American boxer, philanthropist and activist
- 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.
- Before his fight with Archie Moore (1962), as quoted in "Muhammad Ali was also great for civil rights" by Mark Wiedmer, in Times Free Press (17 January 2012)
- 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 a matter of time till Clay lowers the boom.
Now Clay lands with a right, what a beautiful swing,
And the punch raises the Bear clean out of the ring.
Liston is still rising and the ref wears a frown,
For he can't start counting till Sonny goes down.
Now Liston is disappearing from view, the crowd is going frantic,
But 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 put up the money,
That they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.
- Poem composed prior to his match with Sonny Liston, in 1963, as quoted in "Brash Clay waxed poetic in 1963 visit to Nashville" by Bill Traughber in Nashville's The CIty Paper (4 June 2002)
- Variant transcription: Who would have thought, when they came to the fight,
that they'd witness a launchin' of a black satellite.
- This is the legend of Cassius Clay,
The most beautiful fighter in the world today.
He talks a great deal, and brags indeed-y,
Of a muscular punch that's incredibly speed-y.
The fistic world was dull and weary,
But with a champ like Liston, things had to be dreary.
Then someone with color and someone with dash,
Brought fight fans a-runnin' with cash.
This brash young boxer is something to see
And the heavyweight championship is his destiny.
- I am the man this poem’s about,
I’ll be champ of the world, there isn’t a doubt.
Here I predict Mr. Liston’s dismemberment,
I’ll hit him so hard; he’ll wonder where October and November went.
When I say two, there’s never a third,
Standin against me is completely absurd.
When Cassius says a mouse can outrun a horse,
Don’t ask how; put your money where your mouse is!
I AM THE GREATEST!
- "I am the Greatest" (1964)
- I knew I had him in the first round. Almighty God was with 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, and I upset Sonny Liston, and I just turned twenty-two years old. I must be the greatest. I showed the world. I talk to God everyday. I know the real God. I shook up the world, I'm the king of the world. You must listen to me. I am the greatest! I can't be beat!
- After defeating Sonny Liston for the first time (25 February 1964) as quoted in Sound and Fury : Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship (2007) by Dave Kindred, p. 58
- Variant transcription: I'm the greatest thing that ever lived. I'm so great I don't have a mark on my face. I shook up the world.
- As quoted in "When Clay shook up the world" (24 February 2004)
- 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.
- Regarding the Vietnam War and conscription (1967)
- Part of this is frequently paraphrased out of context as: No VietCong/Vietnamese ever called me [a] nigger, perhaps due to 1968 documentary film with that title, as documented in Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations (1993) by Ralph Keyes and in The Yale Book of Quotations (2006) by Fred R. Shapiro.
- I'm not gonna help nobody get something my negroes don't have. If I'm gonna die, I'll die now right here fighting you, if I'm gonna die. You my enemy. My enemies are white people, not Viet Congs or Chinese or Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. You won't even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs, and you want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won't even stand up for me here at home.
- I think Terrell will catch hell at the sound of the bell.
He's going around saying that he's a championship-fighter,
but when he meets me he fall 20 pound lighter.
He thinks that he's the real heavy weight champ
but when he meets me, he'll just be a tramp
Now I'm not sayin' just to be funny, but I'm fightin' Ernie because he needs the money.
- All kinds of things set us back, but life goes on. You don’t shoot yourself. Soon this will be old news. People got lives to live, bills to pay, mouths to feed. Maybe a plane will go down with ninety people on it. Or a great man will be assassinated. That will be more important than Ali losing. I never wanted to lose, never thought I would, but the thing that matters is how you lose. I’m not crying. My friends should not cry.
- Ain't no reason for me to kill nobody in the ring, unless they deserve it.
- Comment after the match with Jimmy Ellis was stopped by the referee in the twelfth round (July 1971)
- I never thought of losing, but now that it's happened, the only thing is to do it right. That's my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.
- Statement before his fight with George Foreman (31 March 1973)
- Last night I had a dream, When I got to Africa,
I had one hell of a rumble.
I had to beat Tarzan’s behind first,
For claiming to be King of the Jungle.
For this fight, I’ve wrestled with alligators,
I’ve tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning
And throw thunder in jail.
You know I’m bad.
just last week, I murdered a rock,
Injured a stone, Hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.
I’m so fast, man,
I can run through a hurricane and don't get wet.
When George Foreman meets me,
He’ll pay his debt.
I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree.
Wait till you see Muhammad Ali.
- I've got a lot of white associates. Elijah Muhammad, is the one who preached that the white man of America, number one, is the Devil. He's been preaching — he never mentioned England. England's people have never lynched us, raped us, castrated us, tarred and feathered us, burned us up, pulled our sockets apart, stick knives in pregnant women's stomachs, enslaved us, rob us of our names, our knowledge, our — Elijah Mohammad's been preaching that the white man of America – God taught him – is the blue-eyed, blond-headed Devil! No good in him, no justice, he's gonna be destroyed! His rule is over. He is the Devil!
- interview with Michael Parkinson (1974), quoted in Adam Lusher, "'The white man is the devil' – what the Nation of Islam taught Muhammad Ali", _The Independent_ (June 5, 2016)
- If you were surprised when Nixon resigned, just watch what happens when I whup Foreman's behind!
- Comment prior to the "Rumble in the Jungle" (30 October 1974) as documented in When We Were Kings (1996)
- You been hearing about how bad I am since you were a little kid with mess in your pants! Tonight, I'm gonna whip you till you cry like a baby.
- To George Foreman before the start of the "Rumble in the Jungle" as the referee is giving them instructions (30 October 1974).
- That's the only way you gonna save this sucker. He's doomed.
- Comment prior to the "Rumble in the Jungle" about George Foreman prior to the fight, when referee Clayton warned Ali that if he didn't stop talking he would stop the fight. (30 October 1974)
- The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.
- Interview in Playboy magazine (November 1975)
- I hated every minute of it. But I said to myself, 'Suffer now, and live the rest of your life as a champion'.
- On training, as quoted in "Ali: Born Again!" by Pete Axthelm and Peter Bonventre, Newsweek (25 September 1978)
- Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are.
- As quoted in Jet magazine Vol. 58, No. 1 (August 1992)
- Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.
- As quoted in Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties (1999) by Mike Marqusee; also quoted in the International Socialist Review Issue 33 (January–February 2004)
- If Ali says a mosquito can pull a plow, don't ask how. Hitch him up.
- Religions all have different names, but they all contain the same truths. … I think the people of our religion should be tolerant and understand people believe different things.
- When asked how he felt about the suspects in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks sharing his Islamic faith
- As quoted in "Bush: 'Justice Will Be Done'" at CNN (20 September 2001)
- What's really hurting me, the name Islam is involved, and Muslim is involved and causing trouble and starting hate and violence. … Islam is not a killer religion. … Islam means peace, I couldn't just sit home and watch people label Muslims as the reason for this problem.
- As quoted in "Muhammad Ali Defends His Religion" by Lisa L. Colangelo and Clem Richardson in New York Daily News (21 September 2001), p. 34
- I'm retiring because there are more pleasant things to do than beat up people.
- As quoted in Secrets of Power Persuasion for Salespeople (2003) by Roger Dawson , p. 192
- It's a lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself.
- As quoted in 101 Best Ways to Get Ahead (2004) edited by Michael E. Angier, with Sarah Pond, p. 59
- Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head.
- Frazier is so ugly that he should donate his face to the US Bureau of Wildlife.
- As quoted in "Ali's Quotes" at BBC Sport : Boxing (17 January 2007)
- It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.
- As quoted in "Ali's Quotes" at BBC Sport : Boxing (17 January 2007)
- I'm not the greatest; I'm the double greatest. Not only do I knock 'em out, I pick the round
- As quoted in "Ali's Quotes" at BBC Sport : Boxing (17 January 2007)
- Allah is the Greatest. I'm just the greatest boxer.
- As quoted in "Interview with Muhammad Ali" at SoundVision.com
- I'd like for them to say he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then, he mix willlingness with happiness, he added lots of faith, and he stired it up well, then he spreads it over his span of a lifetime, and he served it to each and every deserving person he met.
- Friendship is a priceless gift that cannot be bought nor sold, but its value is far greater than a mountain made of gold; for gold is cold & lifeless - it can neither see nor hear, in time of trouble its powerless to cheer — it has no ears to listen, no heart to understand, it cannot bring you comfort or reach out a helping hand. So when you ask God for a gift, be thankful if sends not diamonds, pearls or riches but the love of real true friends.
- I believe in Allah and in peace. I don't try to move into white neighborhoods. I don't want to marry a white woman. I was baptized when I was twelve, but I didn't know what I was doing. I'm not a Christian anymore. 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.
- I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world... True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion... We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda... They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.
Interview with David Frost (1974)
- David Frost: What would you like people to think about you when you've gone?
Muhammad Ali: I'd like for them to say:
He took a few cups of love.
He took one tablespoon of patience,
One teaspoon of generosity,
One pint of kindness.
He took one quart of laughter,
One pinch of concern.
And then, he mixed willingness with happiness.
He added lots of faith,
And he stirred it up well.
Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime,
And he served it to each and every deserving person he met.
The Soul of a Butterfly (2004)
- The Soul of a Butterfly : Reflections on Life's Journey (2004) (written with Hana Yasmeen Ali) ISBN 0743255690
- Over the years my religion has changed and my spirituality has evolved. Religion and spirituality are very different, but people often confuse the two. Some things cannot be taught, but they can be awakened in the heart. Spirituality is recognizing the divine light that is within us all. It doesn't belong to any particular religion; it belongs to everyone.
- p. xvi
- We all have the same God, we just serve him differently. Rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, oceans all have different names, but they all contain water. So do religions have different names, and they all contain truth, expressed in different ways forms and times. It doesn't matter whether you're a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew. When you believe in God, you should believe that all people are part of one family. If you love God, you can't love only some of his children.
- p. xvii
- My soul has grown over the years, and some of my views have changed. As long as I am alive, I will continue to try to understand more because the work of the heart is never done. All through my life I have been tested. My will has been tested, my courage has been tested, my strength has been tested. Now my patience and endurance are being tested. Every step of the way I believe that God has been with me. And, more than ever, I know that he is with me now. I have learned to live my life one step, one breath, and one moment at a time, but it was a long road. I set out on a journey of love, seeking truth, peace and understanding. l am still learning.
- p. xix
- Wouldn't it be a beautiful world if just 10 percent of the people who believe in the power of love would compete with one another to see who could do the most good for the most people? So many of us enjoy taking part in competitions, why not hold a competition of love instead of one that leads to jealousy and envy? If we continue to think and live as if we belong only to different cultures and different religions, with separate missions and goals, we will always be in self-defeating competition with each other.
- p. xxiii
- Once we realize we are all members of humanity, we will want to compete in the spirit of love.
In a competition of love we would not be running against one another, but with one another. We would be trying to gain victory for all humanity. If I am a faster runner than you, you may feel bad seeing me pass you in the race, but if you know that we are both racing to make our world better, you will feel good knowing that we are racing toward a common goal, a mutual reward.
In a competition of love we'll all share in the victory, no matter who comes first.
- p. xxiv
- To make America the greatest is my goal,
So I beat the Russians, and I beat the Pole,
and for the USA won the medal of gold.
Italians said: "You're Greater 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.
- Poem written after winning the gold medal in the 1960 Olympic Summer Games in Rome, Italy, p. 35
- Since I won't let the critics seal my fate, they
keep hollering I'm full of hate.
But they don't really hurt me none, 'cause
I'm doing good and having fun.
- "Still the Greatest", p. 109
- There live a great man named Joe
who was belittled by a loudmouth foe.
While his rival would taunt and tease
Joe silently bore the stings.
And then fought like gladiator in the ring.
- "The Silent Warrior", dedicated to Joe Frazier and his family, p. 112
- For every struggle that Joe survived,
For every dispute he endured, to rise,
Joe will go down in history
as a model for champions to come. While Frazier was a man of few words, Ali was a world of mouth, but he found his place in history. Now his heart can express him well. Joe Frazier was a silent warrior, whom Ali silently admired. One could not rise without the other.
- "The Silent Warrior", p. 114
Quotes about Ali
- Clay showed me that I'll get locked up for murder if we're ever matched.
- Sonny Liston, as quoted in "Cassius Clay Booed As He Gets Decision Over Jones; No More Forecasts" by Murray Rose (AP), in The Gettysburg Times (March 14, 1963), p. 5.
- The big fight is coming up – Ali and Frazier. I call him Muhammad Ali 'cause that's what he wants. Oh, yeah, he's a big dude and he hits hard, you know, I'll call him what he wants. But it's good that he's being allowed to work again, as you know he couldn't work for three years. Of course, he had a strange job, beating people up. But that was his right, he could have that job. The government wanted him to change jobs. The government wanted him to kill people. He thought it over and he said: "No, that's where I draw the line. Uh, I'll beat 'em up, but I don't wanna kill 'em." And the government told him: "Well, if you won't kill 'em, we won't let ya beat 'em up!"
- George Carlin, Ed Sullivan Show, 1971
- I hit him so hard that I made him cry. He looked at me and said, "I'm going to get you for that." I respected him then, and I respect him now.
- Clay is a good enough fighter, but it's unfortunate that he's a Black Muslim. A champion should represent all sects, not one.
- Joe Louis, as quoted in "'Living legend' still commands respect of peers" by Andrew Baker in The Daily Telegraph (15 January 2002)
- I'd like to borrow his body for just forty-eight hours — there are three guys I'd like to beat up, and four women I'd like to make love to.
- Jim Murray, quoted in Sportsworld : An American Dreamland (1975) by Robert Lipsyte
- Clay is so young and has been misled by the wrong people... He might as well have joined the Ku Klux Klan.
- Under the influence of Elijah Mohammad — who preached that blacks should refuse to integrate with "white devils" — Ali made a point of dating only black women and lashed out at men and women who engaged in interracial sex. In an interview with Playboy, he declared: "A black man should be killed if he's messing with a white woman." When the interviewer asked about black women crossing the colour barrier, Ali responded: "Then she dies. Kill her, too."
It's unlikely that a white athlete who made such remarks would receive the praise that Michael Mann heaps on Ali. He says that the fighter "personified racial pride and self-knowledge". The Playboy journalist, who interviewed the boxer, was closer to the mark when he observed of his subject: "You're beginning to sound like a carbon copy of a white racist." … The transformation of Ali from a great fighter to a celebrated man of conscience and social purpose has succeeded so well because the actual history of his career has been altered to reflect the kinder, gentler man of today. Unpleasant remarks or facts from the past have been swept away or excused. … A more historically accurate appraisal of Ali would conclude that he was far from heroic outside the ring and was pitifully misused by his masters in the Nation of Islam. For his purposes, Elijah hijacked the impressionable young man's career and filled his head with racist nonsense.
By the time he finally broke free of the old Nation of Islam, in the 1970s, his career was in its last stages. He continued to fight long past his prime, in part to recover the money and time he had lost in his misadventures with the Black Muslims.
- In the early 1970s Muhammad Ali fought for the heavyweight title against George Foreman. The fight was held in the African nation of Zaire; it was insensitively called the "rumble in the jungle." Ali won the fight, and upon returning to the United States, he was asked by a reporter, "Champ, what did you think of Africa?" Ali replied, "Thank God my granddaddy got on that boat!" There is a characteristic mischievous pungency to Ali's remark, yet it also expresses a widely held sentiment. Ali recognizes that for all the horror of slavery, it was the transmission belt that brought Africans into the orbit of Western freedom. The slaves were not better off—the boat Ali refers to brought the slaves through a horrific Middle Passage to a life of painful servitude—yet their descendants today, even if they won't admit it, are better off. Ali was honest enough to admit it.
- Dinesh D'Souza, America: Imagine a World without Her (2014), Ch. 8. Most likely a misattribution. A Newsweek article at the time of the match attributed the quote "Thank God our grandpappies caught that boat!" to George Foreman's manager Dick Sadler. "It Takes a Heap of Salongo", Newsweek (September 23, 1974), p. 72.
- When I came to the stage on election night to give my acceptance speech[, a]fter thanking my supporters, I'd said this: "You know, it was back in '64 that a hero and an idol of mine beat Sonny Liston. He shocked the world. Well, now it's 1998 and the American dream lives on in Minnesota 'cause we SHOCKED THE WORLD!" Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, had been that hero and idol of mine growing up. I was at the impressionable age of twelve or thirteen, and naturally boxers are the epitome of toughness. Along came Muhammad, who broke the mold, reciting his poetry and predicting in what round he would win. Up until then, athletes were supposed to be modest people who were blessed by the Lord for having these wonderful physical bodies. Now here was this flashy, charismatic young black man proclaiming how pretty he was. Black men in America had never been pretty! [...] I had Clay's record album, I Am the Greatest! I'd memorized it. So I was ecstatic when Liston failed to come out for the eighth round. I always remembered Clay screaming, "We shocked the world!" after the fight, and that's all I could think of when I went out for my acceptance speech. Not long after this, I was in the transition office of the Capitol when on my schedule appeared the name Harvey Mackay. [...] Harvey came walking in with a big gift-wrapped box, and I was thinking, "What the heck could this be about?" Setting the box down, he said, "You'd better open that, governor." Inside was a pair of red Everlast boxing gloves and, written in magic marker on one of them was: "To Governor Jesse Ventura—You Shocked the World. Muhammad Ali." I was stunned. Harvey told me that Muhammad was watching TV the night I won. Harvey then set it up for us to go visit Muhammad on his farm in Berrien Springs, Michigan. [...] We spent a whole afternoon with Muhammad. It was a dream come true for me to be sitting on a couch with the Champ, creating a friendship. His wife, Lonnie, told me that he'd barely slept the night before, he was so excited I was coming. I was awestruck—Muhammad Ali, excited to see me? As the world knows, Muhammad suffers today from Parkinson's disease. So you do most of the talking, and he answers more with his eyes. We walked out to his gym and got in the ring together. [...] It was there that Harvey talked me into reciting "I Am the Greatest" from the record album. [...] I hadn't heard that album for thirty years, but I did the whole thing from memory. Muhammad was standing next to me and, when I finished, I could see a tear in his eye. Isn't it ironic that a white kid from south Minneapolis would have a black Muslim for a hero? Some people have said to me, "How can you, being a Vietnam veteran, look up to a guy like him who refused induction into military service?" My response is, "Because Muhammad is a man who gave up everything for his convictions. He was willing to sacrifice the greatest title in the world for his beliefs." You know damned well that Ali would never have seen Vietnam. He'd have done his boxing exhibitions on the military bases. But he wasn't going to play that game. I have tremendous respect for that. Something I noticed when I walked into his home: On a shelf in his living room, in equal prominence, are the Koran and the Bible. Obviously, they both carry a deep meaning for him. I imagine he reads both. For people who don't believe that Ali truly believes, they're wrong. Like I said, he's a man of conviction. Always has been, and always will be.
- Jesse Ventura, Don't Start the Revolution Without Me! (2008), pp. 60–63