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Olympic boxer Claressa Shields talks about her affection for Muhammad Ali

At age 17, Olympic gold medal boxer Claressa Shields had the honor of sharing a stage with Muhammad Ali during the National Constitution Center’s 2012 ceremony in Philadelphia, where Ali received the Liberty Medal for his humanitarian efforts. After the death of Ali on Friday night, Shields shared with The Undefeated her thoughts on the boxer’s death and how his legacy continues to affect her career.

“I’ve watched the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ 100 times. He fought against George Foreman and Foreman was the favorite because he was bigger and stronger than Ali. He was also younger. Ali did the rope-a-dope and everybody always compares me doing the rope-a-dope to him because I always used to lay on the ropes to fight people and land really hard shots. I could literally sit on the ropes and win the whole fight. I had to grow out of that, but I used to always do that when I was younger, when I was about 15 or 16. I was probably drawn to this fight because of the body punishment he took. He was able to take that punishment and be smart about it. He was able to finish the guy and that’s always something I pay attention to — just how smart he was about it. Everyone tells me I have a really good jab and to use it more like Ali did. He always used his jab. He could beat you with one hand if he wanted to.

“When I first found out, I was sad about it because it hit me that we’re not going to have any great fighters like him anymore — not as far as his skills, but his personality. This was somebody who made everybody feel important and cared about people. I got pretty emotional about it. I cried about it, then I went and looked up some videos of him and it just reminded me of how great he really was.

“ ‘You don’t really lose when you fight for what you believe in’ is my favorite Muhammad Ali quote. He never changed as a person. He always stuck to his beliefs. He always stated his opinions, no matter who got upset about it and he was just an honest man. I want to have those traits. I’m not going to let the media change how I talk or my opinions about things. He had strong beliefs and I have strong beliefs in my religion, also.

Claressa Shields of the United States celebrates her victory against Marina Volnova of Kazakhstan during the Women's Middle (75kg) Boxing semifinals on Day 12 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on August 8, 2012 in London, England.

Claressa Shields of the United States celebrates her victory against Marina Volnova of Kazakhstan in the women’s middle boxing semifinals on day 12 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL convention center.

Scott Heavey/Getty Images

“Right now, I’m fighting for women’s boxing. I’m fighting to bring attention to us and make it equal for men and women. If you believe in what you’re fighting for, you never really lose. I think about my boxing career from four years ago to now. I’m No. 9 in the 50 Most Dominant Athletes Alive, ahead of Kevin Durant and ahead of a few other people. It just shows me the progress in my career and the things that I’m trying to do. I hope one day I can go down in history and have a legacy live on like he did. His legacy will live forever.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.