Cassius Clay Won Heavyweight Title Over Sonny Liston 50 Years Ago

Wednesday, 26 Feb 2014 09:04 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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It was supposed to be another easy win for world heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Center, 50 years ago on Tuesday, against young upstart and loudmouth Cassius Clay.

By the end of the night, though, Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round, giving the world title to the former Olympic boxing champion Clay, who would soon change his name to Muhammad Ali. Ali went on to become one of the best known and most controversial athletes in the world.

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Sports Illustrated's Richard Rothchild said Ali entered the match with more bravado than professional boxing experience. 

"Cassius Marcellus Clay, the undefeated challenger, delighted in predicting the round his opponents would fall with a mix of braggadocio, bad poetry and humor that was highly unorthodox in the early 1960s," Rothchild wrote.

"Liston's two previous fights had been devastating first-round knockouts of former heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson. . . . Liston was an (8-1) favorite for the Feb. 25, 1964, title match at Miami Beach's Convention Hall, and most boxing observers thought Clay would do well to last a round," Rothchild added.

Because he embraced Islam and had a close relationship with civil rights leader Malcolm X, Ali became associated with the nation's hot button social issues of the time, such as race and civil rights.

"What Clay did on Feb. 25, 1964 was change the face of not only boxing, but to some degree sports in general," WFOR-TV reported. "Boxing, and sports in general, went from bland to bombastic. The idea of a boxing match as an event or spectacle was born when Clay captured the heavyweight title that night. 

"For Clay, it was the last time he would fight in the ring under that name. Around a week or two after the fight, he was given the name Muhammad Ali and he has since used the rest of his life and his stardom to impact issues around the globe," the outlet added.

During a symposium about the fight in Miami on Tuesday, panelist Suzanne Dundee Bonner, daughter of the fight's promoter, Chris Dundee, said her father convinced Ali to wait until after the fight to change his name. Dundee feared it would affect attendance at the match and close circuit television viewership, according to the Miami Herald. 

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