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Last year, Smith honored Ali at Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year ceremony, where the Legacy Award was renamed the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. On stage, the Suicide Squad star recalled what it was like to play the three-time World Heavyweight Champion in the 2001 film.

“There’s no doubt that he was a great boxer. He was the greatest of all time,” Smith said. “When we think about the legacy of Muhammad Ali, what he did in the ring is not what we think about.”

“For nearly two years, I worked to transform myself into the man who changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and shook up the world, and that’s really what makes my job so beautiful,” he continued. “As an actor, for four or five months at a time, I get to wear people’s lives, so I got to wear Muhammad Ali’s greatness. I got to study and feel and embody the soul of the man from the foundations of Islam and the strength of his Muslim faith in his life to the beautiful wake that he always leaves in his magnificent path.”

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Will Smith Pays His Respects to Muhammad Ali: ‘You Changed My Life’  was originally published on

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