He Who Is Not Courageous Enough To Take Risks Will Accomplish Nothing in Life

Muhammad Ali? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The world heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali was acclaimed for his physical and verbal dexterity. One of his mottoes stated that courage was needed to take bold risks, and significant accomplishments required these daring risks. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In April 1977 Muhammad Ali who was promoting his upcoming boxing match spoke to a group of journalists. His remarks were reported in the “Fort Lauderdale News” of Florida. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Obviously pleased with the philosophical direction of his answers, Ali continued in the same vein.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks,” he said, “will accomplish nothing in life.”

He looked at the reporter’s note pad. “You got that?” he asked. He repeated it more slowly.

“Risk is why they are paying me so much money,” he said. “Look at the astronauts. They took risks. Evel Knievel takes much more risks than me.”

“I’m already the greatest. The most recognizable face in the world.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In October 1977 the “Chicago Tribune” reported that Ali visited an elementary school and spoke to students and journalists. He employed the saying again: 2

Commenting on the purpose of life, he explained that if buzzards and horses have purposes, then it makes sense that man is supposed to also. “I knew what I wanted to be at 12, and you must, too.”

Using what he said was one of his originals, Ali said, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

In 1980 “Miami News” reporter Bill Brubaker conducted a thirty-minute telephone interview with Muhammad Ali who spoke of his return to the boxing ring after an 18-month layoff: 3

Now, all these limitations may impress the people who don’t believe I can come back, but I’m not impressed by limitations. See, Columbus would not have discovered America if he had not believed. They told him, “Don’t go, Columbus. You’re a fool. You’ll fall off the ocean. The world is flat, you understand?” But he went ahead. See, he who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. We wouldn’t be walking on the moon today if it was up to all the people who are telling me “Don’t do it; don’t fight.”

In 1999 “What Now?: Words of Wisdom for Life after Graduation” compiled by Jennifer Leigh Selig included the quotation: 4

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

In conclusion, Muhammad Ali employed this quotation several times starting in 1977 or earlier. Ali should receive credit for this remark.

Image Notes: Illustration of blue boxing gloves from geralt at Pixabay. Image has been resized, retouched, and cropped.


  1. 1977 April 14, Fort Lauderdale News, Ali, Louis: The Spectre of Greatness Past (Continuation title: More Lincicome) by Bernie Lincicome (Sports Editor), Start Page 1D, Quote Page 6D, Column 1, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1977 October 29, Chicago Tribune, Kids meet Ali: man of many faces by Barbara Reynolds, Quote Page 1, Column 3 and 4, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1980 March 7, The Miami News, Quadruple champion of the world returns . . . fat and sassy, Quote Page 10A, Column 3, Miami, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1999 Copyright, What Now?: Words of Wisdom for Life after Graduation by Jennifer Leigh Selig, Section: Reaching for the Stars, Quote Page 241, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, Missouri. (Verified with scans)