Today In History: Muhammad Ali Beats Sonny Liston For World Title

Today In History |

Today in 1964, Muhammad Ali, then still going by Cassius Clay, knocked out Sonny Liston in the seventh round of a world heavyweight boxing championship match, shocking the world. Clay, only 22 at the time, was expected to lose resoundingly.


This was the match that elicited Ali's famous "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" quote, as he was declaring to a skeptical viewing audience that he'd defeat the champ. 

Ali won by TKO, when Liston, with a hurt shoulder, did not answer the bell for the seventh round. Ali had predicted that he'd knock out Liston in round eight. He did it in seven. He was announced the new champion.

The Wall Street Journal

He celebrated at a hotel in Miami. In attendance was none other than Malcolm X, who had become a friend. Two days afterwards, Clay announced that he had joined the Nation of Islam and spoke about his Muslim faith. That year, he also adopted the name Muhammad Ali.

Ali's career was notable not only for his athletic accomplishments, but also for his ascendancy into the world of political comment. His title, which he defended nine consecutive times, was stripped from him in 1967 when he rejected the draft and registered as a conscientious objector. A petition that was refused. He received a five year prison sentence - he was allowed his freedom as he went through the appeal process. Conservative America was furious, but his esteem grew to heroic proportions in the eyes of many around the world.


Ali was allowed back in the ring in 1970. In 1971, the Supreme Court threw out his conviction. Three years later, he reclaimed his heavyweight title from George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle," a now famous match held in Zaire. 

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.