Beyond the Boxing Legacy
As a tribute to The Greatest, we look back on Muhammad Ali Quotes and accomplishments. With the nickname “The Greatest”, Ali is without a doubt one of the greatest boxers this world has seen. To this day, he is the only boxer to be a three-time lineal heavy weight champion, winning the title in 1964, 1974, and 1978. For this, he has been named Fighter of the Year five times by The Ring Magazine (more times than any other boxer in history). But beyond his illustrious boxing career, Ali has made a mark on the world with his bravery, sharp wit, conviction, and philanthropy.
With Ali’s death, we have not only lost one of the greatest boxers in history but a truly upstanding humanitarian in words and action. Read on for some memorable Muhammad Ali quotes, history, and highlights.
Early Start in Boxing
Ali was born January 17, 1942 in the southern state of Louisville, Kentucky, as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. The young Ali discovered boxing at 12 years old with the influence of Joe E. Martin, a boxing coach and local police officer. Martin found a raging Ali who just had his bike stolen and swearing to get back at the thief. The boxing coach, in reply, told him that he had to learn how to box first.
The future legend made his amateur debut in 1954. Notably, he made an impressive run in the amateur boxing circuit with 100 wins and five losses. During his six years as an amateur boxer, Ali garnered six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles and two national Golden Gloves titles. Ali achieved wider recognition when during the 1960 Summer Olympics held in Rome he won the Light Heavyweight gold medal.
The next step was a professional boxing career. With the support of Louisville Sponsoring Group behind him, Ali launched his professional career on October 29, 1960. For the first three years, Ali went on to a record 19 wins and 0 losses. 15 of those wins were by knockout, defeating boxers including Jimi Robinson, Doug Jones, Henry Cooper, and his former trainer Archie Moore.
The young boxer was making a name for himself not just for his fancy footwork and lightning speed, but his quick wit and colorful play with words. In an era when boxers let their managers speak for them, he took to the mic to show that his tongue was just as sharp as his jabs. He made provocative statements against opponents and proclaimed himself “The Greatest.” One of the most popular Muhammad Ali quotes known to man, had him boasting that as a boxer he could, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
It was in 1963 that Ali first cemented his status as a legend after beating then Heavyweight champion Sonny Liston and taking the title for himself. After an intense seven-round bout, Ali was proclaimed winner by TKO and the outspoken boxer proclaimed to reporters, “Eat your words! I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”
Memorable Muhammad Ali Quotes
A man who has no imagination has no wings.
Don't count the days, make the days count. — Muhammad Ali Click To Tweet
Live everyday as if it were your last, because someday you’re going to be right.
Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
It’s not bragging if you can back it up.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
Behind the Boxing Legend
His bold words and tough and polarizing persona however did not reflect what was going on behind the scenes. In his search for spiritual enlightenment, Ali converted to Islam. In 1964, he then joined the Nation of Islam, a national Muslim group. It was from this point that he officially changed his name from Cassius Clay to the now eponymous Muhammad Ali.
Ali would eventually engage in a different kind of battle, one outside the ring. Before there was widespread criticism of the Vietnam War, Ali stood his ground and refused to be drafted to the military in 1967 because it did not align with his religious beliefs. This stance halted his professional career for the next three years as he was not given a boxing license in all states and his passport was stripped from him.
Ali’s professional boxing career may have been put on hold but he continued with his battle outside the ring. As public opposition to the Vietnam War grew, Ali would speak at colleges and criticize the war as well as advocate for African American pride and racial justice.
His vocal criticism against the Vietnam War served as an inspiration for many young citizens, especially young black Americans. Of his actions, New York Times columnist William Rhoden stated, “Ali’s actions changed my standard of what constituted an athlete’s greatness. Possessing a killer jump shot or the ability to stop on a dime was no longer enough. What were you doing for the liberation of your people? What were you doing to help your country live up to the covenant of its founding principles?”
Return to Boxing
It wasn’t until 1971 that his conviction was overturned and Ali was able to get back into the ring. From this point, the world witnessed Ali’s most epic and historical fights. Ali faced off with Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in March 8, 1971, in what was nicknamed the Fight of the Century. This would become Ali’s first professional defeat.
In 1974, Ali travelled all the way to Kinshasa, Zaire for what was nicknamed “The Rumble in the Jungle”, this time facing off with another big name in boxing, George Foreman. At 32, everyone had thought the odds were against Ali but he reigned supreme against Foreman and regained the Heavyweight title via knockout.
Frazier and Ali met each other for the third time for the legendary “Thrilla in Manila”. The fight will go down as one of the greatest boxing fights in history with Ali winning by TKO after Frazier’s trainer didn’t allow him to fight in the final round. Frazier, at that point, had a compromised vision after suffering hits to his eyes in the earlier rounds. After the fight, Ali would proclaim that Frazier was “the greatest fighter of all times next to me”. This win was just one testament to some of the Muhammad Ali quotes above.
Retirement and Philanthropy
After his fight with Trevor Berbick, Muhammad Ali officially retired from boxing in 1981. Outside the ring, his spirit would continue to flare with his philanthropy and humanitarian efforts.
After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Ali dedicated most of his later years to raising funding for research and awareness towards Parkinson’s disease. Through Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, which was headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, he also worked with Michael J Fox in 1998 when the actor was diagnosed with the same degenerative disease as they worked to raise funds for research for a cure.
The legendary boxer also collaborated with the Special Olympics and Make-A-Wish Foundation as well as showed support for developing nations. Continuing his passion for helping those in need, he travelled to various countries, including Morocco, Mexico, Ghana, and Bangladesh. That leading to the United Nations naming him as their Messenger of Peace for his humanitarian efforts. Yet again, this show that Ali practices what he preaches from some of the memorable Muhammad Ali quotes we’ve listed.
When the Muhammad Ali Center was inaugurated in his birthplace of Louisville, Kentucky in 2005, Ali stated:
I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. Many fans wanted to build a museum to acknowledge my achievements. I wanted more than a building to house my memorabilia. I wanted a place that would inspire people to be the best that they could be at whatever they chose to do, and to encourage them to be respectful of one another.
Beyond the Boxing Legacy
On the night of June 3, 2016 and at the age of 74, one of the greatest athletes in the world passed away. Muhammad Ali will be remembered not just for his bravery and skills inside the boxing ring but for his great philanthropic work, humanitarian efforts, and the great courage to stand up for his principles.
Significant timelines that are memorable to the life of Muhammed Ali:
In the next six years, Ali started to make a name of his own by winning six Kentucky Golden Gloves as a champion. He also bagged two titles from the national Golden Gloves and another two crowns from the Amateur Athletic Union.
Even during his rise to stardom, Ali was not spared from racism which was then highly prevalent in the United States. He was refused service from a restaurant that only serves white customers only and he was even engaged in a fight against a white gang. Due to disgust, he threw he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River.
Ali had a taste of defeat once again in 1981 when Trevor Berbick defeated him by unanimous decision. The professional record of Ali’s entire career is 56-5 when he made the decision to completely retire in the same year.
It was this year that he had the honor to light the cauldron by the Olympic torch in an opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic in Atlanta. He also received a second gold medal as a replacement to the one he tossed into the Ohio River 36 years ago.
Pay tribute to The Greatest — share your thoughts or your favorite Muhammad Ali quotes in the comments below.