that never called me nigger, did me wrong.
A man can't be lukewarm, 'cause God hates mild.
I flung their notice to the river, child.
I flung their notice to the river, child.

They said, "Now here's your bullet and your gun,
and there's your cell: we're waiting, you choose one."
At first I groaned aloud, but then I smiled.
I gave their "future" to the river, child.
I gave their "future" to the river, child.

My face reflected up, dark bronze like gold,
a coin God stamped in His own image—BOLD.
My blood boiled like that river—strange and wild.
I died to hate in that dark river, child,
Come, be reborn in this bright river, child.

The poem above has been set to music in a YouTube video by Lillian Y. Wong.

You are free to copy the poem for noncommercial use, such as a school project, essay or report, or just because you like it and want to share, but please credit Michael R. Burch as the author.

NOTES: (1) Muhammad Ali said that he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River after experiencing racism in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Confirming his account, the medal was recovered by Robert Bradbury and his wife Pattie in 2014 during the Annual Ohio River Sweep. The Ali family paid $200,000 to regain possession of the medal. Ali later made a joke about the incident that caused him to toss his medal into the river. He said that he took his medal into a white downtown restaurant and ordered a cheeseburger. The waitress told him, "We don't serve negroes." Ali replied, "I don't eat them either. Just bring me a cheeseburger!" (2) When drafted during the Vietnam War, Ali refused induction, reputedly saying: "I ain't got no quarrel with those Viet Cong; no Vietnamese ever called me a nigger." (3) The notice mentioned in my poem is Ali's draft notice, which metaphorically gets tossed into the river along with his slave name. (4) The poem was originally published by the literary journal Black Medina. It has since been published by Other Voices International, Thanal Online, Freshet, Poem Hunter, Poems About and Poem List.

I shook up the world!
—Muhammad Ali, after defeating the seemingly invincible Sonny Liston; and indeed he did!

It's just a job.
Grass grows,
birds fly,
waves pound the sand.
I beat people up.
Muhammad Ali, describing himself as a sort of inevitable natural force in excellent free verse

—Muhammad Ali, describing himself in a rhymed tercet

(I stole this poem
From Muhammad Ali.)
—Michael R. Burch

The poem above was written in response to the Quora question: “Can you write a poem titled “Me”?

Ali is attended by Angelo Dundee before his first fight with Cooper, and The Greatest was indebted to his wily cornerman at Wembley

Muhammad Ali was big, black, beautiful, bold, brash and bad (as in "badass"). He was the white supremacists' worst nightmare, being proof positive that they were not "superior" but just whistling Dixie ... way out of time and badly out of tune.

Here's how George Foreman described him: "Muhammad Ali―I can describe him best―was beautiful ... To be honest with you, he belonged to the arts. He had poetry. He had it all ... [In the ring] he had a will like I've never seen."

I'm not conceited. I'm convinced.
—Muhammad Ali

Most of his opponents ended up convinced as well. George Foreman later admitted that he only pretended to want a rematch with Ali. In reality, he preferred not to face that iron will and those lightning-fast, thunderous jabs again. While Sonny Liston did fight Ali twice, in the second match he went to the canvas in the first round after a "phantom" punch, and was accused of not wanting to continue. So the two "invincible" fighters who faced Ali may have both thought that one fight with him was more than enough.

If Ali says a mosquito can pull a plow,
don't ask how!
Hitch him up.
—Muhammad Ali as quoted by George Plimpton

As Ali's longtime trainer Angelo Dundee said, "He was a unique, special human being. There'll never be another Muhammad Ali."

At the end even Ali's greatest adversary, Joe Frazier, said "He's a great guy" with tears in his eyes and revealed that he was praying for Ali every day.

Muhammad Ali: the Beginnings and Makings of a Poet

Muhammad Ali (1942–2016) was an American professional boxer widely regarded as one of the greatest and most significant sporting figures in history—if not the greatest, as he claimed himself. He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942. He began training as a boxer at age 12 after his bike was stolen and he wanted to "whup" the thief. At age 18, he won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic games in Rome, writing a poem about his exploits. I have bolded the rhymes:

To make America the greatest is my goal
So I beat the Russian and I beat the Pole
And for the USA won the medal of gold.
The Greeks said you're better than the Cassius of old.

We like your name, we like your game.
So make Rome your home if you will.
I said I appreciate your kind hospitality,
But the USA is my country still,
'Cause they're waiting to welcome me in Louisville.
Muhammad Ali

I'm not going to compare the young Cassius Clay to T. S. Eliot, but the poem does have elements of modern free verse; for instance, lines 5-6 introduce internal rhymes, line 7 breaks the pattern of end rhyme, there is an extra line in the second stanza, and the line lengths and number of syllables vary throughout the poem without any glaring metrical glitches. For a humorous poem written by an 18-year-old not known for being a great scholar, it's actually pretty good. One might say that the gifted young boxer was rapping long before it came into vogue. There may, however, be a Keatsian slip when the Greeks say the new Cassius is better than the Cassius of old, since Cassius is a Roman name rather than Greek.

Ali looks at himself in the mirror and told anyone who would listen that the was both handsome and pretty 

Ali admiring himself in the mirror.

From this point forward I will use the names Muhammad Ali and Ali, out of respect, because those are the name he wanted to go by, and be known by. I will only use the name Clay in quotes or when the context dictates, as in the "Liston-Clay fight" because that is what it was called.

Before his fight with Doug Jones in Madison Square Garden, Ali was asked about a New York newspaper strike. The brash young fighter announced that he was going to meet with President Kennedy to end the strike, because so many New Yorkers wanted to read about him and see his picture!

My second Ali tribute poem compares his youthful image to his older image, when he was struggling with Parkinson's, a disease my grandfather also wrestled with ...

For Ali, Fighting Time
by Michael R. Burch

So now your speech is not as clear . . .
time took its toll each telling year . . .
and O how tragic that your art,
so brutal, broke your savage heart.

But we who cheered each blow that fell
within that ring of torrent hell
never dreamed to see you maimed,
bowed and bloodied, listless, tamed.

For you were not as other men
as we cheered and cursed you then;
no, you commanded dreams and time—
blackgold Adonis, bold, sublime.

And once your glory leapt like fire—
pure and potent. No desire
ever burned as fierce or bright.
Oh Ali, Ali . . . win this fight!

After turning professional, Ali won six fights in six months. Then in 1961, on a Las Vegas radio show to promote his seventh contest, he met the wrestler "Gorgeous" George Wagner, whose promotional skills got audiences excited. As Ali later told his biographer Thomas Hauser: "[George] started shouting: ‘If this bum beats me I'll crawl across the ring and cut off my hair, but it's not gonna happen because I'm the greatest fighter in the world.' And all the time, I was saying to myself: ‘Man. I want to see this fight' And the whole place was sold out when Gorgeous George wrestled … including me … and that's when I decided if I talked more, there was no telling how much people would pay to see me." Ali, who was also rather gorgeous, became his own promoter:

I've wrestled with alligators.
I've tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning.
And throwed thunder in jail.
Muhammad Ali

Those are strong, memorable lines that many modern rappers and performance poets would be very happy with. Ali definitely had a way with words and wasn't shy about using them to increase ticket sales and his earnings. White America had never seen anyone like this cocksure young black man who confidently announced that he was fast, handsome, pretty, dangerous and far too good to be beaten. What Elvis was to popular music, Ali was to boxing, except that Elvis only sounded black, while Ali was black!

Ali also had a nice touch with light verse, or rhyming humor. For instance, here's a poem he created for a 1969 TV show that he did with Joe Namath and Michael Parkinson:

I like your show
and I like your style,
but your pay's so bad
I won't be back for a while!
Muhammad Ali

Ali also mentioned to Joe Namath that he had a "nice time" beating everyone up and taking the world title!

In 1961, he explained to reporters how he was different from other boxers: "Cassius Clay is a boxer who can throw the jive better than anybody." He began "calling" the rounds in which he would knock out his opponents, then bragged about his prophetic powers in this 1962 poem:

Everyone knew when I stepped in town,
I was the greatest fighter around.
A lot of people called me a clown,
But I am the one who called the round.
The people came to see a great fight,
But all I did was put out the light.
Never put your money against Cassius Clay,
For you will never have a lucky day.
Muhammad Ali

Ali's biographer David Remnick would later call him the master of "rhyming prediction and derision." He was "talking trash and doing it in verse." In 1962, Ali brashly predicted that he would knock out Archie Moore, the winner of over 180 professional fights, in the fourth round:

Muhammad Ali, written on a chalkboard in his dressing room before the fight

Archie's been living off the fat of the land.
I'm here to give him his pension plan.
When you come to the fight don't block the door.
'Cause you'll all go home after round four.
Muhammad Ali

Ali's prediction proved prophetic and he knocked out Moore in the fourth round. Ali then predicted he would knock out Henry Cooper in the fifth round of their 1963 fight, and once again proved prophetic.

If Cooper gives me jive,
I'll stop him in five.
If he gives me more,
I'll stop him in four.
Muhammad Ali

However, Cooper did manage to hit Ali with a perfectly-timed-and-leveraged left hook that lifted Ali off his feet and left him wondering where he was, and perhaps momentarily who he was. Fortunately for Ali and unfortunately for Cooper, the end-of-round ring sounded seconds after the haymaker landed. The ever-eloquent Ali later remarked: "The punch Cooper hit me with, he didn't just shake me. He shook my relations back in Africa!" However, Ali more than returned the favor, shedding so much of Cooper's blood that ringside photographers were bathed in the spray! Cooper later called the renamed Ali a "quick learner" because in their 1966 rematch Ali held him "like a vice" and never gave him a chance to get off one of his thunderous inside blows. Thus, Ali won the rematch without similar drama or damage.

Ali took bragging to new, extreme heights (or depths, depending on one's perspective): "I'm not the greatest. I'm the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round. I'm the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skillfullest fighter in the ring today." And when his detractors accused him of arrogance, he had the perfect response:

It ain't bragging if you can back it up.
Muhammad Ali

Ali, whose wit was almost as fast as his hands, leans on the ropes as he poses for a picture in 1970

Muhammad Ali in his prime in 1970, waiting for a chance to reclaim his heavyweight title.

In early 1964, at age 22, Ali prepared to meet world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in a title match. Liston was an overwhelming 8-1 favorite; some experts said that was giving Ali too much credit. Liston took a card from Ali's deck, predicting he would win with a first-round knockout. It has been claimed that Liston was so confident of victory that he only trained to go two rounds. And indeed he had won his three previous fights with first-round knockouts, including two KOs of former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. In his last eight fights, only one boxer had gone more than three rounds. Ali was a brash underdog trying to make a name for himself. It was at this time that he produced his most famous rhyme:

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
His hands can't hit what his eyes can't see.
Muhammad Ali

"The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see."
No one beats in-his-prime Ali.
Michael R. Burch

There were different versions of many Ali poems:

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
Rumble, young man, rumble.
—Muhammad Ali in 1964, before the first Sonny Liston fight

Here's a humorous Ali prediction about the eighth round of the Liston fight:

Clay comes out to meet Liston, and Liston starts to retreat!
If Liston goes back an inch farther, he'll end up in a ringside seat.
Clay swings with his left, Clay swings with his right.
Look at young Cassius carry the fight!
Liston keeps backing, but there's not enough room.
It's just a matter of time till Clay lowers the boom.
Now Clay swings with a right, what a beautiful swing!
And the punch raises the Bear clean out of the ring.
Liston's still rising, and the ref wears a frown,
For he can't start counting till Sonny comes down!
Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic,
But our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic.
Who on earth would have thought, when they came to the fight,
That they'd witness the launching of a human satellite?
Yes, the crowd did not dream, when they put down their money,
That they soon would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.
I am the greatest!
Muhammad Ali

There are different versions of the poem and I have assembled the best lines into the version above.

There were reports that Sonny Liston was older than he was admitting. The ever-quick Ali had a poem for the occasion, which he recited to Liston in the pre-fight build-up:

You're forty years old if you're a day,
and you don't belong in the ring with Cassius Clay.
Muhammad Ali

As Ali told Howard Cosell and other reporters:

If you like to lose your money,
be a fool and bet on Sonny!
Muhammad Ali

The brash young boxer taunted Liston mercilessly:

He's too ugly to be the world champ.
The world champ should be pretty, like me!
Muhammad Ali

If Sonny Liston whups me,
I'll kiss his feet in the ring,
crawl out of the ring on my knees,
tell him he's the greatest,
and catch the next jet out of the country.
Muhammad Ali

Ali also tooted his own horn:

I'm young,
I'm handsome,
I'm fast,
I'm pretty
and can't possibly be beat!
Muhammad Ali

I'm not only a fighter,
I'm a poet,
I'm a prophet,
I'm the Resurrector,
I'm the Savior of the boxing world.
If it wasn't for me, the game would be dead.
Muhammad Ali

My New Year's resolution is to beat that ugly bear,
shake up the world in 1964,
then talk no more.
Muhammad Ali

But he knew the score. When asked what percentage of the spectators would be coming to see him, versus Liston, Ali said 100% would be coming to see him, but 99% would be coming to see him get beat "because I talk too much."

Sonny Liston ain't nothin'.
The man can’t talk.
The man can’t fight.
The man needs talking lessons.
The man needs boxing lessons.
And since he’s gonna fight me, he needs falling lessons.
I’ll hit Liston with so many punches from so many angles he’ll think he’s surrounded.
I don’t just want to be champion of the world,
I’m gonna be champion of the whole universe.
After I whup Sonny Liston, I’m gonna whup those little green men from Jupiter and Mars.
And looking at them won’t scare me none because they can’t be no uglier than Sonny Liston.
Muhammad Ali

I’m young,
I’m handsome,
I’m fast,
I can’t possibly be beat.
I’m ready to go to war right now.
If I see that bear on the street,
I’ll beat him before the fight.
I’ll beat him like I’m his daddy.
He’s too ugly to be the world champ.
The world’s champ should be pretty like me.
If you want to lose your money,
then bet on Sonny,
because I’ll never lose a fight.
It’s impossible.
I never lost a fight in my life.
I’m too fast;
I’m the king.
I was born a champ in the crib.
I’m going to put that ugly bear on the floor,
and after the fight I’m gonna build myself a pretty home and use him as a bearskin rug.
Liston even smells like a bear.
I’m gonna give him to the local zoo after I whup him.
People think I’m joking.
I’m not joking; I’m serious.
This will be the easiest fight of my life.
The bum is too slow; he can’t keep up with me;
I’m too fast. He’s old, I’m young.
He’s ugly, I’m pretty.
It’s just impossible for him to beat me.
He knows I’m great.
He went to school;
he’s no fool.
I predict that he will go in eight
to prove that I’m great;
and if he wants to go to heaven,
I’ll get him in seven.
He’ll be in a worser fix
if I cut it to six.
And if he keeps talking jive,
I’ll cut it to five.
And if he makes me sore,
he’ll go like Archie Moore,
in four.
And if that don’t do,
I’ll cut it to two.
And if he run,
he’ll go in one.
And if he don’t want to fight,
he should keep his ugly self home that night.
Muhammad Ali

Before the first Liston fight, Ali appeared on the Jerry Lewis TV show and recited several of his poems:

Fifteen times I've told the clown
what round
he's going down,
and this chump ain't no different.
He going to fall in eight
to prove that I'm great.
Muhammad Ali

On the Jerry Lewis show, the poem above was shortened to:

I'm so great
I tell a clown
what round
he's going down!
Muhammad Ali

Ali informed Jerry Lewis that he had predicted the outcome of the Henry Cooper fight to Cooper himself, saying:

Henry, this is no jive:
The fight will end in five!
Muhammad Ali

When Jerry Lewis told Ali that he had bet on Archie Moore against Ali, the quick-witted Ali advised him:

If you want to lose your money,
be a fool and bet on Sonny!
Muhammad Ali

When Jerry Lewis asked Ali if he'd like to know what Jerry really thought, Ali warned him:

Be cool,
you're no fool,
you went to school.
Muhammad Ali

Ali also advised Jerry Lewis that:

I'm not talking for my health,
I'm talking for my wealth.
Muhammad Ali

Ali also recited a "pretty poem" entitled "My Modesty":

Lately I am more modest,
I can honestly say.
I now mention my greatness
only ten times a day.

While perfecting my punches
which are smooth as a piston,
I take time out each day
to feel sorry for Liston ...

and to think
what a beautiful world it would be
If there was just less of him
and about ten more of me!
Muhammad Ali

Ali also regaled Jerry Lewis and his audience with a poem he wrote about Bill Foster entitled "Trees":

All Mother Nature's energy,
no matter what it may cost her,
couldn't possibly produce a tree
as handsome as Bill Foster.
His romantic appeal is world renowned,
his virility atomic.
I'm the Shakespeare of the boxing world,
he's the Casanova of the comic.
Muhammad Ali

Ali closed the show with an untitled poem he wrote for Jerry Lewis:

To my friend Mr. Lewis,
that magnificent clown,
who remains at the top
though his show has gone down ...

Though the critics gave him
an unfriendly reception,
no one wins all the time ...
Although I am an exception.

When he's old and senile,
he will still be funny,
laying folks in the aisles
just like I will do Sonny!
Muhammad Ali

Before the first Liston fight, championship weigh-ins had been "predictable" and "boring." But Ali changed that forever, screaming and acting like a crazy man. His heartbeat and blood pressure became so high the fight was almost called off to protect his health.

When the fight finally took place, Ali backed up his words with his rare boxing skills. The great heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, who was a commentator for the fight, called the first round "the greatest round of any fight we've seen in a long time" and said that "Clay completely outclassed Liston."

By the third round Liston had a cut below his left eye, he was bleeding from the mouth and nose, and he was getting hit with "all the punches in the book." Ali was unusual for a heavyweight in that he had cat-quick reflexes and could quite often see a punch coming and duck it before it arrived.

By the fourth round Liston also had puffiness below his right eye.

Ali won the world heavyweight championship in a major upset when Liston refused to answer the bell. Following the win, a triumphant Ali rushed to the edge of the ring and, pointing at the ringside press, shouted:

Eat your words!
I am the greatest!
I shook up the world!
I'm the prettiest thing that ever lived!
I'm the greatest thing that ever lived!
I talk to God every day!
I'm a bad man!
I can't be beat!
I'm king of the world!
Muhammad Ali

When told by Joe Louis that Liston had retired due to a "left arm thrown out of its socket," the ever-brash Ali quipped, "Yeah, swinging at nothing, who wouldn't!"

Speaking at ringside after the fight, Joe Louis called it "the biggest upset in the history of boxing." Little did he know that Ali would duplicate his victory over another "invincible" opponent, George Foreman.

Ali upbraided reporters for calling him the underdog:

Look at me!
Not a mark on me!
I could never be an underdog!
I am too great!
Hail the champion!
Muhammad Ali

Shortly thereafter the 22-year-old "king of the world" converted to Islam, changed his "slave" name to Muhammad Ali, and chose the twin path of pride in his race and resistance to white domination and injustices. He explained his name change in no uncertain terms: "Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it and I don't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name. It means "beloved of God," and I insist people use it when they speak to me and of me."

Ali would knock Liston out in the first round of their May 25, 1965 rematch with the so-called "phantom punch." But Ali took pleasure and pride in pronouncing his punches so fast that the human eye couldn't follow them: "I see why you're showing this in slow motion. I'm so fast you can't see it in real action!"

When Floyd Patterson refused to call him by his new name, Ali called him an "Uncle Tom" and mocked him mercilessly:

Patterson's body is suing his legs for non-support.
Muhammad Ali

Ali also called Patterson the "rabbit" in this pun: "I'm gonna fight the rabbit in the Garden." He delivered carrots to Patterson's boxing camp in a publicity stunt.

"My name is Muhammad Ali, and you will announce it right there in the center of that ring." — This was Ali addressing boxer Ernie Terrell, who kept calling him Cassius Clay, before Ali slapped him in the face during a TV interview.

I predict that Terrell
will catch hell
at the sound of the bell ...
Now I'm not sayin' this just to be funny,
but I'm fightin' Ernie because he needs the money.
Muhammad Ali

When Ernie Terrell still refused to refer to him by his new name in their 1967 match, Ali beat him unmercifully in the ring, screaming "What's my name?"

Ali's first major act of defiance, outside boxing, would be refusing to fight in Vietnam:

They ain't done me no wrong
So I ain't got no fight
With them Vietcong!
Muhammad Ali

My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother,
or some darker people,
or some poor hungry people in the mud
for big powerful America.
And shoot them for what?
They never called me nigger,
they never lynched me,
they didn't put no dogs on me,
they didn't rob me of my nationality,
rape and kill my mother and father.
Shoot them for what?
How can I shoot them poor people?
Just take me to jail!
Muhammad Ali

In 1966, two years after winning the heavyweight title, Ali further antagonized the white establishment by refusing to be conscripted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. He was eventually arrested, found guilty of draft evasion and stripped of his boxing titles. But he remained unbowed:

I am America.
I am the part you won't recognize.
But get used to me:
Black, confident, cocky.
My name, not yours.
My religion, not yours.
My goals, my own.
Get used to me.
Muhammad Ali

Ali would not fight for four years, while appealing his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which finally overturned his conviction in 1971. His actions as a conscientious objector made Ali an icon of the counterculture generation. When asked if he missed boxing, Ali deadpanned, "No, they miss me." But as Bill Siegel, creator of the documentary The Trials of Muhammad Ali pointed out, Ali was "willing to sacrifice everything on principle." And in the prime of his career, when he could have been making millions of dollars, he was almost broke, as he confided while accepting a few hundred dollars to appear at a Louisville boat show. But if he was losing on the money front, he was gaining in stature. Ali said himself, "They made me bigger by taking my title." He became a leading voice of the civil rights and anti-war movements. He was black, he was defiant, and ultimately he was right.

"His biggest win came not in the ring but in our courts in his fight for his beliefs," said Eric Holder, a former U.S. attorney general who knows something about those courts.

Ali also inspired other black athletes to take stands. Arthur Ashe said: "I believe that, if Ali hadn't done what he did, Harry Edwards wouldn't have gotten a fraction of the support he got in 1968 to boycott the Mexico City Olympics. Tommie Smith and John Carlos wouldn't have raised their fists. Ali had to be on their minds. He was largely responsible for it becoming an expected part of the black athlete's responsibility to get involved. He had more at stake than any of us. He put it all on the line for what he believed in. And if Ali did that, who were the rest of us lesser athlete mortals not to do it? I know he certainly influenced me later in 1967 when the Davis Cup draw came up and lo and behold, the United States was supposed to meet in South Africa in the third round. ... There's no question that Ali's sacrifice was in the forefront of my mind."

Ali returned to the ring in 1970, meeting and defeating Jerry Quarry, who had been called "The Great White Hope." The fight was held in Atlanta and attracted not so much boxing fans as "idolators." Black pride and black money were on display. "It was a coronation; the king regaining his throne," Julian Bond said in Muhammad Ali, His Life and Times. "You had all these people from the fast lane who were there; and the style of dress was fantastic. Men in ankle-length fur coats; women wearing smiles and pearls and not much else."

Ali then fought the hard-hitting Oscar Bonavena in Madison Square Garden, also in 1970. Bonavena was nicknamed "The Bull" and had twice gone the distance with Joe Frazier, knocking him down twice. Before the fight, Bonavena called Ali a "chicken" for not joining the army, a "black kangaroo" and suggested that he was a homosexual with hygiene issues. Ali retorted:

I've never wanted to whup a man so bad.
I'm gonna put some soul on his head.
I tell you that the Beast is mine.
And tonight he falls in nine.
Muhammad Ali

That prediction did not come to pass, as Ali explained himself: "Funny, when I was predictin' the ninth round, I never thought I came close to predictin' on myself. I made a lot of mistakes in that fight, and it cost me. I got careless with him in the ninth round, and you can't do that with Oscar. In that ninth round I got hit by a hook harder than Frazier could ever throw. Numb! Like I was numb all over. Shock and vibrations is all I felt, that's how I knew I was alive. I mean, I was jarred. Even my toes felt the vibrations. The first thought that came to mind—another good one or two might have dropped me. So the minute I'm hit—two steps backwards and I'm on the other side of the ring."

Ali would come back to knock Bonavena down three times in the fifteenth round, winning by a TKO due to the three-knockdown rule. But Bonavena was clearly finished anyway. It was the only time Bonavena was knocked out in 68 professional fights which included top-flight opponents like Frazier, Floyd Patterson, Jimmy Ellis, Ron Lyle, George Chuvalo, Karl Mildenberger and Zora Folley. After the fight, Ali grabbed a microphone and shouted: "I have done what Joe Frazier couldn't do—knocked out Oscar Bonavena. Now where is he? I want Joe Frazier!"

Ali said the elimination matches that Frazier won to take his vacated crown were illegitimate:

Those eliminations
Were only imitations.
He's not the real champion.
Muhammad Ali

Ali fought Frazier for the heavyweight championship in Madison Square Garden, in 1971. Before the fight, Ali riffed on Smokin' Joe Frazier's nickname:

Smokin' Joe

Joe's gonna come out smokin',
But I ain't gonna be jokin'.
I'll be peckin' and a-pokin',
Pourin' water on his smokin'.
Now, this may shock and amaze ya,
But I will destroy Joe Frazier!
Some people say he's awful strong.
Tell him to try Ban Roll-On.
Muhammad Ali

Frazier won a hard-fought unanimous decision in what was billed as the "Fight of the Century" between two undefeated heavyweights. (It was the first time that two undefeated boxers had fought each other for the heavyweight title.) The fight lived up to its hype and is generally considered to be one of the greatest boxing matches of all time. The referee, Arthur Mercante, said that he "couldn't imagine ever being involved in anything bigger" and had goosepimples when he climbed into the ring. The fight had a record purse of $5 million, divided equally between the two boxers. How big was the fight, really? Well, when Frank Sinatra couldn't land ringside seats he agreed to take photos for Life Magazine!

Why did Ali lose to Frazier? Ali maintained that he really won because he was as "pretty" as ever, while Frazier was hospitalized in "intensive care" for a month, not even being allowed to had visitors! Ever the comedian, Ali told Cathal O'Shannon that he later discovered that three of the judges were on the draft board.

After losing to Frazier in their first match, Ali started agitating for a rematch:

The new tramp,
er, champ,
Joe Frazier ...
he's not doin'

Ali would win two rematches and end with a 2-1 record against Frazier. Newsday called it a "brutal trilogy" and "with the possible exception of David vs. Goliath, the greatest rivalry in the history of individual human combat."

I'm gonna be so fast, Frazier's gonna think he's surrounded.
Muhammad Ali

Ali, perhaps because he was Ali and a lightning rod for attention, was involved in three of the greatest boxing matches of all time: the first fight with Frazier, the third fight with Frazier (the tie-breaking "Thrilla in Manila), and the epic "Rumble in the Jungle" in which Ali used his "rope-a-dope" technique to defeat the heavily favored George Foreman and regain the heavyweight title after seven long, frustrating years. Ali-Frazier I and III were each were named "Fight of the Year" by The Ring. In 1996, The Ring named Ali-Frazier III the No. 1 fight in boxing history. Ali later said that the third Frazier fight "was the closest thing to dying that I know." When asked if he had watched a replay of the fight, Ali reportedly asked rhetorically, "Why would I want to go back and see Hell?" And after years of mocking Frazier as an "Uncle Tom" and a "Gorilla," Ali named him "the greatest fighter of all times, next to me."

It will be a killa
And a chilla
And a thrilla
When I get the gorilla
In Manila!
Muhammad Ali

Ali's defeat of Joe Frazier in their second duel set up his fight for the world heavyweight championship with George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, Africa. This was the famous "Rumble in the Jungle." It attracted the attention of the world, and major writers like Norman Mailer,  Hunter S. Thompson and George Plimpton. (This was during the golden age of fight journalism.) Don King, the fight promoter, arranged for a music festival to coincide with the lead-up to the fight, and so headliners like James Brown and B. B. King were also in Zaire.

At the time Foreman, The Black Colossus, seemed invincible and Ali was a heavy 3-1 underdog. But he remained confident and uncowed, combining two of his better-known poems into one anti-Foreman riff ...

You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned?
Wait 'til I whup George Foreman's behind!
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
His hand can't hit what his eyes can't see.
Now you see me, now you don't.
George thinks he will, but I know he won't.
I done wrassled with an alligator,
I done tussled with a whale.
Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick.
I'm so mean, I make medicine sick.
Muhammad Ali

I've seen George Foreman shadow boxing. And the shadow won.
Muhammad Ali

During an interview with David Frost, the ever-glib Ali predicted the fight would be stopped on a TKO due to "humiliation."

Ali dubbed Foreman the "Mummy" because of the way he shuffled after victims in the ring, Ali then dubbed himself the "Mummy's Curse" and announced: "There ain't no mummy gonna catch me!"

"He punches like he's a lumberjack trying to cut down trees," Ali opined disdainfully.

Ali threatened to "cut up" Foreman, saying, "I'm so sharp, when I finish they look like I had a razor blade."

Ali also "predicted" that Foreman might chicken out, and asked the locals to monitor all the exits to keep him from fleeing ...

Watch Out!

I predict that whenever the fight is set, he might not show up!
I see fear in the eyes of all his followers!
I want all helicopters guarded!
Private boats, private jets, the interstates ...
Watch everything!
I'm serious!
I want the President and all you Zairians to be on guard!
Watch all strange boats slipping in, that might take him out!
Watch the bus stations!
Watch everything!
Watch the elephant caravans; he might sneak out by elephant!
Watch everything, please!
Dick Sadler's slick
and Archie Moore's quick!
Watch everything moving—all unidentified objects leaving Zaire!
Check all luggage big enough for a man to crawl into!
Please watch him closely!
The man got troubles!
The man want out!
The man want out!
Muhammad Ali

There are different versions of the poem above, so I have taken the liberty of combining lines from the various versions into the one above.

At the same time, Ali extolled his own abilities and prowess:

I am the greatest!
I am an era!
I am an epoch!
Muhammad Ali

Ali told Zairians that he was so fast that when he flipped off the light switch, he was in bed before the room was dark. He told them that if he got any better, he'd be scared of himself. Ali soon had the Zairians chanting in unison, "Ali, boma ye!" ("Ali, kill him!").

Foreman got in some digs of his own. For instance, when asked what he could do about Ali's mouth, Foreman pointed out that Joe Frazier had "knocked [Ali's] legs so far up in the air I though he was gonna take off ... and he got up and started talking. So there's no way I'm gonna be able to stop him from talking." But Foreman didn't think Ali would be talking for long. He later confessed that he thought he would "waste" Ali in two or three rounds. In fact, Foreman was so confident that he offered to fight Joe Bugner the same night he fought Ali!

While Ali didn't officially "predict" a round, he did say on tape: "I predict that after eight good rounds it'll be obvious that he's dead tired ... he won't have no more after eight." Once again Ali would prove himself a prophet. But first he would have to overcome a sea of doubters:

Howard Cosell sounded like someone presiding over a funeral when he said: "The time may have come to say goodbye to Muhammad Ali, because, very honestly, I don't think he can beat George Foreman."
Mark Kram, a Sports Illustrated fight expert, didn't even bother to attend the fight because "no one at the magazine felt that [Ali] had much of a chance; it was going to be very sad."
Dick Young of the New York Daily News quipped that the Secretary of the Interior should appropriate funds to protect Ali's face.
The New York Times predicted that Ali would fall by the third round.
Jerry Quarry, who fought Ali twice, said: "Ali's had it. He's at road's end."
Joe Frazier, who ended up fighting Ali three times, predicted at ringside that "the champ" Foreman would win the fight.
George Chavulo, who also fought Ali, said, "I thought for sure he was going to be annihilated."
Jim Brown, sitting at ringside beside Frazier, asked disdainfully if Ali had any chance at all. Frazier replied "Yes, because he has two hands." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Budd Schulberg said: "George could hurt him badly."

Before the fight, Ali had to bolster the morale of his own entourage. They didn't just doubt that he could win; they feared for his survival. Foreman had won 24 consecutive fights by knockout. None of his last eight fights had gone beyond the second round, including stunning early-round knockouts of Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, two world-class fighters who had given Ali everything he could handle, and his only two loses. "This ain't nothing but another day in the dramatic life of Muhammad Ali," he boasted. "Do I look scared?" But the people around him certainly were. According to Boxing News Online, Ali's "pre-fight changing room was one of intense fear and anxiety." Fightland said it "had all the atmosphere of a morgue."

In the opposite dressing room, legendary boxer and trainer Archie Moore was actually praying for Ali's life: "I was praying, and in great sincerity, that George wouldn't kill Ali. I really felt that was a possibility. George truly doesn't know his own strength." Foreman would later confess that he wanted to kill Ali, because killing an opponent in the ring would shut his critics up.

Foreman's trainers actually struggled to remove his robe, due to the size of his biceps!

But Ali lived up to his own hype. He shocked the boxing world (and a viewing audience he claimed to number two billion) by knocking Foreman out in the eighth round. It was the first time Foreman had ever hit the canvas, and he couldn't beat the count. According to Foreman: "I thought he was just one more knockout victim until, about the seventh round, I hit him hard to the jaw and he held me and whispered in my ear: 'That all you got, George?' I realized that this ain't what I thought it was." Foreman would eventually become a good friend of Ali's and his greatest admirer, saying: "[Ali is] the greatest man I've ever known. Not greatest boxer, that's too small for him. He had a gift. He's not pretty he's beautiful. Everything America should be, Muhammad Ali is." Foreman also said: "His greatest power was his presence."

Foreman gave us an example of that presence: "What I remember most about the fight was, I went out and hit Muhammad with the hardest shot to the body I ever delivered to any opponent. Anybody else in the world would have crumbled. Muhammad cringed; I could see it hurt. And then he looked at me. He had that look in his eyes, like he was saying 'I'm not going to let you hurt me.'"

Ali also played mind games with Foreman, taunting him after taking boxing's heaviest blows: "Is that all you got, George? You can't hurt me! You punch like a sissy! They told me you could punch, George!"

Archie Moore later said that Ali had convinced Foreman that he was unable to hurt his opponent.

"I didn't dance," Ali said immediately after the fight. "I didn't dance for a reason. I wanted to make him lose all his power. I kept telling him he had no punch, he couldn't hit, he's swinging like a sissy, he's missing, let me see you box!"

Had Ali set a trap for Foreman? According to a Time report: "Soon it became clear that Ali had constructed a trap. All summer and fall he had been developing granite abdominal muscles with a grueling regimen of calisthenics, spending an hour every morning hardening his gut by doing sit-ups with his legs held up at a 45 degree angle or while his limbs were pumping back and forth in a bicycle-pedaling motion. Now he was simply letting Foreman punch himself out against that iron flesh."

As for the "rope-a-dope" strategy, that was purely Ali's invention. "I won't kid you," said Ali's longtime trainer Angelo Dundee, "when he went into the ropes, I felt sick ... I thought our guy was going to be the dope, just lying there." George Plimpton reported Ali's corner screaming at him to get off the ropes. Ali told them to shut up: "Don't talk. I know what I'm doing."

The opposite corner was just as perplexed: "Everything we planned to do—cutting the ring, overpowering Ali, going after him—was designed to put him on the ropes," Foreman's manager Dick Sadler said. "And there he was. Just exactly where we wanted him." But Foreman's sledgehammer body blows didn't seem to bother Ali. Or if they did, he wasn't letting it show.

“I didn’t really plan what happened that night,” Ali said. “But when a fighter gets in the ring, he has to adjust according to the conditions he faces. Against George, the ring was slow. Dancing all night, my legs would have got tired. And George was following me too close, cutting off the ring. In the first round, I used more energy staying away from him than he used chasing me. So between rounds, I decided to do what I did in training when I got tired.”

Did saggy ropes play a part in Ali's victory? Not according to Foreman, who attributed Ali's victory to his ability to take overpowering punches and not crumble: "I don't know how he did it, I just don't know." As for the ropes: "I was discouraged about a lot of things back then, more than discouraged, but if I was going to beat him—really beat him fair and square—the ropes wouldn't have made any difference." And it should be pointed out that Ali had demanded a 20-foot ring, but the ring he got was a cozy 16-footer. That favored Foreman and made it hard for Ali to dance away from danger. To Ali's credit, he changed a major disadvantage into a major advantage with his rope-a-dope strategy.

There was only one person who thought it was a good idea for Ali to stay on the ropes—saggy or otherwse—and take poundings, round after round, from the heaviest-hitting puncher of all time. But that singular person was a boxing genius, Ali. If he could take the beating, if he could survive, Foreman would lose his power and become vulnerable. And that's exactly what happened.

Another big factor, in my opinion, was Ali's accuracy. When he saw opportunities to connect, he connected with a variety of savage, brutal, accurate punches. Ali actually won most of the infighting, despite Foreman's vaunted power and relentless boring-in attack. Ali was faster, more accurate, and did by far the greater damage. Also, Ali was far more elusive, even when he wasn't dancing. So it was no accident that Ali won. He simply eluded more punches, while landing more telling blows. Most of the punches Foreman managed to land were body shots, and they didn't seem to faze Ali. If we subtract Foreman's body blows as not all that significant, it was a one-sided fight. If the body blows are counted, the fight was closer on points, but Ali's head shots obviously hurt Foreman a lot more than Foreman's body shots hurt Ali.

In any case, by the eighth round, as Norman Mailer reported, Foreman had nothing left. Just as Ali had predicted.

Ali knocked Foreman out in the eighth round, as he had semi-predicted, against all odds. Were even the heavens impressed? "Almost at that precise moment, the skies opened above, and there was this amazing electric storm," recalled Alan Hubbard, who was reporting at ringside. "Flashes of lightning, thunder, and the rain cascaded down. It was so heavy that some of the ringside telephones were actually washed away in the storm. The river had just expanded and overflown into the roads ... I thought we were all going to be drowned." When the boxers returned to their dressing rooms, they were both flooded with water.

The heavens aside, it was more than just another victory in the squared circle. All around the world people rejoiced, including some former Ali critics. As Plimpton wrote: "I think it was the sort of joyous reaction that comes with seeing something that suggests all things are possible: the triumph of the underdog, the comeback from hard times and exile, the victory of an outspoken nature over a sullen disposition, the prevailing of intelligence over raw power, the success of physical grace, the ascendance of age over youth, and especially the confounding of the experts. Moreover, the victory assuaged the guilt feelings of those who remembered the theft of Ali's career. It was good to watch and hear about, whichever fighter one supported. Indeed, one of the prevailing stories the morning after the fight was that never had so many large bets been handed over so cheerfully to their winners."

Ali, however, celebrated his unexpected victory in an unexpected way. The fight had started at 3am in order to be televised in prime time in the US, so there was a day to kill. Newsweek's Peter Bonventre followed Ali to the stoop of his temporary home, to find him doing rope tricks for a group of African children. "It was hard to tell who was having a better time, Ali or the children," Bonventre wrote. "All I could think was, I don't care what anyone says, there'll never be anyone like him again."

Love him or hate him, we can probably all agree on that!

It was the only time in the long and storied career of George Foreman that he was knocked out. Foreman would retire at age 28 as perhaps the darkest, angriest, most brooding figure in boxing history. After a spiritual conversion, he would come back, implausibly, as perhaps the most amiable figure in boxing history. Later, Foreman would say that he never threw a punch in anger during the second half of his career. Incredibly, at age 45, he regained the world heavyweight championship, following in the steps of Ali, the first to hold the title twice. But Ali remained a step ahead, as he would reclaim his title a third time, after losing to Leon Spinks, then defeating him in a rematch.

After decisively beating the seemingly invincible Foreman in one of the greatest upsets of all time, the self-acclaimed "greatest boxer of all time" decided to give a title shot to a real-life Rocky named Chuck Wepner ...

I am boxing. He's challenging boxing.
Muhammad Ali, at the Chuck Wepner weigh-in

The gory 1975 Ali-Wepner fight became the basis of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky movies, with Ali portrayed as Apollo Creed and Stallone playing the Wepner-ish Rocky Balboa. Wepner, known as "The Bayonne Bleeder," put up a valiant fight and even knocked Ali down in the ninth round, although Ali claimed that he tripped after Wepner stepped on his foot. After knocking Ali down, Wepner went to his corner and said to his manager, "Al, start the car. We're going to the bank. We are millionaires." To which Wepner's manager replied, "You better turn around. He's getting up and he looks pissed off." Ali came back to knock out Wepner in the fifteenth round. It was the only time in over 100 career fights, amateur and professional, the Wepner was ever been knocked down.

Wepner later called the fight the greatest night of his life, remarking: "I was ready for Ali, I just wasn't ready for how great he was." Wepner also admitted that Ali was off balance when he knocked him down with a body punch. Years later in an interview Wepner said he had "tremendous respect" for Ali and thanked him for giving him a title match. He also related an amusing story. The day of the fight he had given his wife a powder blue negligee, asking her to wear it because that night she would be sleeping with the heavyweight champion of the world. After the fight when Wepner returned to his hotel room, sure enough, there was his wife sitting on the side of the bed in the powder blue negligee. "Is Ali coming here, or am I going to his room?" she asked mischievously.

Later, Sylvester Stallone said that Ali told him that he had been "talking to angels" during the match.

Ali was more than just another pretty face. He was more than a rare combination of speed, agility, grace and power. He was also a very, very tough guy. In 1973, in a match with Ken Norton, he fought ten rounds with a broken jaw. George Foreman, perhaps the most devastating power puncher in boxing history, remembered losing heart when he hit Ali smack on the jaw with everything he had, and Ali just whispered back, "George, is that all you got?"

Ali would lose the heavyweight championship to Leon Spinks in 1978, then reclaim it from Spinks the same year, becoming the first heavyweight to hold the crown three times.

Time took its toll and Ali retired from boxing in 1981, no longer the king of the ring, but still the king of millions of hearts. Ali was the greatest boxer of his era, if not of all time. He was, by far, boxing's greatest showman and its greatest star. And he was a worldwide voice for equality for people with darker skin. Ali proclaimed himself "The Greatest" at a time when African Americans were expected to ride at the back of the bus meekly and submissively. But Ali did not submit meekly or submissively to anyone. When he was accused of arrogance, he pointed out that "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up." And he did so, splendidly, with charisma, class and a rather brash but engaging charm.

"I shook up the world.
Muhammad Ali

John Lennon claimed that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Ali said something similar about himself: "I'm the most recognized and loved man that ever lived cuz there weren't no satellites when Jesus and Moses were around, so people far away in the villages didn't know about them."

Of course good health and good times never last forever. The poundings Ali took in the ring, in large part due to his iron chin and ability to absorb punishment, eventually caught up with him ...

Better... in the clutch of some disease,
Wastin' slowly by degrees,
Better than of heart attack...
Let me die by being black.
—Muhammad Ali, from "Freedom" (the entire poem appears later on this page)

Ali, who won the gold medal in Rome in 1960, lights the Olympic flame ahead of the Games in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996 

Muhammad Ali lights the Olympic flame at the 1996 Atlanta games.

In 1984 Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

In 1996 Ali would bear the Olympic flame for the Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1997 Sports Illustrated would name Ali its Sportsman of the Century.

In 2005 Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor, by President George W. Bush.

Muhammad Ali, the self-proclaimed greatest boxer of all time, died on June 3, 2016 after the hardest battle of his life, with Parkinson's disease. Many of us who may have been doubters at one time are now happy to agree with his assessment of himself. For accomplishments in the ring, there may be a few worthy contenders like Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson. But no star ever shone brighter than Ali's, inside the ring and out. No other boxer helped to change his sport and the larger world the way Ali did when he changed his name, refused to serve in what he saw as an unjust war that was none of his business, and stood up to the white establishment. In baseball there was only one Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat. In hockey there was only one Wayne Gretzky, the Great One. In soccer there was only one Pele. In rock'n'roll there was only one Elvis Presley, the King. And in boxing there was only one Muhammad Ali, The Greatest. If I was asked to name the greatest sports figure of all time, I would have to tip my cap to Ali and admit that he really was the greatest. Second place is not even close, if we consider Ali's uniqueness as a transformational and transcendent world figure and his ambassadorship.

Note: After I wrote the introduction above, I went for a walk. It was a sunny day, but as I walked I felt a shadow and looked up to see a majestic bald eagle flying immediately overhead. The bald eagle is, of course, a symbol of the United States, and I thought of Ali's influence. Was it a synchronicity, or just a coincidence? I will take it as the former, and salute a great spirit wherever he may be bound. I was reminded of the epitaph Jeff Powell said that Ali chose for himself in their last meeting:

Float like a butterfly
Sting like a bee 
If you wanna fly high
Remember me!
Muhammad Ali

Confidence Man

I hear a lot of talk about old-time great fighters; I hear people say that

Joe Lewis,
Jack Dempsey,
Jack Johnson,
Joe Jeffries
and all of them

would have annihilated the likes of myself, Muhammad Ali.

After watching these films,
watching their opponents,
watching their styles,
watching how they fought,
watching their footwork and their speed

(and my critics will admit that I am the fastest heavyweight in the history of boxing with feet and hands),
it may come as a shock to you, but I say that I would have beat every heavyweight that ever lived before me.
Muhammad Ali


The best Muhammad Ali nicknames: The Greatest (coined by Ali himself), The Champ, The People's Champion, The Louisville Slugger, The Louisville Lip, The Lullable Lip, Gaseous Cassius, Cassius X (his first name change, when he was in contact with Malcolm X), Boxing's Poet Laureate, The Black Superman, The Black Adonis, The Prettiest Man in Sports (Ali describing himself)

Muhammad means "praiseworthy," being derived from the Arabic hamid, "to praise." Ali in Arabic means "lofty," or "sublime." So Ali's chosen name means something like "One Who is Worthy of Sublime Praise!" And he did, indeed, praise himself sublimely, in both his poetry and his prose!

Asked in a 1975 Playboy interview why he chose "The Greatest," Ali replied: "I'm the most talked-about, most publicized, the most famous, and the most colorful fighter in history. And I'm the fastest heavyweight—with feet and hands—who ever lived. Besides that, I'm the onliest poet laureate boxing's ever had. One other thing, too: If you look at pictures of all the former champions you know in a flash that I'm the best-looking champion in history. It all adds up to being The Greatest, don't it?"

Nicknames that Ali gave to other boxers: George Foreman "The Mummy," the "Big Bad Ugly Monster" and the "Frankenstein Monster," Joe Frazier "The Gorilla," Sonny Liston "Big Bear" and "Big Ugly Bear," Oscar Bonavena "The Beast," Floyd Patterson "The Rabbit" and "The White Man's Champion," Ernie Terrell "The Octopus" (because of his ungainly boxing style), Buster Mathis Sr. "The Dancing Hippo" (ditto), Ernie Shavers "The Acorn" (because of his shaved head), Larry Holmes "The Peanut" (because of the shape of his head), George Chuvalo "The Washer Woman," Henry Cooper "a Tramp, a Bum and a Cripple not worth training for," Leon Spinks "Dracula" (because of the gap in his teeth) and Richard Dunn "The Mummy." Ali called several boxers "bums" and "Uncle Toms" for not standing up to white domination and/or not calling him by his chosen name, including Frazier, Patterson and Terrell.

When Ali dubbed George Foreman the "Mummy" because of the way he shuffled after victims in the ring, Ali quickly dubbed himself the "Mummy's Curse" and announced: "There ain't no mummy gonna catch me."

Some of the fighters had more positive nicknames; for instance: George Foreman "The Black Colossus" and "Big George," Joe Frazier "Smokin' Joe," Archie Moore "The Old Mongoose"

Ali's fights even earned poetic nicknames: "The Thrilla in Manilla" and "The Rumble in the Jungle" are the two most famous and became the stuff of legend, thanks to Ali.


Seven Ways that Ali Excelled

(1) Ali has been named the number one athlete of all time in a number of rankings.
(2) Ali has been named the greatest boxer of all time in a number of rankings.
(3) Ali has been named the best-known sports figure of all time in a number of rankings.
(4) Ali embodies and exemplifies "black is beautiful" for millions of people, if not billions.
(5) Ali is the best-known conscientious objector of all time.
(6) Ali is the best-known poet among sports figures. No one else comes close.
(7) Ali is one of the best-known celebrities of all time, rivaled only by icons like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana. 

Sports figures influenced by Ali's swag include: Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Sugar Ray Leonard, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Deion Sanders, The Rock, Wayne Gretzky (his nickname "The Great One" was rather obviously derived from Ali's "The Greatest" although, unlike Ali, Gretzky did not coin his own nickname).

Cassius Marcellus Clay changed his "slave name" to Muhammad Ali in 1964.

Ali actually recorded an album of spoken verse, and was nominated for a Grammy! Thus the loquacious Ali really was boxing's poet laureate. Columbia Records released a 1963 spoken word album titled I Am the Greatest, in which the 21-year-old rising star performed his poetry, backed my musical accompaniment, before an audience. The title track was released as a single. The second track was "I Am the Double Greatest." The album also included two songs by the boxer, including a cover of the Ben E. King hit "Stand by Me." The other song was "a bright, bubblegum pop" rendition of "The Gang's All Here" with Sam Cooke (who rivaled Ali in good lucks, talent and charm). Ali's album peaked at No. 61 on the Top LP's chart in 1963 (which later became known as the Billboard 200). The album was nominated for a Grammy in 1964. The Milwaukee Journal dubbed it the "comedy album of the year."

To this nation, I've made this bequest
So spread the word north and south!
Some folks leave their brains through science
But when I go, I'm leavin' my mouth!
It's the greatest!
—Muhammad Ali, on "Round Seven" of his album

But that wasn't quite it for Ali's musical career. In 1976, Ali teamed with Frank Sinatra, Ossie Davis, Howard Cosell and others to record an album called Ali and His Gang Vs. Mr. Tooth Decay. The cautionary tale against eating too much sugar was nominated for a Grammy for Best Recording for Children in 1977. So Ali was nominated for two Grammy awards!

Ali starred in a Broadway musical, so he was also an actor and singer. During his 43-month forced exile from the ring, Ali took to the stage in the title role of the musical Buck White. The production opened inside New York's George Abbott Theatre on December 2, 1969. However, Ali's stage career would be a brief one. Buck White closed four nights later after just seven performances. In spite of the limited run, Ali, who played a militant black lecturer, received decent reviews. "He sings with a pleasant slightly impersonal voice, acts without embarrassment and moves with innate dignity," wrote a New York Times reviewer. "He does himself proud."

Ali appeared on the cover of Esquire magazine in April 1968, posed by designer George Lois as the Christian martyr Saint Sebastian. So he was also a supermodel!

Other things you may not know about Muhammad Ali: (1) He was an accomplished magician. (2) He became a Sufi like the mystical poets Rumi and Hafiz; the Sufis believe in and practice nonviolence. (3) Ali was a tough guy: he fought his first comeback fight with a broken rib and continued to fight Ken Norton despite having broken his jaw during the match. (4) He had a magnetic personality; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar compared Ali moving through a crowd to a magnet moving through iron filings. (5) People have described Ali as "glowing." Other famous people said to have glowed include Moses and Albert Einstein. (6) Some of Ali's opponents were in awe of him: for instance, George Foreman speaks about him with real reverence. (7) Ali changed his name twice; his first non-slave name was Cassius X, which was modeled after Malcolm X. (8) Ali never turned down children's requests for autographs because as a boy he was turned down by Sugar Ray Robinson. (9) Ali frequently re-used his favorite rhymes. For instance, there are different versions of the me/whee rhyme:

This poem tells how it feels to be as great as me.
This is it, the greatest short poem of all time: me!
—Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali Quotes and Epigrams


Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
Can I dance? Is the Pope a Catholic?
Man, I'm so fast that when I switch off the light by the door I'm in bed before the room goes dark.
However, "the will must be stronger than the skill."
The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.

The Ali "dance" was the famous dizzying and mesmerizing "Ali shuffle," followed up by the best jab in boxing history. Ali was simultaneously too fast, too elusive and too powerful for his competitors. He would "lean back" and dance away from danger, making it hard for his opponents to hit him. He would then step in and plant them with those iron-hard jabs. Ali was "the heavyweight Sugar Ray Robinson."


A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he'll never crow. I have seen the light and I'm crowing.
It's not bragging if you can back it up.
Braggin' is when a person says something and can't do it. I do what I say.
People say I'm conceited, that I talk too much. But they must have pity on me. It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am!
I'm not the greatest. I'm the double greatest. Not only do I knock 'em out, I pick the round.
Superman don't need no seat belt.
It's lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.
I'm young; I'm handsome; I'm fast. I can't possibly be beat.
When you can whip any man in the world, you never know peace.
At home I am a nice guy: but I don't want the world to know. Humble people, I've found, don't get very far.
I'm so mean, I make medicine sick.
I should be a postage stamp. That's the only way I'll ever get licked.
The man to beat me hasn't been born yet.
I am the astronaut of boxing. Joe Louis and Dempsey were just jet pilots. I'm in a world of my own.
If Joe Frazier dreamed he could whip me, he better wake up and apologize!
I don't say we shall overcome, because I done overcame!
I never said I was the smartest. I said I was the greatest!
I am an era. I am an epoch.

Rhyming Humor

If you like to lose your money, be a fool and bet on Sonny.
Ali fights great, he has speed and endurance. If you decide to fight him, increase your insurance.
I am the man all over the land, And if you don't believe it, just interfere with my plan.
No doubts! How can I lose with the stuff I use?


Don't count the days; make the days count.
There are no pleasures in a fight but some of my fights have been a pleasure to win.
Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.


I believe in the religion of Islam. I believe in Allah and peace.
I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.
Why is Jesus white ... what happened to all the black angels?
It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.
Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.
I don't believe in turning the other cheek.

Race, Tolerance and Social Justice

Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn't matter which color does the hating. It's just plain wrong.
I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin' hell, but as long as they ain't free, I ain't free.
I'm the greatest. They should want to be with me. That's the way I look at it. (When asked how he would respond to discrimination.)

Dreams, Vision and Imagination

The man who has no imagination has no wings.
A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.
I know where I'm going and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want.
The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.

Ali, the Quick-Witted Master of Verbal Repartee

A woman in the audience asked Ali if he would ever fight in a nation that had an "unattractive" attitude to the "black man."
Ali: "Oh, like America?"

Dick Cavett: You make fun of the color of my skin.
Ali: No, I just tell you that you have the complexion and the connection to get the protection.

Ali, who always seemed to win his verbal sparring matches with Dick Cavett, once told him: "I'm a good fighter, and I'm as good as your writer!"

On the Dick Cavett Show, Ali was asked why he insulted his opponents. "The Garden's sold out, that's why!" he replied.

During an interview, Howard Cosell said that Ali had alienated "nation after nation" with his braggadocio and was just a "shell" of his former self.
Ali responded that every time Howard spoke, he should be "arrested for air pollution." He then closed the deal by informing Cosell, "I'm prettier than you, and you're a sports announcer!"

Howard Cosell: I'm not sure there's anyone left for you to fight.
Ali: You!

A man in the audience: Is Howard Cosell your friend?
Ali: Next question!

Howard Cosell: You're being very truculent.
Ali: Whatever truculent means, if it's good, I'm that!

When Cosell asked Ali if he could still do the famous Ali shuffle, Ali replied poetically:

If I do the shuffle,
you might have to scuffle.

Ali even took jabs at Cosell while speaking at Harvard: "Howard wanted to be a boxer but they couldn't find a mouthpiece big enough!"

On the Mike Douglas Show, after Douglas "agitated" Ali by pointing out that Chuck Wepner had called him Cassius Clay, Ali retorted: "Howard Cosell gets paid to be an idiot. What's your excuse?"

During an interview, Ali told Dick Cavett, "If I had a lower IQ, I could enjoy this conversation!"

Dick Cavett: He preaches against materialism, but he has a Rolls Royce in his garage, a Cadillac, a new Lincoln ...
Ali: No, TWO Rolls Royces!

Michael Jackson: Do you think I could ever float like a butterfly and sting like a bee?
Ali: Well, you've got the butterfly part down!

Ali: No television (here). I go to the kitchen to watch television.
Dick Cavett: Who do you watch?
Ali: Johnny Carson.
(Cavett pretends to faint.)

Dick Cavett: You can't put down George Foreman like that!
Ali: I did put him down! 

Dick Cavett: I'm not going to argue with you.
Ali (arching his eyebrows): You're not as dumb as you look!

Ali, responding to complaints about ring conditions in the Foreman fight: "As hard as his head hit the floor, he should be gladthe canvas was soft!"

When a boy in the audience asked Ali's prediction for his next fight, Ali responded: "I'll be there."

Dick Cavett: What happens if you lose?
Ali: Next question!


If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.
It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.
My toughest fight was with my first wife.
My way of joking is to tell the truth. That's the funniest joke in the world. No one knows what to say in the loser's locker room.
Silence is golden when you can't think of a good answer.

Ali also wrote serious poems. He called this one a "masterpiece" ...

The Truth

The face of truth is open,
The eyes of truth are bright,
The lips of truth are ever closed,
The head of truth is upright.

The breast of truth stands forward,
The gaze of truth is straight,
Truth has neither fear nor doubt,
Truth has patience to wait.

The words of truth are touching,
The voice of truth is deep,
The law of truth is simple:
All that you sow you reap.

The soul of truth is flaming,
The heart of truth is warm,
The mind of truth is clear,
And firm through rain or storm.

Facts are but its shadows,
Truth stands above all sin;
Great be the battle in life,
Truth in the end shall win.

The image of truth is Christ,
Wisdom's message its rod;
Sign of truth is the cross,
Soul of truth is God.

Life of truth is eternal,
Immortal is its past,
Power of truth will endure,
Truth shall hold to the last.
—Muhammad Ali

The poem below was written about the 1971 Attica prison riots, which resulted in the deaths of 43 people. In the poem, Ali imagines what the prisoners might have said. The Attica riots started on September 9, 1971, when a black inmate was killed while trying to escape the prison. Over the next four days, up to 2,200 prisoners rebelled, taking 42 of the prison staff hostage. Nelson Rockefeller, the New York governor at the time, refused to negotiate with the prisoners' demands for better treatment and conditions. Soldiers raided the prison on September 13, dropping tear gas, then shooting randomly into the smoke for two minutes, non-stop. As a result, 33 prisoners and 10 prison guards ended up dead. Only one death was ascribed to the prisoners, although Rockefeller tried to blame the inmates.


Better far—from all I see—
To die fighting to be free
What more fitting end could be?

Better surely than in some bed
Where in broken health I'm led
Lingering until I'm dead.

Better than with prayers and pleas
Or in the clutch of some disease
Wasting slowly by degrees.

Better than a heart attack
or some dose of drug I lack;
Let me die by being black.

Better far that I should go;
Standing here against the foe
Is the sweeter death to know.

Better than the bloody stain
on some highway where I'm lain
Torn by flying glass and pane.

Better calling death to come
than to die another dumb,
muted victim in the slum.

Better than this prison rot;
if there's any choice I've got,
Kill me here on the spot.

Better for my fight to wage
Now while my blood boils with rage,
Less it cool with ancient age.

Better violent for us to die
Than to Uncle Tom and try
Making peace just to live a lie.

Better now that I say my sooth;
I'm gonna die demanding Truth
While I'm still akin to youth.

Better now than later on
Now that fear of death is gone.
Never mind another dawn.
—Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali Quotes

"If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you."

Cassius Clay,
the most beautiful fighter in the world today!
"My only fault is I don't realize how great I really am!"
"I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world."
"You can go to Japan, China, all the European, African, Arab, and South American countries, and man, they know me. I can't name a nation where they don't know me."
"I want everyone to bear witness, I am the greatest! I'm the greatest thing that ever lived. I don't have a mark on my face"
"People don't realize what they had till it's gone…. I was the Elvis of boxing.''
"I am the savior of boxing. You're looking at history's greatest fighter. There will never be another like me."

"I'm so fast I run through a hurricane and not get wet."

"I'm too fast to be hit by a bullet."

Superman don't need no seat belt. " (To a flight attendant)

"No one wins all the time, though I am an exception."

"I can kill a dead tree. Don't mess with Muhammad Ali."
"Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick, I’m so mean I make medicine sick."
"I'm so fast that, last night, I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark."
"I've handcuffed lightning and throw'd thunder in jail."

Ranking Ali

My Top Ten Boxers of All Time: Benny Leonard (#10), Jack Dempsey (#9), Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. (#8), Roberto Duran (#7), Floyd Mayweather Jr. (#6), Joe Louis (#5), Sugar Ray Leonard (#4), Rocky Marciano (#3), Sugar Ray Robinson (#2), Muhammad Ali (#1)

Honorable Mention: Henry Armstrong, Ezzard Charles, Joe Gans, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Harry Greb, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, Jack Johnson, Roy Jones Jr., Sam Langford, Lennox Lewis, Floyd Patterson, Willie Pep, Gene Tunney, Mike Tyson, Pernell Whitaker

According to, Ali was the number one boxer of all time.
According to Ranker, Ali was the number one boxer of all time.
According to Jeff Powell, writing for the Daily Mail,  Ali was the greatest boxer of all time.
According to The Sportster, Ali was the greatest boxer of all time.
According to Box Rec, Ali was the greatest heavyweight of all time.
According to The Telegraph, Ali was the greatest heavyweight of all time.
According to Sporteology, Ali was number two behind Joe Louis.
According to Sports Muntra, Ali was number two behind Sugar Ray Robinson.
According to Ring Magazine, Ali was number three behind Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong.
According to ESPN's ratings of the greatest boxers of all time, Ali was number two behind Sugar Ray Robinson.
But Louis, Robinson and Armstrong did not have Ali's star power or impact outside the ring. Here is ESPN's capsule summary of Ali's career ...

Muhammad Ali
Record: 56-5 (37 KOs) but 55-2 with both losses avenged twice before ill-advised fights at the end of his career

Career notes: First boxer to win heavyweight championship of the world three times … Was banned from the ring for three years for refusing induction into the armed forces during the Vietnam War … After the ban was lifted, lost to Joe Frazier in "Fight of the Century" in 1971, but stunned George Foreman to regain belt in 1974 and defeated Frazier twice … Lost to Ken Norton with a broken jaw, but came back to defeat Norton twice ... Lost title to, and regained it from, Leon Spinks in 1978 at age 36 … Three of Ali's defeats came in his last four bouts, including two in an ill-advised emergence from retirement, against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick, at age 38. … Transcended the sport unlike any other boxer. … Reinvented the way heavyweights were supposed to fight, deploying speed and athleticism that were previously unheard of ... Alternately bedazzled and appalled America and the world with charisma, showmanship and braggadocio. … Viewed progressively over the years as loudmouth, villain, hero and finally a figure of pathos. … Remains for many the definition of a champion.

Was Muhammad Ali the ultimate GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)? Here is one man's ranking of the greatest athletes of all time considering their accomplishments on and off the field, their charisma, their ambassadorship, and their impact of their sport and the larger world: (#50) Gordie Howe, Arnold Palmer and Roberto Clemente, (#49) Rocky Marciano and Teofilo Stevenson, (#48) Alexander Karelin, Dan Gable, Cael Sanderson [wrestling] and Bruce Lee [martial arts], (#47) Tony Hawk [skateboarding] and Jean-Claude Killy [sking], (#46) Martina Navratilova and Rod Laver, (#45) Mia Hamm and Marta Vieira da Silva, (#44) Harold Worst, Willie Mosconi and Efren Reyes [billiards], (#43) Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Red Grange, Don Hutson, Gale Sayers, Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White and Dick Butkus, (#42) Julius Erving, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Cheryl Miller, (#41) Jackie Joyner-Kersee, (#40) Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi, (#39) Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, (#38) Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, (#37) Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, (#36) Paul Brady [handball], (#35) Wilma Rudolph and Althea Gibson, (#34) Bruce Jenner aka Caitlyn Jenner, (#33) Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, (#32) Daley Thompson and Eric Heiden, (#31) Nancy Lopez, (#30) Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Sugar Ray Robinson, (#29) Carl Lewis and Deion Sanders, (#28) Rafael Nadal, (#27) Michael Johnson, (#26) Mario Andretti, Richard Petty and Michael Schumaker, (#25) Bobby Orr, (#24) Joe Louis, (#23) Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar [cricket], (#22) Roger Federer (#21), Diego Maradonna, (#20) Lance Armstrong, (#19) Margaret Court and Serena Williams, (#18) Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, (#17) Tiger Woods, (#16) Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz, (#15) John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, (#14) Jessie Owens, (#13) Lionel Messi, (#12) Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, (#11) Jim Brown and Wilt Chamberlain, (#10) Jim Thorpe and Paavo Nurmi [distance runner], (#9) Nadia Comăneci and Greg Louganis, (#8) Jackie Robinson, (#7) Jack Nicklaus, (#6) Bo Jackson and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, (#5) Michael Jordan, (#4) Wayne Gretzky, (#3) Babe Ruth, (#2) Pelé, (#1) Muhammad Ali

Of course the list above is very subjective. How can three of the greatest athletes and ambassadors of their sports be ranked 50th? All I can say is that appearing anywhere on this list means the athlete was an immortal. I will close with a comment by Roberto Clemente, who was not as brash as Muhammad Ali, but was still supremely confident in his abilities. When someone asked Clemente how he compared himself to more famous figures like Willie Mays, Clemente replied "For me, I am the best." Clemente joined baseball's exclusive 3,000 hit club in his last at-bat, then died trying to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was a great hitter and a great defender with a cannon-like arm. Why quibble over such greatness? Mickey Mantle once poked fun at Pete Rose for hitting so many singles, but Rose ended up with 1,241 more total bases than the legendary slugger. We should give all these great athletes their due, but in my opinion there was never a great athlete who had more impact on his sport and the larger world than Muhammad Ali, so he gets my vote as the Greatest Of All Time.

These are the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, in my opinion:

1. Muhammad Ali, because he fought and defeated some of the greatest heavyweights of all time: Joe Frazier (twice), Sonny Liston (twice), George Foreman, and a number of other heavyweights often listed among the top 100 boxers. In my opinion, Ali is the greatest boxer ever. He had it all: speed, agility, punching power, the ability to take a punch, looks, charisma, audacity and showmanship.

2. Rocky Marciano was a perfect 49-0.

3. Joe Louis was 68-3 with 54 knockouts. He had a record 25 consecutive title defenses and was the heavyweight champion for a record 12 years. Louis is BoxRec’s number six fighter of all time. But more importantly, he was the first African American athlete to be a major celebrity. He was the Jackie Robinson of boxing, or, more correctly, Jackie Robinson was baseball’s Joe Louis.

4. Gene Tunney was 65-1-1, beat Jack Dempsey twice, and was never defeated as a heavyweight.

5. Jack Dempsey is BoxRec’s number four fighter of all time.

6. George Foreman

7. Joe Frazier

8. Sonny Liston was the heavyweight everyone feared, until Ali defeated him twice.

9. Jack Johnson

10. John L. Sullivan

11. Jersey Joe Walcott

12. Larry Holmes

13. Lennox Lewis

14. Evander Holyfield

15. Iron Mike Tyson

16. Max Schmeling

17. Harry Wills aka the Black Panther

18. Wladimir Klitschko

19. Vitali Klitschko

20. Ken Norton was 42-7-1, defeated Muhammad Ali in their first fight, and narrowly lost a split decision to Larry Holmes.

21. Gentleman Jim Corbett

22. Bob Fitzsimmons

23. Riddick Bowe

24. James J. Jeffries

25. Tyson Fury (?)

HONORABLE MENTION: Max Baer, Oscar Bonavena, Jim Braddock, Frank Bruno, George Chuvalo, Randall "Tex" Cobb, Gerry Cooney, Henry Cooper, Jimmy Ellis, Zora Folley, Ingemar Johansson, Ron Lyle, Ray Mercer, Michael Moorer, Tommy Morrison, Floyd Patterson, Jerry Quarry, Jack Sharkey, Earnie Shavers, Teofilo Stevenson, Ernie Terrell, Jess Willard, Jimmy Young

These are the greatest boxers of all time, regardless of weight classification, in my opinion:

1. Muhammad Ali, because he fought and defeated some of the greatest heavyweights of all time: Joe Frazier (twice), Sonny Liston (twice), George Foreman, and a number of other heavyweights often listed among the top 100 boxers. In my opinion, Ali is the greatest boxer ever. He had it all: speed, agility, punching power, the ability to take a punch, looks, charisma, audacity and showmanship.

2. Rocky Marciano was a perfect 49-0.

3. Sugar Ray Robinson was the best boxer for two decades, the 1940s and 1950s, according to Ring Magazine. The original Sugar Ray took on all comers and beat Jake LaMotta, Carmen Basilio, Gene Fullmer, Henry Armstrong, Rocky Graziano, and Kid Gavilan, among others. Sugar Ray is BoxRec’s number one fighter of all time.

4. Joe Louis was 68-3 with 54 knockouts. He had a record 25 consecutive title defenses and was the heavyweight champion for a record 12 years. Louis is BoxRec’s number six fighter of all time. But more importantly, he was the first African American athlete to be a major celebrity. He was the Jackie Robinson of boxing, or, more correctly, Jackie Robinson was baseball’s Joe Louis.

5. Sugar Ray Leonard took on all comers and waged epic wars against three of my top fifteen fighters.

6. Marvelous Marvin Hagler was 62-3-2 with 52 knockouts and victories over two fighters in my top fifteen.

7. Roberto Duran aka Hands of Stone

8. Henry Armstrong is BoxRec’s number two fighter of all time.

9. Gene Tunney was 65-1-1, beat Jack Dempsey twice, and was never defeated as a heavyweight.

10. Jack Dempsey is BoxRec’s number four fighter of all time.

11. Julio César Chávez Sr. won his first 87 fights, finished 108-6-2, and defeated Hector "Macho" Camacho, Edwin Rosario and Greg Haugen, among others.

12. George Foreman

13. Joe Frazier

14. Sonny Liston was the man everyone feared, until Ali defeated him twice.

15. Tommy Hearns aka the Hit Man

16. Harry Greb is BoxRec’s number three fighter of all time.

17. Roy Jones Jr. is the only middleweight to win a share of the heavyweight title. He started at 154 pounds and worked his way up to the titans.

18. Manny Pacquiao aka the Pac Man is the first boxer to win world championships in eight different weight divisions. He started out at 108 pounds and worked his way up by pounding bigger men to pieces.

19. Floyd Mayweather Jr. was undefeated, true, but he didn’t always fight the best fighters and dodged Manny Pacquiao for years.

20. Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker was 40-4-1 and may have been robbed in a losses to Jose Luis Ramirez and Oscar de la Hoya and also in a draw with Julio Cesar Chavez.

21. Alexis Arguello was 77-8 with 62 knockouts, and he was undefeated in his championship defenses in three weight divisions, only relinquishing them in order to move up in weight.

22. Benny Leonard is BoxRec’s number six fighter of all time.

23. Jack Johnson

24. John L. Sullivan

25. Mickey Walker is BoxRec’s number seven fighter of all time.

26. Jake LaMotta

27. Sandy Saddler was 144-16-2 with a staggering 103 knockouts and won three of his four matches with Willie Pep.

28. Willie Pep

29. Sam Langford is BoxRec’s number eight fighter of all time. He is ranked here as a light heavyweight at 185 pounds, not a heavyweight.

30. Joe Gans

31. Archie Moore aka the Old Mongoose (ranked here as a light heavyweight, not a heavyweight)

32. Tony Canzoneri is BoxRec’s number nine fighter of all time.

33. Jimmy Wilde

34. Barney Ross was 72-4-3

35. Jersey Joe Walcott

36. Larry Holmes

37. Lennox Lewis

38. Evander Holyfield

39. Iron Mike Tyson

40. Max Schmeling

41. Billy Conn (ranked here as a light heavyweight, not a heavyweight)

42. Bernard Hopkins

43. Hector Camacho aka Macho Camacho

44. Oscar de la Hoya aka the Golden Boy may have been pretty, but he was a tough hombre who had victories over 17 world champions and claimed 10 world titles of his own.

45. Aaron Pryor

46. Joe Calzaghe

47. Jose Napoles aka Mantequilla (“Butter”)

48. Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini

49. Jimmy McLarnin aka the Baby-Faced Assassin

50. Ted "Kid" Lewis was 192-32-14 and is number 33 on boxing historian Bert Sugar’s list.

HONORABLE MENTION: Riddick Bowe, Jack Britton, Marcel Cerdan, Ezzard Charles, Kid Chocolate, Gentleman Jim Corbett, Johnny Dundee, Tiger Flowers, Tyson Fury, Kid Gavilan, Wilfredo Gomez, Emile Griffith, Greg Haugen, Bob Fitzsimmons, James Jeffries, Eder Jofre, Stanley Ketchel, Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir Klitschko, Ricardo Lopez, "Terrible" Terry McGovern, Carlos Monzon, Ricky Mujica, Azumah Nelson, Ruben Olivares, Jose Luis Ramirez, Edwin Rosario, Salvador Sanchez, Harry Wills, Carlos Zarate

Where would Ali rank in a list of the greatest figures of all time (not including religious figures)? Here again is one man's list: Gates, Buffett, Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt and John D. Rockefeller (#50), Pelé, Gretzky and Babe Ruth (#49), Bob Dylan (#48), Disney, Spielberg, Lucas, Hitchcock and Chaplin (#47), Dante, Cervantes, Chaucer, Dickens, Tolstoy, Verne and Tolkien (#46), Whitney, Watt, Fulton, Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright brothers (#45), Bruno, Bohr and Hawking (#44), Henry Ford (#43), Jane Austen (#42), Kepler (#41), Mendel, Watson and Crick (#40), Muhammad Ali (#39), Gutenberg (#38), Descartes, Pascal and Marx (#37), Beatles (#36), Paine (#35), Nelson Mandela (#34), Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa (#33), Churchill, Roosevelt and Ataturk (#32), Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and Marilyn Monroe (#31), Marco Polo, Columbus, Magellan, Byrd, Cook, Perry, Hillary, Gagarin and Neil Armstrong (#30), William Blake (#29), Whitman and Dickinson (#28), Lincoln (#27), Goethe (#26), Twain (#25), Joan of Arc (#24), Hippocrates, Fleming, Pasteur and Salk (#23), Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, William the Conqueror, Charlemagne, Saladin and Napoleon (#22), Homer and Sappho (#21), Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Picasso (#20), Tesla, Turing, Euclid, Archimedes and Pythagoras (#19), Mozart, Beethoven and Bach (#18), Michelangelo (#17), Shakespeare (#16), Confucius (#15), Aristotle (#14), Plato (#13), Socrates (#12), Darwin (#11), Jefferson, Franklin and Washington (#10), Marie Curie (#9), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (#8), Darwin and Freud (#7), Voltaire and Rousseau (#6), Copernicus and Galileo (#5), Newton (#4), Edison (#3), Gandhi (#2), Einstein (#1)

Confident Man, Confidence Quotes

I hear a lot of talk about old-time great fighters. I hear people say that Joe Lewis, Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, Joe Jeffries and all of them would have annihilated the likes of myself, Muhammad Ali. After watching these films, watching their opponents, watching their styles, watching how they fought, watching their footwork and their speedand my critics will admit that I am the fastest heavyweight in the history of boxing with feet and hands—it may come as a shock to you, but I say that I would have beat every heavyweight that ever lived before me.—Muhammad Ali

Closing Words of Advice

Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you're going to be right.
Muhammad Ali

Related Pages: Marilyn Monroe Poems, Muhammad Ali Poems, Albert Einstein Poems, Abraham Lincoln Poems, Mark Twain Poems, Nelson Mandela Poems, Pope Francis Poems, Ronald Reagan Poems, All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team, The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time, Cincinnati Reds Trivia, Is Mike Trout the GOAT?, Best Baseball Nicknames, Mike Trout Nicknames, Weird Baseball Facts and Trivia, Baseball Hall of Fame: The Best Candidates, Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Big Red Machine Chronology, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Season, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7, Baseball's 100 WAR Leaders, Weird Sports Trivia, Who is the NBA GOAT?, NBA All-Time PPG Leaders, NBA Greatest Scorers, The Best All-Time SEC Basketball Players by Position, The Best Tennessee Vols Basketball Teams and Players of All Time, The Best Poems about Mothers

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