MIAMI (CBSMiami) – When a young boxer named Cassius Clay walked into the ring on Miami Beach; few gave him much of a chance against the heavyweight champion of the world. By the time he left the ring, Cassius Clay was well on his way to becoming arguably the greatest boxer in history.
From the beginning of the fight on February 25, 1964, something was different about this fight. Liston came out swinging and Clay used superior speed to outmaneuver the champion. Despite having a problem with his eye in one round, by the sixth round, Clay’s vision had cleared and he was on offense.
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After the sixth round, Liston didn’t answer the bell for the seventh round spitting his mouthguard out in disgust as the 22-year-old Clay immediately began celebrating as only the man known as the “Louisville Lip” could.
Fifty years later, boxing historian Ramiro Ortiz put together an exhibit of never-before-seen photos and memorabilia from that historic night in Miami. He was just 15-years-old at the time and unsuccessfully tried to sneak into the heavyweight slugfest.
“We sat outside, on a transistor radio we were all listening to the fight,” Ortiz recalled. “Obviously, none of us could believe what was going on.”
While Ortiz couldn’t get in, Suzanne Dundee Bonner was inside for the event. Her dad Chris promoted the fight and her uncle Angelo was Clay’s legendary trainer.
“It was electric,” Bonner said. “It was the first time I had ever seen any fight like that.”
Others who couldn’t get into the A-list event watched in movie theaters that Liston insisted would be integrated in order to show the fight. “He wasn’t really interested in integration. He was interested in separate but damn equal,” Ortiz said.
What Clay did on February 25, 1964 was change the face of not only boxing, but to some degree sports in general. 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 Muhammed Ali and he has since used the rest of his life and his stardom to impact issues around the globe.
“He used his platform as heavyweight champion of the world to implement social change in the social conscious,” Ortiz said.
What was billed by many in the media to be a mismatch turned out to be one of the biggest events in the history of boxing. It gave rise to heavyweight superstars like Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and laid the groundwork for boxers like Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
That February 25, 1964 night in Miami will forever be remembered as the night a brash and boastful boxer named Cassius Clay announced his presence to the world. What happened after that night changed not only boxing, but many things in society as well.
If you’d like to learn more about the historic event, HistoryMiami will host a panel discussion about the event titled “I Shook Up The World” on Tuesday.
The discussion will be held at HistoryMiami located at 101 West Flagler Street in Miami. It will feature stories from Ortiz, Bonner, Jimmy Dundee, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Howard Kleinberg and Don Cogswell. The discussion will be held from 7-9 p.m. and the price to get in is either $5 or $15.