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Cassius Clay Upset Of Sonny Liston Was More Than Just Boxing

Cassius Clay Upset Of Sonny Liston Was More Than Just Boxing


Cassius Clay Upset Of Sonny Liston Was More Than Just Boxing

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Cassius Clay Upset Of Sonny Liston Was More Than Just Boxing

60 years ago, on a chilly February night in Miami Beach, the world – bore witness to one of the most iconic moments in boxing history. It was a matchup of menacing champ and loud-mouthed former Olympic Gold Medalist, battle intimidation and seemingly foolish bravado. Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) was that young, charismatic contender, and the supposed invincible champ, Sonny Liston, found out that night that “The Greatest” was only beginning.

Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston

Clay-Liston I Backstory

Leading up to the bout, the boxing world was abuzz with anticipation. Clay, known for his lightning-fast fists and equally dazzling footwork, had been making waves with his bold predictions and flamboyant antics. On the other hand, Liston, the reigning heavyweight champion, was a menacing figure in the ring, feared by opponents for his devastating power and intimidating demeanour.

Clay, just 22 years old at the time, was obviously considered the massive underdog against Liston, who was a decade older and had already established himself as one of the most dominant heavyweights of his era. Many believed this fight was a joke- that would deliver its punchline with another Liston early KO.

But what Clay lacked in experience, he made up for in confidence and raw talent. He famously proclaimed, “I am the greatest!” in the lead-up to the fight, a statement that would soon become synonymous with his persona.

Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston: The Fight Itself

February 25, 1964, was the date, and from the opening bell, it was clear that Clay had come to fight. He danced around the ring with lightning speed, using his superior footwork and agility to evade Liston’s powerful punches.

Liston, frustrated by Clay’s elusive style, struggled to land clean shots on his elusive opponent. As the rounds progressed, Clay continued to outmanoeuvre Liston, peppering him with jabs and combinations while avoiding significant damage. And, all the while, beginning to taunt the heavyweight champ.

Then, in the sixth round, the unexpected happened. It was Clay, filled with speed and determination – unleashing a barrage of punches and fast moves that caught Liston off guard. A powerful combination left Liston reeling, with some gasping and others cheering in the arena.

Then, suddenly and amazingly, Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round, citing a shoulder injury. Cassius Clay has done it and was declared the winner by technical knockout. A moment that shocked the boxing world and cemented his place in all-time heavyweight upset history.

But the Clay upset, and Ali’s subsequent reign was just as big outside of the ring. Hear Dan Rafael and T.J. Rives discussing his social and political influences and more on the newest “Fight Freaks Unite Recap Podcast” by clicking play below,

The Aftermath of Clay-Liston I

The victory catapulted Cassius Clay to superstardom, and days later he would soon become known as Muhammad Ali, converting to Islam. His triumph over Liston marked the beginning of a legendary career that would see him become one of the most iconic figures, not just in boxing, but in all of sports history in the final 50 years of the 20th century.

However, it wasn’t without controversy, including Ali refusing induction into the U.S. military for the Vietnam War, being suspended from the sport for almost three years, but eventually being vindicated in a Supreme Court ruling.

As for Sonny Liston, the loss to Clay was a devastating blow to his reputation. And, it was further damaged by the controversial one-round KO by Ali of Liston in just the first round in May of the following year. Although he would go on to fight for several more years, Liston was never the same as he had been before facing Cassius Clay that chilly February night in Miami Beach.


Cassius Clay became a world champion that night, and even though there were Muhammad Ali losses later in his career, no one could doubt the skill in the ring and on the microphone that endeared (but also angered some) so many boxing fans.

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Michael is the CEO of Last Word On Sports INC and is happy to be involved with Big Fight Weekend. He is credentialed with several international governing bodies. He cites the Hagler-Leonard fight as his introduction to boxing--and what an introduction that was!

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