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Muhammad Ali

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Muhammad Ali was a legend inside the boxing ring (as you can see in this highlight reel of his career). But his clever, playful, and sometimes forceful oratory outside the ring was an accomplishment of almost equal weight, whether he was trash talking opponents in rhyme, or standing up for black rights, or speaking out against the Vietnam War. Ali’s gift for language was even apparent as early as 1960, when a young Ali — then still known as Cassius Clay — won a gold medal as an amateur at the Olympics in Rome. The always loquacious Clay, who was apparently referred to as the unofficial mayor of Olympic Village, followed his win by reciting a poem for fans and the press.

"To make America the greatest is my goal
So I beat the Russian and I beat the Pole
And for the USA won the medal of gold.
The Greeks said you’re better than the Cassius of old.

We like your name, we like your game.
So make Rome your home if you will.
I said I appreciate your kind hospitality,
But the USA is my country still,
‘Cause they’re waiting to welcome me in Louisville."

Later, as the Guardian notes, Ali’s genesis as an entertainer got a huge boost when he heard a professional wrestler named “Gorgeous George” promote himself in 1961:

After turning professional, Clay won six fights in six months. Then, on a Las Vegas radio show to promote his seventh contest, he met the wrestler “Gorgeous” George Wagner, whose promotional skills got audiences coming to watch. As Ali later told his biographer Thomas Hauser: “[George] started shouting: ‘If this bum beats me I’ll crawl across the ring and cut off my hair, but it’s not gonna happen because I’m the greatest fighter in the world.’ And all the time, I was saying to myself: ‘Man. I want to see this fight’ And the whole place was sold out when Gorgeous George wrestled … including me … and that’s when I decided if I talked more, there was no telling how much people would pay to see me.”

During a 1963 Talk Show appearance, Ali insisted that he actually thought in rhyme and even recited some of his poetry, including “the greatest short poem of all time” (hint: it has the word “me” in it):

Here is another one of Ali’s poems, from 1962:

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.

Ali also wrote a poem for before his career-making title fight with Sonny Liston in 1964, but Ali’s infamous “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” line became the most memorable part of Ali’s pre-fight boasting:

After that fight, which resulted in a stunning upset victory for Ali, he shouted from the ring, “I am the greatest! I am the greatest!” and told the press, “Eat your words! I shook up the world! I’m king of the world!”

Simple, witty rhymes were all Ali used before his legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” championship victory over George Foreman in 1974, however, when he boasted he “done handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail”:

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Muhammad Ali
Album: The Greatest of All Time Speaks
Genre: Spoken word
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Muhammad Ali
Album: The Greatest of All Time Speaks
Genre: Spoken word
PlayAddDownloadMore +
Muhammad Ali
Album: The Greatest of All Time Speaks
Genre: Spoken word
PlayAddDownloadMore +
Muhammad Ali
Album: The Greatest of All Time Speaks
Genre: Spoken word
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