Muhammad Ali's best quotes: 'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee'
The boxer wasn’t known as the Louisville Lip for nothing. Following his death in the US on Friday, here are Ali’s sharpest verbal jabs and most withering putdowns
Muhammad Ali - referred to by some as the Louisville Lip - had a way with words that few sports personalities have come close to rivalling.
Journalists over the decades have faced an uphill battle trying to out-word the boxer, given that he usually did a far better job of describing himself or his opponents than they could.
Selecting the best quotes from the millions of words Ali uttered at lightning speed during his career is a challenge, but here are some of the best known, along with a few that are less well remembered.
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.”
It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”
He even penned a poem before taking on Sonny Liston in 1964:
...now Clay swings with a right, what a beautiful swingAnd raises the bear straight out of the ring;Liston is rising and the ref wears a frownFor he can’t start counting ‘til Liston comes down;Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting franticBut our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic;Who would have thought when they came to the fightThat they’d witness the launching of a human satellite?Yes the crowd did not dream when they laid down their moneyThat they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.”
A 1967 quote reproduced in Hunter S Thompson’s 1978 Rolling Stone feature:
When I’m gone, boxing will be nothing again. The fans with the cigars and the hats turned down’ll be there, but no more housewives and little men in the street and foreign presidents. It’s goin’ to be back to the fighter who comes to town, smells a flower, visits a hospital, blows a horn and says he’s in shape. Old hat. I was the onliest boxer in history people asked questions like a senator.”
Sometimes there was even a touch of humility:
There are no pleasures in a fight, but some of my fights have been a pleasure to win.”
The Rumble in the Jungle, 1974
Float like a butterfly sting like a bee – his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”
And in an equally famous boast:
I done something new for this fight. I wrestled with an alligator. I tussled with a whale. I handcuffed lightning, I 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.”Champions aren’t made in the 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.”
I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and got into bed before the room was dark.”
The Thrilla in Manilla, 1975
I saw your wife. You’re not as dumb as you look.”
Better remembered, perhaps, is this line:
It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller, when I get the gorilla in Manila.”
Ali also strayed into the political arena after refusing to serve in the US army during the Vietnam war. His explanation?
I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong”
Of the US government’s attempts to jail him for draft-dodging, he said:
They did what they thought was right, and I did what I thought was right.”
And after being convicted of draft-dodging in 1970, in one of his most famous lines, he said:
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.”
Many of his comments referred explicitly to race and the treatment of black people in the US:
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.”
Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.”
I may not talk perfect white talk-type English, but I give you wisdom.”
Name change, 1964
Later in life
He maintained his sharp tongue despite the toll that boxing had taken on his body:
People say I talk so slow today. That’s no surprise. I calculated I’ve taken 29,000 punches. But I earned $57m 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.”
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.”
A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
I’m not afraid of dying. I have faith; I do everything I can to live my life right; and I believe that dying will bring me closer to God.”
Live every day like it’s your last, because someday you’re going to be right.”