‘Don’t count the days; make the days count’ – 60 quotes from boxing legend Muhammad Ali

By Madanmohan Rao|4th Jun 2016
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Even for those who are not fans of boxing, the life and narrative of the late great boxing legend Muhammad Ali is spellbinding. Widely regarded as one of ‘the’ sportsmen of the 20th century, he was also a staunch supporter of human rights for African Americans, and opposed the Vietnam War. He refused to be conscripted into the US military, for which he received a prison sentence.

After a phenomenal boxing career, Ali eventually succumbed to Parkinson’s disease, but has left behind a legacy of inspiring stories and quotes – 60 of which are presented here, in alphabetical order (also see ‘What Muhammad Ali, the silver-tongued boxing champion, taught the world’).


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A man who has no imagination has no wings.

A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.

A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he'll never crow. I have seen the light and I'm crowing.

Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are.

At home I am a nice guy: but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.

Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.

Braggin' is when a person says something and can’t do it. I do what I say.

Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it, and I didn't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name - it means beloved of God - and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me.

Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them, a desire, a dream, a vision.

Don’t count the days; make the days count.

Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee. You can't hit what your eyes don't see.

Friendship is not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything.

Go up in an airplane. Go high enough, and it's like we don't even exist.

Hating people because of their colour is wrong. And it doesn't matter which colour does the hating. It's just plain wrong

He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.

I am America. I am the part you won't recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky, my name not yours. My religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.

I am the astronaut of boxing. Joe Louis and Dempsey were just jet pilots. I'm in a world of my own.

I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest.

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, hospitalised a brick; I'm so mean I make medicine sick.

I don't count the sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting because they're the only ones that count. That's what makes you a champion.

I got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'

I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin' hell, but as long as they ain't free, I ain't free.

I know where I'm going and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want.


I shook up the world.

I should be a postage stamp. That's the only way I'll ever get licked.

I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.

If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.

If they can make penicillin out of mouldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.

If you even dream of beating me you'd better wake up and apologise.

Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.

Islam is not a killer religion, Islam means peace.

It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you down. It's the pebble in your shoe.

It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila.

It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am.

It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.

It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.

I’m not the greatest, I’m the double greatest.

I'm so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.

I've made my share of mistakes along the way, but if I have changed even one life for the better, I haven't lived in vain.

Life is short; we get old so fast. It doesn’t make sense to waste time on hating.

Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you're going to be right.

My principles are more important than the money or my title.

No one knows what to say in the loser's locker room.

Old age is just a record of one's whole life.

Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.

Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams - they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do - they all contain truths.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.

Silence is golden when you can't think of a good answer.

Superman don't need no seat belt.

The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.

The will must be stronger than the skill.

There are more pleasant things to do than beat up people.

There are no pleasures in a fight but some of my fights have been a pleasure to win.

Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.

What keeps me going is goals.

Why are all the angels white? Why ain't there no black angels?

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?

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