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On This Date in Sports February 25, 1964

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Cassius Clay shakes up the world by winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World after Sonny Liston is unable to answer the bell for the start of the seventh round at the Miami Convention Center. Liston was listed as an 8-1 favorite for the fight, as Clay boastfully declared that he would win. A day after becoming the new champion, Clay again shook the world announcing he was changing his name to Muhammad Ali.

Cassius Clay Jr. was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville. Learning to fight after having his bike stolen when he was 12-years-old, Clay won a Gold Medal in the Light Heavyweight Division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Cassius Clay made his debut shortly after the Olympics and quickly became a top contender. After winning 19 straight fights, he was given a shot at the heavyweight championship held by Sonny Liston.

Charles “Sonny” Liston was born in Arkansas, sometime around 1932. Learning how to fight while in prison, Liston turned professional in 1953. Known as a heavy hitter, he slowly climbed the ranks as he overcame a loss early in his career. On September 25, 1962, Sonny Liston won the heavyweight title with a first round knockout of Floyd Patterson at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. The following year Liston knocked Patterson out in the first round again in Las Vegas.

While Cassius Clay had style, not many gave him a chance against the brute force of Sonny Liston. Clay boasted through the pre-fight hype that he would win, breaking out into poetry at every given chance. When the fight began, the champion tried to intimidate Clay, with a stare down at the opening instructions. Like he did in his two first round knockouts of Floy Patterson, Sonny Liston trough power punches early and often, but Clay was took quick and slowly jabbed the “Big Bear”. Those in Liston’s corner began to worry that the challenger was winning the fight. In the fifth round, Cassius Clay was momentarily blinded as a substance used to stop Liston’s cuts somehow got in his eyes. Clay would recover and turned a fury on, which wore down Liston quickly. The fight was even on most judge’s scorecards, but Sonny Liston stayed in his corner as the bell rang for the seventh round.

Sonny Liston claimed that he hurt his shoulder early in the fight and was unable to continue. The two would not fight again for 15 months, when Sonny Liston went down with a first round knockout in Lewiston, Maine. Most said it was a phantom punch as Liston who was alleged to having ties to gamblers was asked to take a dive. The fight would have no impact on the career of Muhammad Ali, who went on to have a legendary career, while Liston faded into obscurity and died of a drug overdose in Las Vegas at the end of 1970.