On June 3, 2016, legendary boxer, hero to many, and persevering personality Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74, according to Us Weekly. Ali was surrounded by friends and family when he died in his hospital bed. The heavyweight champion was certainly a legend inside the ring, but Ali’s legend extends well outside and into the realm of wisdom, as well. Muhammad Ali was known for succinctly explaining ideas in easy to understand, memorable quotes. Ali was also known for possessing an incredibly quick wit, and a smoothness and eloquence as well.
Much of Ali’s wisdom came in the form of boxing advice and metaphors, and arguably some of his most famous quotes fall into this category.
“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 he won’t”
The quote was in the context of Muhammad Ali’s upcoming fight with George Foreman, another boxer of note.
Ali didn’t shy away from life advice, and he didn’t sugar coat it either. Never afraid to put someone in their place, the former Cassius Clay, who chose the name Muhammad for himself, was often harsh and unforgiving, but at the same time presented a message of hope and potential.
“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.”
Good advice, clever wisdom, and knowledge of the sport were Ali’s more memorable traits, but the boxer also had a talent for excellent trash-talk. Ali never entered a fight without first telling the world exactly how confident he was, and often in such a clever or even downright snarky way that it went down in infamy. While he may not have been one to swagger and preen, Ali was also deeply proud of his success and skill, and let the world know it. Whether he was on his way to a fight, or simply mobbed by reporters, Ali often had some choice words about himself and the man he knew he was. According to Hollywood Life, Muhammad Ali famously (and truthfully) said, “I should be a postage stamp. That’s the only way I’ll ever get licked,” and “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
Legendary boxer, witty celebrity, and amateur life-coach he may have been, but Ali was also deeply involved in the civil rights movement of his time. As an African-American man, he had a lot to say about the state of the world. However, Ali was always careful to target hate, rather than a group of people. Ever the vigilant man, Ali’s beliefs and opinions on heavy topics like racism were always measured, fair, and well spoken.
“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”
Ali’s wisdom didn’t stop at the the ropes and it wasn’t limited to issues of race and justice. The boxer was first and foremost a man who had struggled against the kinds of barriers that keep most well down. Before he was a legendary boxer, Ali was desperate to do a little better than his best. The later nuggets that Ali shared with fans from his training days are words to live by, and his life philosophy was one of perseverance, self-love, and rising to the challenge.
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your show.”
“I hated every minute of training, but i said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
“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 the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.”
Muhammad Ali is undeniably one of the greatest people to have lived in the 20th century. A hero to most, an inspiration to many, and a cultural icon to all, the boxer changed the world with his life. Through his wisdom, determination, love of self, and heroic devotion to improving himself (and helping others to do the same), Ali became more than just a celebrity, and more than just a great man — he became a legend.
[Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images]