Advertisement
Sports

From the Archives: ‘I’ve upset the world!’ cries Cassius

Clay Liston Title Fight

American boxer Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali), on his way to defeating Sonny Liston during their world heavyweight title fight at Miami Beach, Fla. on Feb. 25, 1964.

(Harry Benson / Getty Images)

The ending was so weird people may always think it smelled, but throw out the suspicions.

Cassius Clay whipped Sonny Liston here Tuesday night and won the heavyweight championship of the world, fair and square.

When the bell sounded for Round Seven, Liston didn’t come out. It goes in the record book as a TKO in the seventh.

“I’ve upset the world,” yelled Cassius when the bout was halted.

Advertisement

Surprise Finish

Liston lost it officially in the only way that no one had figured. They say he threw his left shoulder out in the first round.

But the Miami Beach Boxing Commission has ordered Liston’s purse held up pending an examination today by two orthopedic specialists, Dr. Lester Russin and Dr. Stan Weinkle.

The kid with the big mouth lived up to it and was winning the fight. He did a tremendous job of outboxing the ponderous champ.

Advertisement

No one guessed it during the fight but there was an indication that something might have gone wrong with Liston. He hit Clay some pretty good licks and nothing happened. The power was gone.

Slumped on Stool

The bout ended in total confusion. Everyone was left in the dark as to what happened.

Liston remained dejectedly in his corner, slumped wearily on the stool when the bell rang. He had a mouse under both eyes. He had been cut up badly.

The first impression was that he had quit. No doctor had been called up to look him over.

His handlers, Jack Nilon and Willie Reddish, supposedly made the decision, not Liston.

Ache in Arm

They say Liston told them at the end of the first round that he had hurt his shoulder. He felt a dull ache in his arm which kept growing worse.

Advertisement

Liston was rushed to the St. Francis Hospital.

The dislocated shoulder would explain Liston’s loss of punching power but he had already been exposed as an over-rated champ by the brash young Clay.

Liston’s efforts to land a clean punch against the constantly moving Cassius often were ludicrous.

Officially it was an even fight at the end of six. Judge Bill Lovitt had Liston leading, 58 to 56. Judge Gus Jacobson had Clay ahead, 59 to 56. Referee Barney Felix had it even, 57 to 57.

They were even, 58 to 58, on my scorecard. But the young boxer was about to pull ahead.

Clay was in real danger at the start of the fifth when he came out blinking his eyes desperately. He said Liston had tried to blind him with the liniment on his gloves.

Best Punch

Liston drove in hard in a desperate effort to take advantage of his opportunity. He got over his best punch, a terrific left to the body.

Advertisement

Clay winced. This was the sort of punch that was supposed to bring his hands down and set him up for the kill.

Instead, Clay’s hands came up right smack in Liston’s face. Cassius speared him silly with slaps to the nose.

Liston must have been discouraged and became convinced at this time that he was through.

In the sixth, Liston fought dispiritedly, landing only one punch. Clay was landing at will.

Clay fought exactly the sort of fight he had promised, constantly moving, tossing sharp punches in series of four and five in a row.

The crowd sensed immediately that this would be no repetition of the fast Patterson KOs.

Cassius opened a cut under Liston’s left eye in the third round. He rocked Sonny’s head with a half-dozen sharp blows. He had Liston bleeding and groggy.

Appeared to Tire

Still no one believed there would be an upset because Cassius appeared to tire under the effort to keep constantly on the move.

Fans thought he’d be too weak to protect himself but it was Liston who couldn’t stand the pace.

After his weird exhibition at the morning weigh-in a totally different Clay turned up in the ring. He was calm and determined. He cut out all the hokum that had also marked his training. He came to fight.

But he recovered his voice after his startling victory.

Bubbles Over

“What are you going to say now?” he screamed at the press. “I whipped him so bad he had to go to the hospital. I don’t have a mark. The bear couldn’t even hit me. I put him in the hospital.”

The joy in him came bubbling out.

“They can’t call it a fix. I didn’t stop the fight. The doctor had to do it. All you writers made it hard on Liston writing the kind of stuff you did. Ain’t nobody going to stop me. I just played with him.

“If he wants a rematch he can have it. Oh, I whipped him so bad. I shook up the world. Who’s the greatest?” he demanded of the scribes.

Not a sound answered him.

“Who’s the greatest?” he asked again. A few writers called out “Cassius.”

“I’ll give you one more chance,” said the youngster. “Who’s the greatest?”

“You are, Cassius,” the writers finally responded.

The Louisville Lip, aged 22, scored one of the most shocking upsets in the history of the heavyweight division. I can’t recall that any champion ever gave up his title while sitting in his corner.

Gate Falls Short

The live gate fell far short of expectations, as people showed their resentment over the high prices set by the promoter.

Clay will be even harder to live with now that he’s world champion. He’s bound to make himself out to be a lot greater than he is.

We still think he’s a year away from being a good fighter.

But he won and that’s what counts.

Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 26, 1964.

 


Advertisement