Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Muhammad Ali died last Friday at the age of 74, after a 30-year battle with Parkinson's. I don't think there is hyperbole strong enough to do justice to Ali's impact on the sports world, but I think he summed it up perfectly when he said, "I am the greatest."
Brash, confident, charismatic, and sometimes controversial, Muhammad Ali was, quite simply, the most-recognized sports figure in the world and probably the most important sports figure of the 20th Century. Now, obviously, I'm a little too young to have remembered seeing Ali fight, and certainly too young to remember him in his prime, but I have seen plenty of clips of his fights (check out this one to see one of the most ridiculous punch dodging ever captured on video), several documentaries about him (I highly recommend When We Were Kings if you haven't seen it), and a ton of clips of him talking trash and waxing intellectual.
The man had a lot of profound and inspiring quotes about racism, the Vietnam War, socioeconomics, civil rights, and the like -- which you should definitely check out -- by for me, Muhammad Ali and Cassius Clay will always be the guy who could improvise the most eloquent and poetic smack talk known to man. It's especially great when you think about it on a macro level -- he was purposely trying to agitate guys who were, in fact, getting into a ring with him and trying to beat him up. Even then, he knew there was a pretty damn good chance he wasn't going to get beat. With that, here are my eleven favorite Muhammad Ali/Cassius Clay quotes, in no particular order:
1. "It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am."
2. Before his first fight with Sonny Liston: "After the fight, I'm gonna build myself a pretty home and use him as a bearskin rug. Liston even smells like a bear. I'm gonna give him to the local zoo after I whup him."
3. In the ring, right after beating Sonny Liston in 1964 to win the heavyweight title for the first time: "I am the king of the world. I'm pretty. I'm a bad man."
4. "If you even dream of beating me, you'd better wake up and apologize."
5. To Joe Frazier before the Thrilla in Manila: "I saw your wife. You're not as dumb as you look."
6. "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."
7. "If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you."
8. Before the Rumble in the Jungle: "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."
9. Boxing commentator to Clay, before the first Liston fight: "I saw Sonny Liston the other day, Cassius."
Clay: "Ain't he ugly?"
Boxing commentator, laughing: "He--"
Clay: "He's too ugly to be the world champ. The world champ should be pretty like me."
10. "It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up."
11. This one is probably my favorite, particularly the last sentence. "I have wrestled with an alligator. I done tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail. That's bad. Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I'm so mean I make medicine sick."
And, if you want to see 9+ minutes of the man himself talking smack, here you go: