The death of the legendary boxer and activist Muhammad Ali has led to a proliferation of thoughtful remembrances and lists of his greatest quotes in the media. Ali was a towering figure who was even more influential as a vocal activist for civil rights than he was as a boxer.
But Ali didn't just do the work of a civil rights leader. He sounded like one. He often spoke with the lilting cadences and fiery passion of a preacher. He didn't just float like a butterfly and sting like a bee; he sang like a bird and roared like a lion.
That's why you shouldn't just read a list of Ali's quotes. You should watch and listen to recordings of them, and enjoy the often delightful, often moving, always unique ways he said them.
Ali's signature "trash talk" was peppered with rhyming, musical catchphrases, a little tongue-in-cheek and a lot memorable.
"He might be great, but he'll fall in eight," Ali (who then went by Cassius Clay) said of then-heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, whom he nicknamed "Big Ugly Bear." (Liston ended up retiring on his stool at the end of round six in their 1964 fight.)
"I will do to Buster what the Indians did to Custer," Ali said of Buster Mathis, whom he defeated in 1971.
And there was this gem, after Ali was asked about facing "Smokin' Joe" Frazier: "Joe is gonna come out smokin', and I ain't gonna be jokin'. I'll be peckin' and a-pokin', pouring water on his smokin'. And this might shock and amaze ya, but I will destroy Joe Frazier. Some people say, 'You better watch Joe Frazier, he's awful strong.' I say tell him to try Ban Roll-On."
But the video below really brings home the extraordinary musicality of Ali's speech and the pure power of his physical presence. It mixes some of his most famous quotes with musical tracks, starting with his bombastic boxing days and moving through his earnest evolution into an activist legend. It's a lovely little 10-minute encapsulation of what Ali was like as a public persona, and why he was both so controversial and so beloved.