The Best Muhammad Ali Poems, Songs, Epigrams, Quotes, Jokes, Anecdotes, Nicknames and Trivia
This is 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,"
and "Watch Out!" If you want to read Ali's best poems as he recited them himself, I think you've
found the right webpage. I have also 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 that 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
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 best 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.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.
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, as
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.
I shook up the world!
—Muhammad Ali, after defeating the seemingly invincible Sonny Liston; and
indeed he did!
It's just a job.
waves pound the sand.
I beat people up.
—Muhammad Ali, describing himself as a sort of inevitable natural
force in free verse
Whee! —Muhammad Ali, describing himself in a rhymed tercet
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
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.
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.
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 later said that he threw his gold medal into the Ohio river after being denied
service at a hometown restaurant due to his race: something I address in my poem "Ali's Song" ...
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.
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
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,
Poem List and in a YouTube video by Lillian Y. Wong.
Ali admiring himself in the mirror.
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
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, Clay 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 throwd thunder in jail.
Those are strong, memorable lines that many modern rappers and performance poets
would be very happy with. Clay 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 Presley
was to popular music, Cassius Clay was to boxing, except that Elvis only
sounded black, while Clay was black!
Clay 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
I like your show
and I like your style,
but your pay's so bad
I won't be back for a while!
Ali also mentioned to Joe Namath that he had a "nice time" beating everyone up
and taking the world title!
In 1961, Clay 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.
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, Clay brashly predicted that he would knock out Archie Moore, the winner
of over 180 professional fights, in the fourth round:
MOORE IN FOUR
—Muhammad Ali, written on a chalkboard in his dressing room before the
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.
Clay's prediction proved prophetic and he knocked out Moore in the fourth round.
Clay 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.
However, Cooper did manage to hit Ali with a perfectly-timed-and-leveraged left
hook that lifted Clay off his feet and left him wondering where he was, and
perhaps momentarily who he was. Fortunately for Clay and unfortunately
for Cooper, the end-of-round ring sounded seconds after the haymaker landed. The
ever-eloquent Clay 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.
Clay 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."
his detractors accused him of arrogance, he had the perfect response:
It ain't bragging if you can back it up.
Muhammad Ali in his prime in 1970, waiting for a chance to reclaim his
In 1964, at age 22, Cassius Clay prepared to meet world heavyweight
champion Sonny Liston in a title match. Liston was a 7-1 favorite. Clay 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.
As Ali told Howard Cosell:
If you want to lose your money,
bet on Sonny!
Here's a humorous Ali prediction about the Liston fight:
Now Clay swings with a right, what a beautiful swing!
And the punch raises the Bear clear out of the ring.
Liston is 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 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 lay down their money
That they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.
I am the greatest!
Clay won the world heavyweight championship in a major upset. Following the win,
a triumphant Clay rushed to the edge of the ring and, pointing at the ringside
Eat your words!
I am the greatest!
I shook up the world!
I'm the prettiest thing that ever lived!
I'm king of the world!
When told by Joe Louis that Liston had retired due to a "left arm thrown out of
its socket," the brash, ever-quick Clay quipped, "Yeah, swinging at nothing, who
Shortly thereafter, in 1964 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."
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.
Ali also called Patterson the "rabbit" in this pun: "I'm gonna fight the rabbit
in the Garden."
When boxer Ernie Terrell refused to refer to him by his new name in a 1967
match, Ali beat him unmercifully, screaming "What's my name?"
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.
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!
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!
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 religion, not yours.
My goals, my own.
Get used to me.
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.
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 then fought Joe Frazier for the heavyweight
championship in Madison Square Garden, in 1971. Before the fight, Ali riffed on Smokin' Joe Frazier's nickname:
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!
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
After losing to Frazier in their first match, Ali started agitating for a
The new tramp,
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.
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
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.
I've seen George Foreman shadow boxing. And the shadow won.
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
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 ...
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 ...
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 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
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!
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!
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,
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
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 Cosellsounded 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
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
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
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
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 mischeviously.
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?"
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."
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.
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
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)
Muhammad Ali lights the Olympic flame at the 1996 Atlanta games.
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
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
I hear a lot of talk about old-time great fighters; I hear people say that
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.
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"
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
(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
(4) Ali embodies and exemplifies "black is beautiful" for millions of people, if
(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
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
Other things you may not know about Muhammad Ali: (1) He was an accomplished magician.
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
This poem tells how it feels to be as great as me.
This is it, the greatest short poem of all time: me!
Whee! —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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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 glad
the 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 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
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 thetoptens.com, 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
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 Heavyweight
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.
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 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
Closing Words of Advice
Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you're going to be right.