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🚨Cassius Clay Takes Heavyweight Title from Sonny Liston

Feb. 25, 1964 - Incredibly, the loud-mouthed, bragging, insulting young fighter had been telling the truth all along. Cassius Clay won the world heavyweight title tonight when a bleeding Sonny Liston, his left shoulder apparently injured, was unable to answer the bell for the seventh round. Immediately after he had been announced as the new heavyweight champion of the world, Clay yelled to newsmen covering the fight: “Eat your words!” Only three of 46 sportswriters covering the fight had picked him to win.

A crowd of 8,297, on its feet through the early rounds at Convention Hall in Miami Beach, sat stunned during the one-minute rest period between the sixth and seventh rounds. Only Clay seemed to know what had happened; he threw up his hands and danced in the center of the ring. The victory was scored as a technical knockout in the seventh, one round less than Clay had predicted.

The fight was Clay’s from the start. The tall, swift youngster, his hands carelessly low, backed away from Liston’s jabs, circled around Liston’s dangerous left hook, and opened a nasty gash under Liston’s left eye. He never let Liston tie him up for short, brutal body punches, and although he faltered several times, he refused to allow himself to be cornered. His long left jab kept bouncing off Liston’s face. From the beginning, it was hard to believe.

There was little action in the fourth, as Cassius continued to dance and circle. Once, he opened his eyes wide as a Liston jab fell short, and it seemed as if he was mocking the heavy-footed hunter. As it turned out, Cassius could barely see. He began complaining to Angelo Dundee, his trainer, at the end of his round. Something had gotten into his eyes, from Liston’s glove, from the sponge, somewhere. But he went out for the fifth anyway, and all Dundee could do was shout, “Stay away from him, stay away!” Clay tried to stay away. Sensing something, Liston bulled forward, slamming Cassius with a left hook in the nose and lefts and rights to the body. Blinking furiously, Clay kept circling away. He never hit back.

By the end of the round, both fighters were sluggish and breathing heavily. Liston seemed even more tired in the sixth as Clay’s eyes cleared and the younger man bore in, then leaped away, jabbing and hooking and landing a solid right to Liston’s jaw. Clay’s jabs were slipping through at will now, bouncing off that rock-like face, opening the cut under Sonny’s left eye.

Liston walked back to his corner at the end of the sixth. He did not sit down immediately. Then, as Liston did sit down, Clay came dancing out to the center of the ring, waving his arms, all alone. “I just can’t go back,” a Liston aide reported Sonny to have said.

Until the knockout, the officials had had the fight a draw. Referee Barney Felix had scored the rounds 57-57 on the 10-point-must system. Judge Bill Lovitt scored it 58-56 for Liston, and Judge Gus Jacobsen 58-56 for Clay. But points didn’t really matter after all. Poetry and youth and joy had triumphed over 7-1 odds. And until it had happened, people laughed at the thought that it could happen.


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