Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali is an American former professional boxer
Boxing, also called pugilism, is a combat sport in which two people fight each other using their fists. Boxing is supervised by a referee over a series of between one to three minute intervals called rounds...

, philanthropist
A philanthropist is someone who engages in philanthropy; that is, someone who donates his or her time, money, and/or reputation to charitable causes...

 and social activist. Considered a cultural icon
Cultural icon
A cultural icon can be a symbol, logo, picture, name, face, person, building or other image that is readily recognized and generally represents an object or concept with great cultural significance to a wide cultural group...

, Ali was both idolized and vilified.

Originally known as Cassius Clay, Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam
Nation of Islam
The Nation of Islam is a mainly African-American new religious movement founded in Detroit, Michigan by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in July 1930 to improve the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of African-Americans in the United States of America. The movement teaches black pride and...

 in 1964, subsequently converting to Sunni Islam
Sunni Islam
Sunni Islam is the largest branch of Islam. Sunni Muslims are referred to in Arabic as ʾAhl ūs-Sunnah wa āl-Ǧamāʿah or ʾAhl ūs-Sunnah for short; in English, they are known as Sunni Muslims, Sunnis or Sunnites....

 in 1975, and more recently practicing Sufism
Sufism or ' is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a '...

. In 1967, three years after Ali had won the World Heavyweight Championship, he was publicly vilified for his refusal to be conscripted into the U.S.

While I'm talking to you I'm thinking up the greatest short poem of all time. This poem tells how it feels to be great as I am: Me — wheee!

In response to the question "Who writes your stuff?" in 1963, as quoted in "Brash Clay waxed poetic in 1963 visit to Nashville" by Bill Traughber in The CIty Paper [Nashville] (4 June 2002)

Ain't no reason for me to kill nobody in the ring, unless they deserve it.

Comment after the match with Jimmy Ellis|Jimmy Ellis was stopped by the referee in the twelfth round (July 1971)

I never thought of losing, but now that it's happened, the only thing is to do it right. That's my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.

Statement after losing his fight to Ken Norton|Ken Norton (1973-03-31)

If you were surprised when Nixon resigned, just watch what happens when I whup Foreman's behind!

Comment prior to the "Rumble in the Jungle" (30 October 1974) as documented in When We Were Kings (1996)

You been hearing about how bad I am since you were a little kid with mess in your pants! Tonight, I'm gonna whip you till you cry like a baby.

To George Foreman|George Foreman before the start of the "Rumble in the Jungle" as the referee is giving them instructions (30 October 1974).