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

Muhammad Ali was a fighter inside the boxing ring and out. Even his famous series of interviews with British TV presenter Michael Parkinson had a distinctly adversarial quality about them. Born Cassius Clay, he was a 22-year-old boxer about to deliver a breakthrough victory against Sonny Liston in 1962, when he famously said: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.”

Hugely charismatic, his eloquent wit was a gift to the media. He was still facing off in rhyme in the run up to the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire twelve years later. “You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned?/Wait `til I whup George Foreman's behind.” Needless to say, Ali won that one too.

He had started boxing at the age of 12. He converted to Islam in 1964, changing his name from Cassius Clay — what he called his “slave name” — to Muhammad Ali. He became an inspirational activist for racial justice and religious freedom. In his dedication, his opposition to the Vietnam War – which he refused to serve in – and in his final battle with Parkinson’s Disease, Ali was a great hero to many. “I am the greatest,” he declared more than once.

And few would disagree that he was.