Those who had a event to watch Muhammad Ali in a fighting ring witnessed pristine jaunty prevalence wrapped in a ardent arrangement of pretension bravado. For those who never got a possibility to see a heavyweight champion boxer, a pages of LIFE offering an insinuate look—if not utterly a tighten second to a genuine thing.

LIFE’s editors dispatched many of a magazine’s photographers—including John Shearer, George Silk, John Dominis and Bob Gomel—to constraint a contestant during work and during play. Images of Ali in a ring etch a extreme competitor, his chiseled physique reflecting oppressive track lights, his facial countenance a really design of focus. Though a watchful faces of spectators infrequently find their approach into a frame, it’s transparent that, to Ali, he and his competition are a usually ones in a room.

Photos of Ali outward a arena, meanwhile, offer windows into opposite aspects of his personality. Some, like Shearer’s 1971 sketch of a fighter derisive opposition Joe Frazier, uncover a strategy he used to try to dominate opponents into believing, as he did, that he was indeed “the greatest.” Other images, like Shearer’s shot of him outward his Champburger grill before holding on Frazier, uncover a some-more witty side, a enterprise to greatfully his legions of fans.

The bequest of Muhammad Ali, of course, extends distant over his feats of athleticism, to his purpose as a village personality to his work as a poet. As he wrote in LIFE’s pages in 1966:

I can take it on a chin
And that’s a honest law my friend.
Now from Muhammad we only heard
The latest and a truest word.
So when they ask we what’s a latest
Just contend ‘Ask Ali. He’s still a greatest.’