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  Monday, 14 January, 2002, 14:05 GMT
The biggest upset ever
Cassius Clay v Sonny Liston - 1964, Miami
Clay (right) often slugged it out with Liston
By BBC Sport Online's Sanjeev Shetty

Muhammad Ali enjoyed several defining moments inside a boxing ring - but when he first became world heavyweight champion, his name was still Cassius Clay.

Brash, cocky and supremely handsome, the young Clay openly challenged and berated Sonny Liston for a chance to fight for the sport's richest prize in 1964.

Most people thought Clay was a lunatic - he was effectively enraging a champion considered invincible by most of the world.

Liston had built his reputation on two first round knockouts of Floyd Patterson - the first won him the title, the second made him a ring monster.

I don't have a mark on my face, I upset Sonny Liston and I just turned 22-years-old - I must be the greatest
Clay after the fight

Everything about Liston was ominous - his thick build, his mean, narrow eyes, his two periods in jail and his alleged connections to the Mob.

Apart from his power shows against Patterson, Liston had knocked out other contenders such as Cleveland Williams, Nino Valdes and Zora Folley.

His only loss had come during the early 1950s and even then he had proved his toughness by lasting the distance despite suffering a broken jaw.

Conversely, Clay came into the fight having suffered his greatest humiliation yet - a knockdown courtesy of Henry Cooper's left hook.

Critics understandably predicted doom for Clay, offering the theory that Liston's left hook would wreak bigger damage on the challenger's chin.

In the build-up to the fight, Clay taunted Liston relentlessly, describing him as a 'big, ugly bear' and even driving to his house late at night to continue the insults.

His behaviour was interpreted as the actions of a frightened man, a theory apparently confirmed when his blood pressure was found to be high before the fight.

The venue for the fight was Miami and the date was 25 February, with Clay a huge betting underdog.

I think he should be arrested for impersonating a fighter
Liston on Clay

The tension around the fight had heightened when Sugar Ray Robinson took Clay's side before the fight, while heavyweight legend Joe Louis walked with Liston.

"Me and Sugar Ray are two pretty dancers - Joe Louis and Sonny Liston are flat-footed," crowed Clay.

But he did not dance as much as expected in the opening round, a three-minute period which showed the challenger had no qualms about standing in front of his opponent.

The pair carried on fighting for seconds after the round ended with the noise in the arena drowning out the sound of the bell.

By round four, Clay was dominant and Liston's camp starting to feel that the fight was slipping away.

What happened in the champion's corner then is still a matter of uncertainty.

What is fact is that Clay came back to his corner before the start of round five complaining that his eyes were burning.

Sonny Liston the night before his fight with Cassius Clay
Liston - as intimidating as any fighter in history
Although never proved, the general consensus was that an ointment applied to Liston's gloves rubbed into Clay's face.

The challenger's trainer Angelo Dundee told Clay to just dance around the ring in circles.

Amazingly, he pulled it off and dominated the sixth round in emphatic style.

Before the start of the seventh round, a bloodied and tired Liston told his corner he did not want to continue, citing an injured shoulder as his main reason.

Clay began a mini shuffle in the centre of the ring, before hysteria took over as he told everyone in attendance how great he was.

Within a month he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali and a legend was born.

Cassius Clay after beating Liston in 1964
"I have a surprise for the world and a surprise for Sonny Liston"
BBC Sport Online reviews the life and career of Muhammad Ali at 60

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The great fights




Links to more Ali at 60 stories are at the foot of the page.

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Links to more Ali at 60 stories

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