Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

“It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

Muhammad Ali entertained the world for more than half a century with his legendary one-liners, witticisms and diatribes.

BBC Sport rounds up some of the greatest utterings of ‘The Greatest’, ranging from boxing to politics to religion.

The fights

“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.” After winning Olympic light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Games in Rome.

“Hey Floyd – I seen you! Someday I’m gonna whup you! Don’t you forget, I am the greatest!” To then-world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson during the 1960 Olympic Games.

“Archie’s been living off the fat of the land; I’m here to give him his pension plan.” Before fighting the venerable Archie Moore.

“Sonny Liston is nothing. The man can’t talk. The man can’t fight. The man needs talking lessons. The man needs boxing lessons. And since he’s gonna fight me, he needs falling lessons.” Before fighting world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in February 1964.

“Why, Chump, I bet you scare yourself to death just starin’ in the mirror. You ugly bear! You ain’t never fought nobody but tramps and has-beens. You call yourself a world champion? You’re too old and slow to be champion!”

“I’ll hit Liston with so many punches from so many angles he’ll think he’s surrounded.”

“I shook up the world! I shook up the world!” After beating Liston.

“I’ll beat him so bad, he’ll need a shoehorn to put his hat on.” Before beating Floyd Patterson in 1965.

“You have to give him credit – he put up a good fight for one-and-a-half rounds.” After beating Britain’s Brian London in 1966.

“What’s my name, fool? What’s my name?” To Ernie Terrell during their 1967 fight – Terrell had refused to call him Muhammad Ali.

“I hit Bonavena so hard it jarred his kinfolks all the way back in Argentina.” After beating Oscar Bonavena in December 1970.

“I’m going to do to Buster what the Indians did to Custer.” Before beating Buster Mathis in November 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.” After losing to Ken Norton in 1973.

“You say I’m not the man I was 10 years ago. Well, I talked to your wife and she says you’re not the man you were 10 years ago!” Ali to legendary boxing commentator Howard Cosell.

“I’ve seen George Foreman shadow boxing and the shadow won.” Before knocking out Foreman in their famed ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ clash in 1974.

“I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.” Before the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’

“That all you got, George?” During the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’.

“It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

“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 duels with Frazier

“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 he should donate his face to the US Bureau of Wildlife.”

“Any black person who’s for Joe Frazier is a traitor. The only people rooting for Joe Frazier are white people in suits, Alabama sheriffs and members of the Ku Klux Klan. I’m fighting for the little man in the ghetto.”

“It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila.” Before the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ in 1975.

“I always bring out the best in men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I’ll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I’m gonna tell ya, that’s one helluva man, and God bless him.” After the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, which Ali won.

“I said a lot of things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn’t have said. Called him names I shouldn’t have called him. I apologise for that. I’m sorry. It was all meant to promote the fight.”

The politics

“Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.”

“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it, and I didn’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name, and I insist people using it when speaking to me and of me.”

“Nobody has to tell me that this is a serious business. I’m not fighting one man. I’m fighting a lot of men, showing a lot of ’em, here is one man they couldn’t defeat, couldn’t conquer. My mission is to bring freedom to 30m black people.” Before Ali’s fight against Jerry Quarry in 1970.

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky. My name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me.”

“We were brought here 400 years ago for a job. Why don’t we get out and build our own nation and quit begging for jobs? We’ll never be free until we own our own land. We’re 40m people and we don’t have two acres that’s truly ours.”

“I’m gonna fight for the prestige, not for me, but to uplift my little brothers who are sleeping on concrete floors today in America. Black people who are living on welfare, black people who can’t eat, black people who don’t know no knowledge of themselves, black people who don’t have no future.”

“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.”

“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.” In the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.

On refusing to serve in the United States Army:

“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?”

“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger.”

“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.”

The character

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”

“I am the greatest!”

“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 skilfullest fighter in the ring today.”

“People don’t realise what they had until it’s gone. Like President Kennedy, nobody like him. Like The Beatles, there will never be anything like them. Like my man, Elvis Presley. I was the Elvis of boxing.”

“I don’t want to fight to be an old man… I’m gonna only fight five or six years, make me two or three million dollars and quit fighting.”

“It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”

“The fact is, I was never too bright in school. I ain’t ashamed of it, though. I mean, how much do school principal’s make a month? I said I was ‘The Greatest’, I never said I was the smartest!”

“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.”

“When you can whip any man in the world, you never know peace.”

“A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

“Champions aren’t made in gyms, champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

“If you even dream of beating me, you better wake up and apologise.”

“I love to see my name where everyone can read it. Someday I’m gonna see it in bright, bright lights.”

“I won’t miss fighting – fighting will miss me.”

“Superman don’t need no seatbelt.”

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”

“Maybe my Parkinson’s is God’s way of reminding me what is important. It slowed me down and caused me to listen rather than talk. Actually, people pay more attention to me now because I don’t talk as much.”

“I always liked to chase the girls. Parkinson’s stops all that. Now I might have a chance to go to heaven.”

“Will they ever have another fighter who writes poems, predicts rounds, beats everybody, makes people laugh, makes people cry and is as tall and extra pretty as me?”

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