An history-making heavyweight boxing match stood hours away from the opening bell when the two combatants weighed-in for the bout on February 25, 1964 in Miami Beach.
Sonny Liston had emerged as one of the most-feared fighters in the ring. Muhammad Ali, known then as Cassius Clay, was a young challenger known less for his boxing than for his non-stop verbal barrage. Liston’s legend included time served in prison for armed robbery, and a return to the pen for beating up a police officer. Simply getting a dirty look from Liston was enough to freeze most competitors in their tracks.
Into this intimidating scene strode Ali, a recent Olympic gold medalist who had simply survived against a left-hander in his last professional bout. Handicappers wrote Ali off as just another hopeful destined to be decimated by Liston’s sledgehammer attack. Forty-three of the 46 sportswriters polled at ringside picked Liston to win by a knockout.
Ali began a taunting campaign against Liston in the media, predicting his own knockout victory. His rhetoric reached its peak at an hysterical encounter at an otherwise routine pre-fight weigh-in. Either by reaction or by design, Ali’s entourage was forced to restrain him when Liston walked into the room. It was a chaotic scene that left even battle-hardened reporters amazed at its tension and barely-controlled hostility.
No one paid attention to the weight measurement for the two fighters (Liston 218 pounds, Ali 210). Doctors assessed Ali’s heart rate at 120 beats per minute, leading reporters to conclude that he was the one psyched-out by Liston’s simmering rage. One reporter promoted the rumor that Ali was looking for an air ticket to escape Miami before the fight started.
But by the start of the third round, it was clear that Liston was the fighter searching for a way out. Ali was quicker and more decisive than Liston, and turned to reporters at ringside at the end of the sixth round to proclaim himself the winner and new heavyweight champion. Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round, leaving Ali to famously boast in his post-fight interview, how he “shook up the world.”