1964-02-25 Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) w rtd 7 (15) Sonny Liston, Convention Hall, Miami Beach, Florida, USA - WORLD

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1964-02-25 Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) w rtd 7 (15) Sonny Liston, Convention Hall, Miami Beach, Florida, USA - WORLD. Referee: Barney Felix. On beating the 7-1 favourite, Liston (218) for the title, amidst stories of the latter taking a dive, Clay (210½) backed up his pre-fight comments when winning the title in what was in all probability the biggest upset in the division’s history. Circling the ring at speed from the opening bell, Clay made it difficult for the champion to catch up with him before trading blows and going on his bike again. That was the pattern of the fight. In the fifth round, Clay began blinking his eyes as if there was a real problem as he scurried around the ring with Liston in pursuit, later inferring that he thought there was a substance on the champion’s gloves, something that was never proved. After that, with Clay making the head his target and Liston going for the body, the two men traded more punches in the sixth than in previous sessions before the latter retired on his stool prior to the seventh getting underway. Liston, who had six stitches inserted in a cut under his left eye that was almost shut, claimed to have dislocated his left shoulder in the opening round and although his purse was initially held his story was later accepted. What could not be disputed was the fact that Clay had taken Liston’s best punches and, at times, had given him a boxing lesson.

Having recently changed his name from that of Cassius Clay, Ali was stripped by the WBA in September 1964, due to his decision to go ahead with a return fight with Liston, and plans were made to set up an elimination tournament. Following a fight between Doug Jones and George Chuvalo on 2 October at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, which produced an 11th-round stoppage win for the latter, four men, Chuvalo, Ernie Terrell, Cleveland Williams and Floyd Patterson, were named for the semi-final legs. However, Patterson had already been matched against Chuvalo, which broke a WBA regulation and, although the winner (Patterson outpointed Chuvalo over 12 rounds on 1 February 1965 at Madison Square Garden) was promised first crack at the new champion, it was Williams and Terrell who were selected to contest the vacant title. Unfortunately, for Williams, he was put out of action when suffering bullet wounds during a scuffle with a policeman and was replaced by the next logical contender, Eddie Machen.

Both men had met the cream of the division and deserved their opportunity. With just five defeats in 54 contests, the 6’6” Terrell had already outpointed Machen and had also beaten Frankie Daniels, Amos Lincoln, Young Jack Johnson (twice), Williams, Zora Folley and Bob Foster among a good many others. Despite being effective he was not box-office, his long left jab and holding routine not going down well with the punters. A box-fighter with a good jab, fast hands and punching ability, Machen had recovered from a first-round defeat at the hands of Ingemar Johansson and had notched up wins over Julio Mederos (twice), Nino Valdes (twice), John Holman, Johnny Summerlin, Joey Maxim (twice), Bob Baker, Tommy Jackson, Alex Miteff, Brian London and Jones. He had also shown his mettle when going 12 rounds with Liston.

Disappointingly, the Ali v Liston contest set for 13 November was postponed indefinitely after Ali underwent a hernia operation, having complained of severe pains during supper. Examined by specialists at the beginning of February 1965 to see how well he had recovered from his recent surgery, Ali was given the all clear and a few weeks later it was announced that he would be meeting Liston in Boston, Massachusetts, which was later changed to Lewiston, Maine.

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