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Remembering Muhammad Ali Through His Poem, 'I Am The Greatest'


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Ali, Ali, Ali, Ali.


Thousands of people lined the streets of Louisville, Ky., today to pay respects to boxer Muhammad Ali. He's being laid to rest in his hometown. Elsewhere on the show, we'll hear remembrances from the memorial service.


We also wanted to listen back to Ali himself - his humor and his voice. And that brought us back to his spoken word album he made in 1963, "I Am The Greatest." At the time, he was 21 years old. He was still known as Cassius Clay. And he was on course to fight Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship.


MUHAMMAD ALI: I Am The Greatest...


ALI: ...By Cassius Clay. This is the legend of Cassius Clay, the most beautiful fighter in the world today.


ALI: He talks a great deal and brags indeed-y of a muscular punch that's incredibly speedy. The fistic world was dull and weary. With a champ like Liston, things had to be dreary.


ALI: Then someone with color - someone with dash - brought fight fans running with cash.


ALI: This brash, young boxer is something to see. And the heavyweight championship is his destiny. This kid fights great. He's got speed and endurance. But if you sign to fight him, increase your insurance.


ALI: This kid's got a left. This kid's got a right. If he hits you once, you're asleep for the night.


ALI: And as you lie on the floor while the ref counts 10, you pray that you won't have to fight me again.


ALI: For I am the man this poem is about, the next champ of the world, there isn't a doubt. If Cassius says a cow can lay an egg, don't ask how. Grease that skillet.


ALI: He is the greatest. When I say two, there's never a third. Betting 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.


ALI: I am the greatest.


SIEGEL: Those were excerpts from Muhammad Ali's poem, "I Am The Greatest," recorded in 1963. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.