Sonny Liston vs Cassius Clay
|Date||February 25, 1964|
|Title(s) on the line||WBA/WBC Heavyweight Champion|
|Sonny “The Big Bear” Liston vs. Cassius “The Louisville Lip” Clay|
|Tale of the tape|
|Sand Slough, Arkansas||From||Louisville, Kentucky|
|35-1 (24 KO’s)||Pre-fight record||19-0 (15 KO’s)|
The 32 year old Liston defended his title against the 22 year old Clay on February 25, 1964, in Miami Beach, Florida, Clay weighed in at 206 lbs while Liston was 218 lb (at age 22 Liston had weighed 206 lbs while at 32 Ali weighed 217 lbs). Many of those watching were surprised during the referee’s instructions to see that Clay was considerably taller than Liston, the so called ‘Big Bear’.
When the fight began it became apparent that Liston was out of condition. Right from the first round, Clay’s superior speed was evident, as he slipped most of Liston’s punches with seeming ease. Clay was constantly moving, and his superb reflexes and fast, effective jab made it difficult for Liston to score with his slower arm-speed and heavy punches. Toward the end of the round, Clay hit Liston with a combination that electrified the crowd.
In the third round, Clay opened up his attack and hit Liston with several combinations, causing a bruise under Liston’s right eye and a cut under his left. At one point in the round, Liston’s knees buckled under Clay’s attack and he almost went down. During the fourth round, Clay coasted, keeping his distance. However, when he returned to his corner Clay started complaining that there was something burning in his eyes and that he could not see. Clay shouted: “cut off my gloves,” but trainer Angelo Dundee responded, “this is the big one, daddy…we’re not quitting now!”. He rinsed Clay’s eyes with a sponge and pushed him off his stool to begin the fifth round, telling him to “get out there and run.” Clay managed to survive the round.
It has been theorized that a substance used to stop Liston’s cuts from bleeding (possibly Monsel’s solution) may have caused the irritation, either through accidental contact with Clay or by being purposely applied to Liston’s gloves by his corner, possibly at Liston’s request. Neither explanation has ever been proven.
By the sixth Clay’s sight had cleared, and he resumed control of the fight, landing combinations of punches seemingly at will. “I got back to my stool at the end of the sixth round, and under me I could hear the press like they had gone wild,” Clay later said. “I twisted round and hollered down at the reporters, ‘I’m gonna upset the world.’” In Liston’s corner, he told his corner-men that he couldn’t continue, complaining of a shoulder injury. Clay was the first to notice Liston spit out his mouth guard; he moved to the middle of the ring with his arms raised, dancing the jig that would become known as the “Ali Shuffle.” Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round and Clay was declared the winner by technical knockout.
Sensing that he had made history, Clay quickly ran to the ropes to remind sportswriters that he had told them so all along, shouting “eat your words!” In a scene that has been rebroadcast countless times over the ensuing decades, Clay repeatedly yelled “I’m the greatest!” and “I shook up the world!” The day after the fight, Clay announced that he was changing his name to Cassius X, but then he adopted the name Muhammad Ali the following week.
There has been speculation about whether Liston’s shoulder injury was severe enough to actually prevent him from continuing the fight. Alexander Robbins, physican for the Miami Beach Boxing Commission, diagnosed Liston with a torn tendon in his left shoulder. However, author David Remnick states that he spoke with one of Liston’s corner men years after the fight, who told him Liston could have continued: “[The shoulder] was all BS. We had a return bout clause with Clay, and if you say your guy just quit, who is gonna get a return bout. We cooked up that shoulder thing on the spot.”