Muhammad Ali, legendary boxer and social activist, died Friday. He was 74.
Ali leaves behind a legacy as not only one of the greatest athletes of all time but also one of the most influential. In the middle of his career, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title and didn’t box for four years after he was arrested for refusing to join the United States military.
Ali, who was born Cassius Clay before joining the Nation of Islam, resumed his boxing career after the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971.
Ali’s unique life experiences and supreme confidence made him one of the most quotable people ever. The boxer’s brilliance was not only apparent in the ring, but also in front of the microphone, where the loquacious Ali gifted the world numerous quotes that have stood the test of time.
Here are some of our favorites throughout the years:
On Sonny Liston
“The crowd did not dream when they laid down their money / that they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.”
“I'll hit Liston with so many punches from so many angles he'll think he's surrounded.”
“Sonny Liston is nothing. The man can't talk. The man can't fight. The man needs talking lessons. The man needs boxing lessons. And since he's gonna fight me, he needs falling lessons.”
“I shook up the world! I shook up the world!”
Gallery: Ali-Liston I
Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston I
In the early 1960s, Sonny Liston loomed as the most fearsome fighter in the sport. He destroyed Floyd Patterson in one round to win the heavyweight title in 1962 and, here, in Las Vegas 10 months later, he again flattened Patterson in the opening round. Most boxing fans considered Liston unbeatable.
Certainly the loud-mouthed kid from Louisville was not the guy anyone expected to beat Liston. Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) had won the light heavyweight gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960 and had run up a 19-0 record as a pro. The Louisville Lip, here taunting Liston from ringside after the second Patterson fight, was a master self-promoter, but seemed an unlikely challenger for the champion.
On Nov. 5, 1963, Liston finally signed to defend his title against the upstart Clay. At the press gathering to announce the bout, the challenger, his slice of pie (figuratively and literally) finally in hand, kept a wary eye on the champion as Mrs. Liston appeared to be awaiting some new development in the horseplay that highlighted wild press conference.
In December of 1963, Liston began training for his bout with Clay, scheduled for February 1964. Here, the reigning champ got some posed help from former heavyweight king Joe Louis.
Ali turned 22 on Jan. 17, 1964 and (continuing the pastry motif) celebrated with a cake decorated with a boxing ring and a sweet tableau indeed: Sonny Liston in a horizontal position and the victorious Cassius Clay above him.
In the build-up to the fight, Ali had dubbed the menacing Liston "The Big Bear," and he made clear his intentions with the message on his jacket. Still, most observers felt that the challenger, here at the 5th Street Gym in Miami, was in for a mauling.
Fab Five? As a promotional stunt, somebody thought it would be fun to get Clay together with a group that was making some noise of its own. So, a week before the fight, the Beatles showed up at the 5th Street Gym. Neither really knew who the other was, but they produced some memorable images -- and, of course, each would go on to greater things.
The weigh-in for the Liston bout was held in the densely packed Cypress Room at Miami Beach Convention Hall. There, just hours before he would go into the ring, Ali (then still Clay) produced one of his most memorable performances, ranting and threatening Liston and jumping about with such maniacal energy that many who saw him thought he was either terrified or having a seizure. What he was doing was convincing Liston that he would soon be fighting a crazy man -- a prospect that would frighten even Liston.
Ali, here being restrained by his trainer, Angelo Dundee, was fined $2,500 for his outburst. For the challenger, the effect would be more than worth it.
A change was gonna come: On Feb. 25, 1964, Cassius Clay, left, who would later became Muhammad Ali, stepped into the ring against Sonny Liston in Miami Beach, Fla. They met as the nation was on the eve of massive upheaval. Still deep in mourning over the assassination of President John F. Kennedy just three months earlier, the country would be rocked by race riots in major cities in the long, hot summer ahead. Civil rights activism was gearing up, the conflict in Vietnam was moving into U.S. headlines. The young challenger, a 7-1 underdog, represented the unsettling times ahead.
Most boxing fans expected Liston to overpower his challenger, but Clay was more than prepared for Liston's attack. Faster and more agile, Clay avoided Liston's big punches and tied the champion up in close, frustrating him from the opening bell.
Clay's movement and timing had Liston lunging, and the Covention Hall crowd gasping. This was not the fight they had expected to see.
Clay not only made Liston miss, he also repeatedly stung the champion with a long, lacing jab and sharp overhand rights. Liston had never before been hit so readily.
Already in the opening rounds, it was clear that the challenger -- who had been declared "terrified" during the weigh-in -- was in full control of both himself and of the fight. Liston, meanwhile, was obviously frustrated.
Putting his punches together in flashing combinations, Clay showed the ability not only to keep Liston off balance, but to hurt him as well. Suddenly, the expected mismatch was being turned on its head.
By the third round, Liston's face was showing the effects of Clay's slashing punches, and the once-fearsome champion was already looking like a much older fighter, one on the way to unexpected defeat.
Clay appears composed in this shot taken between rounds, but he did suffer one scare during the bout. After the fourth round, he came back to the corner complaining of a burning in his eyes. One possible explanation is that a solution applied to stop the bleeding from Liston's cuts had gotten into his opponent's eyes (by accident, or by intention), but whatever the cause, a panicked Clay called for trainer Angelo Dundee to cut the gloves off him and stop the fight. Dundee responed by sponging out Clay's eyes once more and then pushing him back out into the ring at the start of the fifth round. A near-blind Clay round out the storm and, by the end of the round, was back to battering Liston.
A champion beaten. An era over. Cut, battered and humiliated, Liston stayed on his stool when the bell rang to start the seventh round. He would later claim that his left shoulder was injured and that he couldn't continue because of that, but the truth was clear on his face.
Realizing that Liston had quit and that he was the winner and the new champion, Clay lept off his stool and into a wild celebration, as his handlers thronged him and a stunned crowd reacted.
"I shook up the world!" Clay proclaimed, as he gestured over the ropes at the assembled press corps, virtually every member of which had predicted a Liston victory. He was right, of course -- and over the next decades, as Muhammad Ali, he would continue to it shake up, like no one before or since.
A sweet moment: Still celebrating and proclaiming himself the "greatest," Clay returned to his dressing room escorted by the great Sugar Ray Robinson (in tie), and trailed by his longtime friend and handler Drew (Bundini) Brown (over Ali's right shoulder).
In a move that would further shake up the world (and outrage a large portion of American sports fans), the new champion announced immediately after the Liston fight that he was joining the Nation of Islam and changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. This photo, from March 1964, shows Ali together with his mentor in the conversion to Islam, Malcolm X. Ali's association with the black nationalist leader opened a new chapter in his life and would carry him far beyond the boxing ring.
On George Foreman
“I've seen George Foreman shadow boxing and the shadow won.”
“I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I'm so mean I make medicine sick.”
“If you were surprised when Nixon resigned, just watch what happens when I whup Foreman's behind!”
On Joe Frazier
“Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head.”
“Frazier is so ugly he should donate his face to the US Bureau of Wildlife.”
“It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila.”
“I always bring out the best in men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva man, and God bless him.”
On Floyd Patterson
“I'll beat him so bad, he'll need a shoehorn to put his hat on.”
“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong….No Vietcong ever called me n-----.”
“My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me n-----, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. ... Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
“Will they ever have another fighter who writes poems, predicts rounds, beats everybody, makes people laugh, makes people cry and is as tall and extra pretty as me?”
“I won't miss boxing. Boxing will miss me.”
Gallery: SI’s 100 Greatest Muhammad Ali Photos
SI's 100 Greatest Photos of Muhammad Ali
In one of the most iconic and controversial moments of his career, Ali stands over Sonny Liston and yells at him after knocking the former champ down in the first round of their 1965 rematch. Skeptics dubbed it "the Phantom Punch," but films show Ali's flashing right caught Liston flush, knocking him to the canvas. Refusing to go to a neutral corner, Ali stood over Liston and told him to "get up and fight, sucker."
At 22-years-old, Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) battered the heavily favored Sonny Liston in a bout that shook the boxing world. The fight ignited the career of one of sports' most charismatic and controversial figures, whose bouts often became social and political events rather than simply sports contests. At the peak of his fame, Muhammad Ali was the best known athlete in the world. Liston, one of the most feared heavyweight champions in history, was a 1-8 favorite over the young challenger known as the Louisville Lip. But Clay, here stinging the champ with a right, used his dazzling speed and constant movement to dominate the action and pile up points.
Cassius Clay punches Zbigniew Pietrzykowski of Poland during their gold medal bout at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Clay defeated Pietrzykowski 5-0 for the light heavyweight gold medal.
For the 18-year-old from Louisville, here atop the medal stand after his Olympic victory, all roads led from Rome. Clay finished his amateur career with a record of 100-5 and made his professional debut two months after the Games.
Undefeated in his first 17 pro fights, Clay mugged for the camera before the start of his 1963 bout against Doug Jones in Madison Square Garden.
Trainer Angelo Dundee urged his young charge to get serious before the opening bell against Jones. Clay followed instructions and emerged from a tough fight with a unanimous decision victory. Three months later he would stop Henry Cooper and close out 1963 at 19-0.
A seemingly hysterical Clay taunted Sonny Liston during the pre-fight physical for their 1964 bout. He had consistently baited the Big Bear during the lead-up to the fight, saying he was going to "use him as a bearskin rug ... after I whup him." The Miami Boxing Commission would fine Clay $2,500 for his outburst at the physical.
"I shook up the world!" an emotional Clay hollered to ringside reporters after his shocking defeat of Liston. And he did just that, claiming the heavyweight title at age 21 after a clearly beaten Liston, complaining of a shoulder injury, failed to answer the bell for the seventh round.
Draped in shadow, the young king — now known as Muhammad Ali — stared down the camera during a photo shoot in April 1965, one month before his rematch against Sonny Liston.
As Liston lingered on the canvas and the referee, former heavyweight champ Jersey Joe Walcott, tried to control Ali, the 2,434 spectators on hand in the Lewiston, Me., hockey arena — a record low for a heavyweight championship fight — tried to make sense of what all that had happened in less than two minutes after the opening bell.
The celebration over Liston continued. In a chaotic ending, Ali was awarded a knockout when Nat Fleischer, publisher of The Ring, informed referee Jersey Joe Walcott from ringside that Liston had been on the canvas for longer than 10 seconds after Ali knocked him down. The bout remains one of the most controversial in boxing history, with many observers insisting that Liston took a dive.
Ali's second title defense came in November 1965, against former two-time heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. During the build-up to the bout, the normally soft-spoken Patterson earned the new champ's wrath by refusing to call Ali by his Muslim name. At the weigh-in, Ali's glare made it clear that he intended Patterson to pay for the disrespect.
In cruelly efficient performance, Ali punished Patterson — who was hobbled by a painful back injury — seemingly toying with the former champ throughout the bout, hitting him at will and calling, "What's my name?" before finally winning on a 12th-round TKO.
Capping off a five-fight campaign in 1966, Ali faced Cleveland Williams in the Houston Astrodome on Nov. 14. Known as the Big Cat, the heavily-muscled Williams was a power puncher who had racked up 51 knockouts in 71 fights. But he was also 33, barely recovered from a gunshot wound sustained the year before, and up against a young champion very much in his prime. Ali wasted little time in unleashing a withering attack.
Float and sting: In a display of speed and combination punching unmatched in heavyweight history, Ali overwhelmed Williams from the start. The challenger, here down for the third time in round 2, would be saved by the bell before referee Harry Kessler could count him out, but it would only postpone the inevitable.
Ali dropped Williams again early in the third round, and Kessler waved the mismatch over at 1:08 of the third.
In a multiple-exposure portrait, Ali demonstrates his signature double-clutch shuffle during a photo shoot in December 1966.
Ali sits in the locker room before his February 1967 fight against Ernie Terrell. Like Patterson before him, Terrell refused to call the champion by his Muslim name. Also like Patterson, he paid a stiff price, as Ali punished Terrell for 15 ugly rounds before winning by unanimous decision.
Outside the Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station in Houston in April 1967, Ali spoke to the press about his refusal to be inducted into military service. Among those on hand was ABC's Howard Cosell, who would be a staunch supporter of the fighter's stance. The decision cost Ali his boxing license and his heavyweight title, and he was sentenced to five years in prison but remained free pending an appeal.
In professional exile for three and a half years because of his draft case, Ali sought to return to boxing in 1970. He began with a night of exhibition bouts at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where before going into the ring, he shared a locker room laugh with actor and comedian Lincoln Perry (right), better known by his stage name of Stepin Fetchit. The friendship between the two black icons would later be examined in an acclaimed play by Will Power, Fetch Clay, Make Man.
After the Atlanta Athletic Commission at last granted Ali a license, the deposed champion went back into serious training. He was, as ever, in the capable hands of trainer Angelo Dundee, here wrapping boxing's most famous fists at the 5th Street Gym in Miami in October 1970.
With his return to the ring scheduled for Oct. 26, 1970 in Atlanta, against dangerous contender Jerry Quarry, Ali made it clear to all who would listen that he was on a mission to reclaim the title that had been stripped of him.
Reel to spiel: For the ever-loquacious Ali, even a rare moment of down time — like this afternoon in 1970 in a Miami hotel room — was a chance to do some talking.
Despite Ali's long layoff, his comeback campaign would include no easy tune-up bouts. He stopped Quarry in three rounds on Oct. 26, 1970, then, just six weeks later — an unthinkably short interlude by today's standards — took on Argentine contender Oscar Bonavena in Madison Square Garden. Here, Ali fires a right at the rugged and awkward Bonavena, who took the fight to the former champion all night.
After a long, often sloppy bout, Ali — here being held back by referee Mark Conn — produced one of the most dramatic finishes of his career, dropping Bonavena three times in the 15th and final round to automatically end the fight. The win cleared the way for a showdown with Joe Frazier, the man who had taken the heavyweight title in Ali's absence.
On the night of March 8, 1971, the eyes of the world were on a square patch of white canvas in the center of Madison Square Garden. There, Ali and Joe Frazier met in what was billed at the time simply as The Fight, but has come to be known, justifiably, as the Fight of the Century. For 15 rounds the two undefeated heavyweights battled at a furious pace, with each man sustaining tremendous punishment. In the end Frazier prevailed, dropping Ali in the final round with a tremendous left hook to seal a unanimous decision and hand The Greatest his first loss in 32 professional fights.
Ali poses with the fight poster for his upcoming fight against Jimmy Ellis during a photo shoot in July 1971. Ellis was an old friend of Ali's — both were trained by Angelo Dundee — and knew his fighting style well from many rounds of sparring.
For those sportswriters lucky enough to cover Ali on a regular basis, each day brought surprises and, more often than not, plenty of laughs. of Trainer Drew Bundini Brown helps Ali train for his fight against Ellis. Ali won the bout by technical knockout in the 12th round to claim the vacant NABF heavyweight title.
The man in the mirror stares back as Ali examines himself while training for a fight in 1972. He won all six of his fights that year.
The Louisville Lip stands next to George Foreman before Ali's fight versus Jerry Quarry in June 1972. Ali won by technical knockout in the seventh round. Foreman at the time was 36-0. Ali would not get his shot against Foreman for more than two years.
Ali throws a left hook at Bob Foster in their 1972 fight at Stateline, Nev. Although Ali knocked Foster out, Foster did leave his mark: a cut above Ali's left eye, his first as a professional.
Foster lies on the canvas after getting knocked down by Ali. Ali knocked Foster down four times in the fifth round and twice more in the seventh round before he was finally counted out after Ali knocked him down again in the eighth round.
Ali sits with sportscaster Howard Cosell before his fight with Joe Bugner in February 1973. Although unable to knock Bugner out, Ali won comfortably by unanimous decision.
Ali hits a speed bag while warming up for his bout with Bugner in Las Vegas. Ali prepared ferociously for the fight, training 67 rounds the week leading up to the fight, including six rounds the day before the fight.
In a lighter pre-fight moment, Ali poses for a portrait wearing a hat in his dressing room before the match with Bugner.
Ali plays with Sugar Ray Robinson's hair in the locker room before his bout with Bugner. The former welterweight and middleweight champion was Ali's childhood idol.
Before the fight with Bugner, Muhammad Ali enjoys a relaxed moment with a poodle at Caesars Palace Hotel. He won the fight with Bugner by unanimous decision.
Howard Cosell interviews Ali, with entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. in the middle, after his victory over Joe Bugner by unanimous decision in. Although the fight was never in jeopardy of getting away from him, Ali praised Bugner's legs and said he could be a champion in a few years.
Ali changes the diaper of his son in his bedroom during a photo shoot at the family's home in April 1973. Ali had suffered a broken jaw less than a month earlier in his fight against Ken Norton.
In the wake of his split decision loss to Norton, Ali plays with his son in his bedroom at home in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Ali kisses his daughter Jamillah outside of their home following the loss to Norton, just the second defeat of his career.
The Ali family standing outside their New Jersey home. To the right of Muhammad Ali are his twin daughters, Jamilllah and Rasheda, daughter Maryum and his wife, Khalilah, holding their son Ibn Muhammad Ali Jr.
At his training camp cabin, Ali pushes a boulder during a photo shoot in Deer Lake, Penn., in August 1973. Ali was training for his rematch against Ken Norton, who broke his jaw five months earlier.
Ali chops wood at his cabin in Deer Lake. He referred to the training camp as "fighter's heaven" and used it to prepare for fights away from the spotlight.
The fighters weigh in on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson ahead of Ali and Ken Norton's September 1973 fight.
Johnny Carson listens to Ali on the Tonight Show three days before his rematch with Norton. Ali would avenge his earlier loss to Norton, winning a narrow split decision.
Ali poses in front of posters and magazine covers from throughout his career at his training camp cabin in Deer Lake in 1974.
Ali poses with members of his family in front of a poster from his first fight with Joe Frazier. Ali's brother, Rahman Ali; mother, Odessa Clay; and father, Cassius Clay Sr. stand behind the boxer.
Less than three weeks before his rematch with Joe Frazier on Jan. 28, 1974, Ali wraps his hands while wearing a sauna suit at his training camp cabin.
Ali holds a newspaper at his cabin in January 1974. He is pointing to a headline that reads, "Frazier On Ali, I Think He's Crazy." Ali and Frazier fought for the second time later that month with Ali winning by a unanimous decision.