Muhammad Ali Talks Faith and Boxing Career

In an interview from 1978, the boxing legend opens up to ABC News' Barbara Walters about how he lives his life and what he thinks his legacy will be.
7:08 | 06/05/16

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Transcript for Muhammad Ali Talks Faith and Boxing Career
Over the years, our Barbara Walters has interviewed everyone who is anyone, but one of her most memorable interviews, playful and tough, was with Muhammad Ali in 1978. He was at a crossroads in his career after being defeated by Leon Spinks in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. One legend interviewing another. Reporter: If I didn't know you, if we'd never met, I never heard of you, describe Muhammad Ali for me. Well, I'm just a person, like everybody else. Just popular. Reporter: What would hnl Muhammad Ali had been today had he stayed Cassius clay? I really don't know. I often think about it. When I started boxing, I was 1 year 12 years old. It was just for fun, not for just a sport. And wanted to go, to go to the olympics and find out if I could make a living and turn professional. And here I am. But I don't know what I would have been. I'd be working in some factory, probably a taxi driver or a red cap at theirport, because I wasn't an educated type person. I didn't plan on going to no college. Reporter: But what if you hadn't changed your life, your name, your belief and become Muhammad Ali? Cassius clay was already a fighter. What if you'd stayed that? If I'd just stayed Cassius clay, the fighter? Reporter: Yeah, yeah. Oh, you wouldn't be here, probably, today. Interviewing me. You couldn't ask me the questions you're talking to me, because you can't go asking no other boxer the questions you're probably going to have laid out for me. My name wouldn't be Muhammad Ali, I wouldn't be the world's most famous human. See, I'm the world's most recognized face. Reporter: Do you like yourself? Do you feel that you are a success as a man? Well, that's where mainly the success comes. Mainly a black man to be in white America, and to say what I've said, and to do what I've done, and is still number one, I mean, this don't happen in Hollywood. This don't happen in Beverly hills to those black people. They don't stand up and say and do the things I do, if it means jeopardizing the life or the money. So I'm more successful, and proven that I'm a man than anything else. Reporter: Is there anything you don't like about yourself? Oh, a lot of things. Reporter: Oh, name one or two or 20 or 30. I gain weight too easy. Reporter: Yeah. I don't like that. I'm lazy. I don't pray as much as I should pray. Reporter: How often do you pray? About twice a day. Reporter: How often should you pray? Five times a day. Muslim. And I don't attend religious services like I should. I may attend twice or once a month, when it should be at least twice a week. A lot of things I don't like, I got to straighten out. I don't like that my heart's too good, I'm always -- somebody's in need, really in need, I'm always trying to help them if I can. Reporter: Well, that's a good thing. Yeah. Reporter: Do have a temper? Only with those who I dearly love. If I don't love you, I don't care nothing about what you do, or what you say about me. But the -- but if my wife, if she makes me a little angry, I can get a temper, or if my children, or my mother, my father, my brother, but if you're no kin to me, I don't love you, then I don't care. That's my publicity, bad press, bad write-ups, all the controversy on me don't mean nothing. As long as I'm all right with my spiritual leader and my family, I don't care about the whole world. Reporter: Did you ever hit a man outside the ring? No. Reporter: Would you be scared to? Well, if you do something like that, you would be so angry at the time, you'd be such a method of self-defense involved, until -- I wouldn't have time to be scared, I would feel just in doing so, but I wouldn't hit nobody unless it meant saving my life or my wife or my family. Reporter: You always talk about how pretty you are, but what do you really think of your looks? That's -- I'm not ugly, I'm not handsome. I'm in the middle. Reporter: Okay, on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of a success, you say you're a 10. On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of your looks where you are? I'd be about -- about -- about eight. Reporter: About eight? Ah, the modesty, the modesty. Ali, it's 14 years since you became heavyweight champion of the world, and you say now, you're going to win it for the third time. You will be the only man ever to have regained the title. Three times. Reporter: Three times. What if you don't? Hm? Reporter: What if you don't? Then I don't. It's very simple. I don't. Reporter: Is it that simple? Yeah, I just don't. Reporter: Would it break your heart? No. That's why people are so shocked when I lost to Frazier. The only excuse is, he won. When I lost to ken Norton and broke my jaw, he won. When I lost to Spinks, he won. But I have people thinking that if I lose, I'll have so much shame in me. I'll jump out a window. See, my faith does not -- one of the things, really, I'm a spiritual man. Reporter: But it's a way of life for you. It's money, it's an entourage, it's a feeling about yourself. I'd give it all up tomorrow, find a job pumping gas in a gas station if I had to and me and my wife and my children get a two-room apartment and one bathroom and one kitchen and be happy. Reporter: Really? Yes, ma'am. Reporter: What happens to all of the people around you? And be happy. Reporter: What happens to the 50 people you take care of and support and are part of your world? No, no. I don't support 50 people. Reporter: That's what I read in "The New York times." No. All great kings, and all great -- I'm a great man. I'm one of the world's greatest humans. So, I've got a crew, so what? You've got a crew. You're a TV lady. You've got a little crew, trucks all out here and wires all lined up and oh - - for you. And I'm a world man. Can I have two or three people? Can I have a little crew? Reporter: It's not -- it's not, who do you think you are? It's, oh, please, take care of yourself. Don't end up with nothing. It really is much more sympathetic. Well, I don't worry about it. I don't even worry about it. Reporter: Is god black? No. God has no color. He sees, even though he has no eyes. He hears, though he has no ears. He remembers everything without the aid of mind or memory. He's not a man and not a woman. Reporter: Are you afraid of dying? No. Reporter: No. I'm afraid of knowing I'm going to die. I'm not afraid of dying. But I'm afraid of knowing that I'm getting ready to die, like I'm in an airplane and we say, the pilot says, ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts, it looks like we'll have a little rough weather. And we know there's a crash and this is not a dream, it's not a movie. The plane is crashing. I'm falling. That scares me. But the dying itself doesn't scare me. Reporter: If you had one year, if you knew you had one year left to live, what would you do? If I only had one year left to live? What would I do? I'd do all I could to please god. Not in a hypocritical way where he knows that I'm doing it because I'm just going to die. Reporter: Yeah? I'd try my best to be as

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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