Ali could be Robert Frost in a robe; Maya Angelou with a championship belt, though his sometimes simplistic stanzas sometimes leaned more toward something out of a Dr. Seuss book. He was a true beat poet — as in, he loved having a rhyme to have a reason to thump his latest rival.
These helped make Ali one of the poet laureates of boxing.
“Everyone knew when I stepped in town,
I was the greatest fighter around.
A lot of people called me a clown,
But I am the one who called the round.
The people came to see a great fight,
But all I did was put out the light.
Never put your money against Cassius Clay,
For you will never have a lucky day.”
— In 1962, when Ali was still Cassius Clay.
“Now Clay swings with a right, what a beautiful swing.
And the punch raises the Bear clear out of the ring.
Liston is still rising, and the ref wears a frown.
For he can’t start counting ’til Sonny comes down.
Now Liston disappears from view.
The crowd is getting frantic,
But our radar stations have picked him up. He’s somewhere over the Atlantic.
Who would have thought when they came to the fight
That they’d witness the launching of a human satellite.
Yes, the crowd did not dream when they lay down their money
That they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.
I am the greatest.”
— Part of a poem before his upset title victory over Sonny Liston Feb. 25, 1964.
“Joe’s gonna come out smokin’,
But I ain’t gonna be jokin’.
This might shock and amaze ya,
But I’m going to destroy Joe Frazier.”
— Before losing to Joe Frazier in their first fight March 8, 1971.
“You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned?
Wait ’til I whup George Foreman’s behind.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
His hand 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.
I done wrassled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale.
Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”
— Before regaining the title by upsetting George Foreman Oct. 30, 1974.
“I got speed and endurance.
You’d better increase your insurance.”
— To Larry Holmes before his one-sided loss in a bid to become a heavyweight champion for the fourth time Oct. 2, 1980.