In his life, Muhammad Ali taunted opponents with razor-sharp rhymes and comical one-liners. But his quotes on achievement, social justice, religion and war made him an iconic cultural figure. Here are some of his most famous quotes:
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble.” – Ali, before a fight with Sonny Liston in 1964.
“I’m king of the world! I’m pretty! I’m a bad man! I shook up the world! I shook up the world! I shook up the world!” – Ali after beating Liston.
“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, hospitalised a brick. I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.” – After his match against George Foreman, known as the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974.
“All I can do is fight for truth and justice. I can’t save anybody. He’s a science fiction character, and I’m a real character.” – Ali at a news conference to announce a comic book in which he beats Superman.
“What I suffered physically was worth what I’ve accomplished in life. A man who is not courageous enough to take risks will never accomplish anything in life.” – Ali at a news conference on October 28, 1984.
“It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” – undated.
“Hey Floyd – I seen you! Someday I’m gonna whup you! Don’t you forget, I am the greatest!” Ali to heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson during the 1960 Olympic Games.
Muhammad Ali also spoke boldly against the war in Vietnam and refused conscription into the army. This is Ali’s famous explanation of why he refused to serve in the United States Army:
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand 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?” Ali, February, 17, 1966.
Muhammad Ali was thus convicted of draft evasion, and the US government tried to send him to prison. But the US Supreme Court later overturned the charges. Muhammad Ali praised God on hearing the news.
“I’ve done my celebrating already. I said a prayer to Allah.” Ali, June 28, 1971
“They did what they thought was right, and I did what I thought was right.”
On racism and Islam
Muhammad Ali was an outspoken Muslim convert, and he became the unofficial spokesman for millions of blacks and oppressed people around the world. In Seattle for a benefit for Sugar Ray Seales, he famously said:
“People say I talk so slow today. That’s no surprise. I calculated I’ve taken 29,000 punches. But I earned $57 million and I saved half of it. So I took a few hard knocks. Do you know how many black men are killed every year by guns and knives without a penny to their names? I may talk slow, but my mind is OK.” – Ali, January 20, 1984.
“Why are all the angels white? Why ain’t there no black angels?” – Ali at a church in 1983.
“My name is known in Serbia, Pakistan, Morocco. These are countries that don’t follow the Kentucky Derby.” – Ali in a New York Times interview, April 1977.
Since the Paris attacks, Muhammad Ali spoke out against the incrimination of Islam with ISIL attacks:
“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.” – Ali, 2015.