Feb. 25. This Date in Boxing History. The Ali Title Reign Begins
Cassius Clay was undefeated (19-0), but the 22-year old Louisville Lip was accorded scant chance of defeating Sonny Liston when they met on Feb. 25, 1964, at the Miami Beach Convention Hall. In a pre-fight media poll, 55 of 58 respondents picked Sonny by knockout. The great LA Times sportswriter Jim Murray likened the contest to a guy probing a gas leak with a candle. Clay was the poor sap holding the candle.
Liston was riding a 29-fight winning streak and had dispatched his last three opponents in the opening round, but the lopsided vote said more about his aura. His ham-hock fists, 84-inch reach (16 inches longer than Rocky Marciano, by way of comparison), sullen demeanor, and lengthy rap sheet were blended into a portrait of a man who wasn't fully human. As Thomas Hauser notes, Sonny Liston was then widely regarded as the reincarnation of Godzilla.
The bout was even on the scorecards but tilting Clay's way heading into Round 7. But Liston remained on his stool, complaining of a bum shoulder. The unsatisfactory ending put boxing in a harsh light once again.
This was Cassius Clay's last fight. Henceforth, he would be known as Muhammad Ali. In the ensuing years he stirred up more controversy, engaged in a slew of epic bouts, and became the most famous athlete on the planet.