Video credit: Classic Sports
Muhammad Ali Knocks Out Sonny Liston
This video filmed on May 25, 1965 shows one of the most famous moments in sports history. It shows Cassius Clay (who changed his name to Muhammad Ali) knocking out Sonny Liston (former heavyweight champion) in the first round of their boxing match.
Lewiston, Maine May 25, 1965 – The two fights between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight Championship in boxing were among the most anticipated, watched and controversial fights in sport’s history. Sports Illustrated magazine named their first meeting, the Liston–Clay fight (Ali had not yet changed his name from Cassius Clay), as the fourth greatest sports moment of the twentieth century.
The first bout was held in February 1964 in Miami Beach, Florida. Clay (later Ali) won when Liston gave up at the opening of the seventh round (after being clearly dominated in the sixth). Their second fight was in May 1965 in Lewiston, Maine, which Ali won with a first-round knockout.
Liston was the World Heavyweight Champion at the time of the first Liston–Clay fight in Miami Beach on February 25, 1964, having demolished former champion Floyd Patterson by a first-round knockout in September 1962. Ten months later, Liston and Patterson met again with the same result—Patterson was knocked out in the first round.
Liston was the most intimidating fighter of his day, and considered by some, at the time of the Clay fight, to be among the best heavyweights of all time. Many were reluctant to meet him in the ring. Henry Cooper, the British champion, said he would be interested in a title fight if Clay won, but he was not going to get in the ring with Liston. Cooper’s manager, Jim Wicks, said, “We don’t even want to meet Liston walking down the same street.”
Boxing promoter Harold Conrad said, “People talked about [Mike] Tyson before he got beat, but Liston was more ferocious, more indestructible. … When Sonny gave you the evil eye—I don’t care who you were—you shrunk [sic] to two feet tall. Tex Maule wrote in Sports Illustrated: “Liston’s arms are massively muscled, the left jab is more than a jab. It hits with true shock power.
It never occurred to Liston that he might lose a fight. Johnny Tocco, a trainer who worked with George Foreman and Mike Tyson as well as Liston, said Liston was the hardest hitter of the three. Several boxing writers actually thought Liston could be damaging to the sport because he could not be beaten. Liston’s ominous, glowering demeanor was so central to his image that Esquire magazine caused a controversy by posing him in a Santa Claus hat for its December 1963 cover.