“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
Muhammad Ali, then still going by Cassius Clay uttered this phrase first in an interview when he was still breaking into the boxing scene. It later became the mantra of the greatest boxer of all time, as he toyed with George Foreman by later tacking on “his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”
“The resurrection,” is how he billed himself in that same interview. Clay told reporters, fans, boxing pundits and anyone else who would listen that he was boxing, and without him the sport would be dead. Though many saw him as more of a talker than a fighter leading up to his fight with Sonny Liston, Ali continued to spout praises of himself in interview after interview leading up to the 1964 fight that ended with Liston conceding after six rounds.
Through his career, Muhammad Ali held an incredible 56-5 record. This can be attributed in part to his size and speed, particular how fast he was considering his size and strength.
Ali vs Liston
Still young heading into the fight, Ali was seen by some to be just a hot headed, smack-talking young fighter who would get demolished by the far more experienced Liston. Ali remained confident through reporters asking what would happen “when he lost,” and if it would spell the downfall of boxing. Ali responded by saying that if he lost, boxing was done.
Thankfully, Ali showed that he could both talk the talk and walk the walk, beating Liston in a back and forth fight that (almost) headed into the seventh round before Liston dropped out of the fight, refusing to come out for the round 7 bell.
The Thrilla in Manilla
The title of Ali and Frazier’s final fight came, as you may have guessed, another one of Muhammad’s quotes, when he said the fight would be a “killa and a thrilla and a chilla, when I get that gorilla in Manila.” Frazier, who didn’t take the comparison to a gorilla kindly, entered the fight confident in his chances.
By the end of the match it was tough to call either fighter a winner. Ali and Frazier had both been bludgeoned and bloodied consistently throughout the first 14 rounds. As the bell signaling the end of the 14th sounded and the two retreated to their corners Fraizer’s eyes were swollen shut and Ali was out of gas. Despite his protests, Frazier’s corner called the match, giving Ali the heavyweight belt.
The Rumble in the Jungle
Perhaps the most famous of any of Ali’s fights, the Rumble in the Jungle saw a “past his prime” Ali face off against a young up and coming fighter who showed no mercy, George Foreman. Despite a large age gap (Ali was 32, Foreman was 25), Ali used his experience to his advantage. Ali expertly tired Foreman out by letting him swing multiple times before unleashing an onslaught, knocking out the 25 year old former champ.