I’m not old enough to remember when Muhammad Ali was in his fighting prime, but I’ve always enjoyed watching old film clips and documentaries about him in those days. I especially love the poems he would write and share with the press before big fights. In addition to being the greatest boxer in the world, he was a genius with words and phrases. Ali coined “Rumble in the Jungle,” and “Thrilla In Manila,” the phrases we use to recall two of his most pivotal bouts. Grantland Rice would have been hard-pressed to come up with better catch-phrases than those.
Ali wrote the following poem, “I am the Greatest,” when his name was still Cassius Clay. He was 21 at the time. National Public Radio featured the original audio recording of the poem earlier this week.
Do you know any 21-year-olds who have the self-assurance to read a piece of verse they wrote to a large gathering of strangers? Do they also possess the skill to make the piece boastful, but humorous and playful at the same time? And do they have the charisma to read a poem called “I am the Greatest” without coming across as an arrogant jackass? Finally, how many 21-year-olds do you know who could back up that performance by actually being the greatest at what they do?
It has been written many times that Ali was a one-of-a-kind, and that is true for many reasons. For me, his charisma stands out as something totally unique in the dull, calculated, humorless world of sports. Can you imagine Tom Brady or Peyton Manning sharing poems they wrote before an upcoming Super Bowl?
Here’s the poem. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did:
This is the legend of Cassius Clay,
The most beautiful fighter in the world today.
He talks a great deal, and brags indeed-y,
of a muscular punch that’s incredibly speed-y.
The fistic world was dull and weary,
But with a champ like Liston, things had to be dreary.
Then someone with color and someone with dash,
Brought fight fans a-runnin’ with cash.
This brash young boxer is something to see
And the heavyweight championship is his des-tin-y.
This kid fights great; he’s got speed and endurance,
But if you sign to fight him, increase your insurance.
This kid’s got a left; this kid’s got a right,
If he hit you once, you’re asleep for the night.
And as you lie on the floor while the ref counts ten,
You’ll pray that you won’t have to fight me again.
For I am the man this poem’s about,
The next champ of the world, there isn’t a doubt.
This I predict and I know the score,
I’ll be champ of the world in ’64.
When I say three, they’ll go in the third.
So don’t bet against me, I’m a man of my word.
He is the greatest! Yes!
I am the man this poem’s about,
I’ll be champ of the world, there isn’t a doubt.
Here I predict Mr. Liston’s dismemberment,
I’ll hit him so hard; he’ll wonder where October and November went.
When I say two, there’s never a third,
Standin’ against me is completely absurd.
When Cassius says a mouse can outrun a horse,
Don’t ask how; put your money where your mouse is!
I AM THE GREATEST!”