muhammad ali
Ali was known for his immense rivalry with Joe Frazier. Pictured: Muhammad Ali trains for his second fight with Leon Spinks in New Orleans, August 1978, Ali managed to win back the Heavyweight title for a third and final time.Reuters

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," a phrase that has become a worldwide phenomenon due to the great Muhammad Ali. The former three-time World Heavyweight champion, inside the ring, followed exactly the same theory when overpowering opponents with jabs, hooks and crosses.

Ali, who died on Friday night in Phoenix, Arizona, was known for his ridiculous speed inside the ring and insane reflexes. He has been known for continuously circling his opponents before landing quick lethal blows from completely unpredictable angles. He was also praised for his innovative style of boxing, which comprised a lightning footwork and an incredible ability to lash out a quick cutting jab, from out of nowhere.

"Ali could appear to be in range for his opponent to strike but when the attack was executed he wasn't there to be hit. That's what you call ring generalship," Darrell Foster said in an interview with the Observer in 2002. "You almost have to create a mental and physical illusion through your footwork; you're leaning but you're constantly moving, and you're using angles."

Foster, a former experienced boxer, was the one responsible to coach Hollywood star Will Smith, who played the protagonist in the movie 'Ali' -- a biopic of the legendary boxer. Foster also used to work as the physical trainer for Sugar Ray Leonard, another pro boxing great.

"I taught Will the main Ali punches, the essence of his offensive style," continued Foster. "The left jab and the overhand right - those were the signature punches. But there were so many more. I taught him six different ways Ali used to jab. One was a jab that Ali called the 'snake lick'. I would compare it to a cobra striking.

"The left jab hangs low while you're dancing around your opponent. The 'snake lick' comes from the floor almost, really low down. Then I also taught Ali's rapid-fire jab - three to five jabs in succession - rapidly fired at his opponents' eyes to create a blur in his face so he won't be able to see the right-hand coming behind it."

Let us look at the top five fights of Muhammad Ali over his illustrious career (sorted according to dates):

1. Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston - February 25, 1964

This is where it all started. Ali came into the fight at the age of 22 years and 39 days, and recorded a stunning upset to hold the WBA, WBC, The Ring and the Lineal Heavyweight titles for the first time in his career.

Result of the fight: Ali (then fighting under the name of Cassius Clay) records a 7th round TKO win over Liston.

2. Muhammad Ali vs Cleveland Williams - November 14, 1966

Ali, after getting converted to Sunni Islam, showcased his brilliant technical acumen inside the ring for the first in all his previous fights. "The one fight you need to watch to understand how Ali fought is from 1966 versus Cleveland Williams. That one fight is the absolute quintessential Ali," said Foster.

"It shows everything. He hit Cleveland Williams with 17 punch combinations! He would throw 17 punches non-stop and shuffle and shuffle, two or three times. He was demonstrating defensive and offensive skills. That was the best fight I ever saw of Muhammad Ali."

Result of the fight: Ali records a third-round TKO win over Cleveland to take his pro boxing tally to 27-0.

3. The Fight of the Century - March 8, 1971

If we refer to the fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather in 2015 in Las Vegas as the first "Fight of the Century," we are wrong. The first "Fight of the Century" was between Ali and Joe Frazier at the Madison Square Garden in New York. The match was an out-and-out classic. Both the illustrious boxers entered the fight with an unbeaten record, and what happened next, took everyone by storm.

Result of the fight: Joe Frazier defeats Ali via Unanimous Decision from the judges. The fight went to the distance -- 15 rounds.

4. The Rumble in the Jungle - October 30, 1974

Ali came into the fight at the back of a victory against Frazier in their rematch, scheduled for January 1974. The "Rumble in the Jungle" pitted him next against George Foreman inside the ring. Foreman entered the fight as the WBA, WBC, The Ring and the Lineal Heavyweight champion. He was known for the unbelievable strength with which he threw the punches. However, with Ali at his peak too, the fight was expected to be yet another classic, and it didn't disappoint us.

Result of the fight: Ali KOs Foreman in the eighth round to win back the titles. 

5. Thrilla in Manila - October 1, 1975 

Muhammad Ali's rivalry with Joe Frazier was turning out to be one of the greatest in the history of combat sports. Both had one win each over the other, and a third meeting was therefore imminent to decide who was the better fighter. Held in Philippines, the fight turned out as it was expected -- a blockbuster and worth every penny. 

Result of the fight: Ali TKOs Frazier in the 14th round to retain his title and stamp his dominance further in the world of boxing. The win took his record to 49-2. He retired as a pro in the year 1981 with a 56-5 record.

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