1964 — Cassius Clay defeats Sonny Liston

Generally acknowledged as one of the greatest – if not, as he so often proclaimed, “the greatest” – Cassius Clay, or Muhammad Ali as he is better known, first fought Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964 in Miami Beach, Florida. Clay was an up and comer who had won gold for boxing in 1960, and recently defeated the British Heavyweight champion, Henry Cooper. Liston was the reigning World Heavyweight champion, who had knocked out Floyd Patterson in the first round of their title bout.

Coming into the bout, Liston and Clay were each immensely unpopular – Clay was seen as boastful and Liston was a convicted criminal – but most agreed that the champion would hold onto his title. 43 out of 46 sportswriters predicted that Liston would win with a knockout. In the event, Clay defeated Liston in the sixth round, although the match was not awarded until Liston refused to leave his corner at the bell beginning the seventh. Clay was declared the winner by a technical knockout.

The following year, in the rematch, Clay – now calling himself the more familiar Muhammad Ali – knocked out Liston in the first round of their rematch. Ali would go on to be the most successful heavyweight boxer of the modern era, but Liston would never again reach so high.

Referenced in:
Black Superman — Johnny Wakelin

1964 – Cassius Clay changes his name to Muhammad Ali

Cassius Clay was already the Heavyweight Champion of the World – having defeated Sonny Liston a little less than 2 weeks earlier – when he announced his conversion to the Nation of Islam (more widely known as the Black Muslims). With that, of course, came the change of name: Muhammad meaning ‘one who is worthy of praise’ Ali ‘fourth rightly guided caliph’.

Clay’s conversion was, to say the least, controversial. Many journalists refused to use his new name at first, and given Clay’s history of courting publicity, the name change was widely seen as a stunt. However, Ali’s conversion was quite sincere – although in 1975 he changed faiths to Sunni Islam – and he retains the name even today.

Referenced in:

Black Superman — Johnny Wakelin