Only Muhammad Ali could so eloquently capture the essence of Muhammad Ali.
“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.”
The thing is, Ali actually had no idea exactly how great of an impact he would have … on boxing and on the world.
In the ring, he was heads above his competition because of a confluence of skills unmatched in the fight game. At his best, which spanned more than a decade, Ali was a master tactician with never-before-or-since seen footwork for a heavyweight. He was a puncher with blazing speed that dazzled smaller men and stopped bigger foes. He talked brash and showed up opponents — angering many — but in the end, he was style and substance.
He fought too long, yes. Parkinson’s Syndrome has robbed him of his eloquence … but not his grace. Boxing did not make Muhammad Ali; he made boxing.
So, he is not the most recognizable man in the world because he was a champion in the ring. That’s so because he was a champion for human rights.
Seemingly all his life Ali had a boundless purpose. Among his humanitarian feats, he traveled in 1985 to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages; delivered more than $1 million in aid to Cuba; executed goodwill missions to North Korea and Afghanistan; traveled to Iraq to secure the release of 15 American hostages during the first Gulf War; flew to South African to greet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison.
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,” Ali said.
His declining health for several years has prevented Ali, 70, from saying much, and yet he continues to deliver a worldwide message of unity and peace. In his heroic, almost mythical life, Ali’s words captured the essence of who he was and continues to be. Strung together, they tell quite a bit of his life’s story:
“I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
“A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing.”
“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”
“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.”
“It’s hard to be humble, when you’re as great as I am.”
“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.”
“Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.”
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. “
“My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world.”
“To be able to give away riches is mandatory if you wish to possess them. This is the only way that you will be truly rich.”
“Life is a gamble. You can get hurt, but people die in plane crashes, lose their arms and legs in car accidents; people die every day. Same with fighters: some die, some get hurt, some go on. You just don’t let yourself believe it will happen to you.”
“We have one life; it soon will be past; what we do for God is all that will last.”
“I’m the most recognized and loved man that ever lived ’cause there weren’t no satellites when Jesus and Moses were around, so people far away in the villages didn’t know about them.”
“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.”