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It was the summer of 1960. Floyd Patterson was the World Heavyweight Champion. Sonny Liston was terrorising the division. And Light Heavyweight Cassius Clay was winning Olympic Gold in Rome despite being afraid of flying. Little did we know at this time Clay and Listons paths would cross again.
Floyd Patterson had just regained the championship from Ingemar Johansson. Sonny Liston was eager for a shot but Patterson’s manager Cus D’Amato refused to allow his fighter to fight Liston due to his criminal past. In fact the newspapers were stating at the time whether Liston should actually be allowed to fight for the championship. However while Patterson was defeating the likes of Tom McNeeley, Liston was defeating contenders such as Cleveland Williams and Eddie Machen.
Patterson however bowed to public pressure and defended against Liston in 1962. To the surprise of no-one Liston took the title knocking out the champion in the first round. There was a rematch and Patterson had the satisfaction of lasting a few seconds longer.
Cassius Clay began his professional career not long after winning Olympic Gold defeating Tunney Hunsaker on points after six rounds. He continued his unbeaten path over the next three years defeating the likes of Archie Moore, Sonny Banks, Doug Jones and Henry Cooper more often than not predicting the round in which he would do it. Clay then proceeded to stalk the champion even turning up uninvited at Listons house one night with a bear net.
The fight was to be on February 25 1964 at Miami Beach. Clay was made a
7-1 underdog leading Clay to say “If you wanna lose your money then bet on Sonny”. Most boxing writers though didn’t give Clay a chance saying it was cruel to let a pretty boy in the ring with an ex convict. At the weigh in Clay was hysterical predicting that Liston would fall in eight. The weigh in to be honest was a shambles and this was what Clay wanted. He was fined $1500 by the Miami Boxing Commission for his outburst. Witnesses believed that the challenger was actually scared to death but when Clay’s doctor checked him later he was perfectly normal.
The arena In Miami that night was half full. People thought that this was going to be another quick night for Liston. The fight started with Clay circling the ring making Liston look ponderous. He certainly didn’t look like a 7-1 underdog. In Round 3 Clay opened a cut over Listons eye with a left/right combination. The challenger was boxing beautifully. Suddenly however there was a crisis for Clay. In Round 4 a liniment from Listons eye got into Clays and the challenger had difficulty seeing. By the start of Round 5 Clay was blind and Angelo Dundee’s only instructions for the round was run.
Clay spent Round 5 back pedalling from Liston just poking out a left to the champions face. It was amazing but Clay was fighting one of the most feared heavyweight champions ever completely blind. Clay though weathered the storm and by Round 6 Clays eyes had cleared and he spent the round dictating the fight again. A weary Liston headed back to his corner.
Amazingly Liston stayed on his stool at the start of Round 7 claiming a shoulder injury. Most people that night thought that Liston had just quit. Clay went into a frenzy pointing at the press saying that he told them so and then stating “I shook up the world”
This was to be the last ever fight for Cassius Clay. A day after winning the title he denounced his “slave name” and from then on became Muhammad Ali.
Ali and Liston would meet a further time for the title, once again in controversial circumstances.
By Lee Bellfield
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