20 of the Most Memorable Muhammad Ali Quotes

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1960 Olympic podium
Cassius Clay on the Olympic podium in 1960 | Wikimedia

Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., was an inspiring, controversial, and polarizing figure whether he was inside the ring or out. He was audacious, brash, outspoken and arrogant; yet he was beloved by many. Muhammad Ali quotes still dominate conversation in many circles; often without us knowing who we are quoting. Here is a quick look at Ali’s career highlights and his activism followed by a few of the Muhammad Ali quotes that you may hear from time to time.

Ali began boxing at the age of 12, winning Olympic gold in the light heavyweight division of the 1960 Summer Olympic games in Rome. He was only 18. By 22 he had won the WBA and WBC heavyweight titles from Sonny Liston in what many boxing historians consider to be the greatest upset of all time. Ali is the only heavyweight boxer to be a three-time lineal champion, taking the title in 1964, 1974, and 1978. Ali was a participant in several of the best known bouts in the history of boxing. Among those fights were the ”Fight of the Century” against Sonny Liston; ”Super Fight II” and the ”Thirlla in Manila” against Smokin’ Joe Frazier; and ”The Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman. He was named Fighter of the Year by The Ring magazine six times, the greatest athlete of all time by Sports Illustrated, and the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC.

Ali’s first turn in the spotlight as a political activist came in 1964 when he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali in order to shed his ”slave name” and to honor his conversion to Islam. By doing so, he hoped to encourage African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement of the era. In 1966, he refused to be drafted into the Army, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. He was stripped of his boxing titles after being convicted of draft dodging. His actions as a conscientious objector made him an icon within the counterculture of the 1960s.

Muhammad Ali was a polarizing figure throughout the civil rights movement of the 1960s and his entire career. Read on for some memorable Muhammad Ali quotes.

Ali in 1967
Muhammad Ali in 1967 | Wikimedia
ali by skeed
Ali by Skeed |

1. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.”

ali caricature
An Ali caricature | Wikimedia
Muhammad Ali in stance
Ali in a boxing stance |

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

ali vs ryu
Ali vs. Ryu | Wikimedia
ali and don king
Illustration of Ali and Don King |

3. “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

medal of freedom
Medal of Freedom awarded to Ali | Wikimedia
ali and jackson
Ali and Jesse Jackson |

4. “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it — then I can achieve it.”

According to Associated Press archives, Jesse Jackson said this in 1983, but Ali repeated it in his book in 2004.

Ali by warhol
Painting of Ali by Andy Warhol |
Ali and Howard Cosell
Ali with Howard Cosell |

5. “It’s not bragging if you can back it up!”

ali and fan
Ali and a fan | Wikimedia

6. “Don’t count the days; make the days count.”

ali and bush
Ceremony for the Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom |
wax statue of Ali
Wax statue of Muhammad Ali | Wikimedia

7. “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”

Ali's boxing gloves
A pair of Ali’s boxing gloves | Wikimedia
wheaties box
Wheaties box featuring Ali |

8. “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

book cover
Book cover featuring Ali |
ali in the ring
Ali in the ring | Wikimedia

9. “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

ali with reagan
Ali with President Reagan | Wikimedia
ali chinmoy
Ali with Sri Chinmoy | Wikimedia

10. “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

painting of ali
Painting of Ali by John Stango | Wikimedia
ali in 1960
Ali in 1960 | Wikimedia

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

A photo of Ali in later years | Wikimedia
Muhammad Ali
Ali giving an interview | Wikimedia

12. “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ ”

Muhammad Ali with a fan
Ali loved his fans | Wikimedia
mural of ali and Prince
Mural of Ali and Prince | Wikimedia

13. “I’ve wrestled with alligators. I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning. And thrown thunder in jail.”

ali signs autographs
Ali in Volendam | Wikimedia
street sign
Street sign in Newark, N.J. | Wikimedia

14. “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”

Elijah Muhammad and Cassius Clay
Cassius Clay and Elijah Muhammad | Wikimedia
muhammad ali
Muhammad Ali |

15. “A man who has no imagination has no wings.”

eagle takes flight
A bald eagle takes flight |
Ali collage
Muhammad Ali collage |

16. “I’m the most recognized and loved man that ever lived ‘cuz there weren’t no satellites when Jesus and Moses were around, so people far away in the villages didn’t know about them.”

ali waiting before a speech
Ali waiting to hear Elijah Muhammad speak |
ali wiht curt anderson
Muhammad Ali being interviewed by Curt Anderson | Wikimedia

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

ali/liston fight
The first Ali/Liston championship fight | Wikimedia
be your own dream
Inspirational sign |

18. “Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”

Muhammad Ali
Ali wearing his Gold medal |
Ali screams during an interview.
Ali during an interview |

19. “I am the astronaut of boxing. Joe Louis and Dempsey were just jet pilots. I’m in a world of my own.”

Ali hamming it up
Ali hamming during an interview | USA Today
ali and family
Muhammad Ali with his family | Wikimedia

20. “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.”

Ali as champion
Ali, hands lifted in victory | USA Today