Stunned Liston Learned Who Was Greatest

Only three of 46 sportswriters covering the fight had picked him to win. Many newspapers didn’t even bother to cover it. And so it was a stunner when 8-1 shot Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to win the world heavyweight championship, 35 years ago today.

But most stunning of all was the way the title changed hands--with Liston quitting. He sat there on his stool, like a tamed bear, refusing to come out for the seventh round.

And the first to see that he had quit was the 22-year-old Clay, who came to center ring, gloves high, prepared to fight. Liston wasn’t. Clay saw the surrender in Liston’s eyes, and went into a crazy dance, the 8,297 in Miami Beach’s Convention Hall at first uncertain what had happened.

Liston claimed a shoulder injury, supported by a team of eight doctors in a postfight exam, who said Liston had torn a biceps tendon.

Said Liston’s manager, Jack Nilon: “Sonny hurt it in training, two weeks ago. Why didn’t we ask for a postponement? We thought we could get away with it.”


Meaning Liston and his people had grossly underestimated the challenger, who was even on points with Liston on two judges’ cards after six rounds. Liston had been missing badly. The quicker Clay simply leaned out of the way of Liston’s much-feared power shots.

Also on this date: In 1985, Arizona State asked for UCLA’s permission to talk to its football coach, Terry Donahue. . . . In 1967, Lew Alcindor scored 61 points to lead UCLA to its 23rd consecutive victory, 100-78, over Washington State. It remains a UCLA record for points scored in a game.