Considered the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali (pictured left) possessed formidable ability coupled with a personality that gained him both fans and detractors. With his tall stature and unorthodox fighting style, Ali dazzled audiences and frustrated opponents with a seemingly limitless vault of skills. On this day and at the age of 22, Ali would defeat reigning champion Sonny Liston (pictured) to capture his first world title.
Ali went by his birth name Cassius Clay during the time of the bout, and the Louisville native was not favored to win after Liston handily defeated former champion Floyd Patterson twice by this point.
Leading up to the bout at the Convention Hall at Miami Beach, Ali uttered one of his many famous phrases and promised to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” during the clash. Liston was feared for his imposing build and punching power but, as Ali artfully stated, the leaner and younger opponent picked apart his lumbering foe with ease.
While Liston finally did get going, Ali used his speed and athleticism to pepper his opponent’s head with jabs and big shots.
While Ali predicted he would win by knockout in the eighth round, he ended up needing less time than he thought.
After reportedly injuring his shoulder after missing several huge blows, Liston would not answer the bell for the start of the seventh round.
While in the ring, the animated Ali made another famous reference during an interview shortly after the bout. “I shook up the world,” shouted Ali at the top of his lungs. “I must be the greatest!”
Watch the historic fight here:
After the fight, Ali attended a private party in a Miami hotel to celebrate and encountered Nation Of Islam (NOI) leader Malcolm X. The outspoken Black Muslim leader had a deep impact on the fighter, and Ali would embrace the Muslim faith just two days later.
Rising in the ranks as a member of the NOI, Ali’s bold stances on race matters and other issues plaguing the Black community became his rallying cry. After defending his belt nine times, Ali was stripped of his title in 1967, after refusing to enter the U.S. Army draft on grounds of his Muslim faith. Ali would return to boxing in 1970 and went on to win the world title two more times in epic battles with George Foreman, Leon Spinks, and Joe Frazier.
When Ali won the title, he became the youngest fighter to ever seize a championship from a reigning title-holder.
Floyd Paterson held the record of youngest heavyweight champion at the time, winning the belt at age 21. Mike Tyson would go on to eclipse both records after winning the WBC heavyweight title November 22, 1986, by knocking out the much-larger Trevor Berbick (who defeated Ali in his final bout in 1981) at age 20.
Now contending with Parkinson’s syndrome, the great champion recently celebrated his 71st birthday. Although his health has not been optimal, he has maintained a lot of the same fighting spirit that made him a darling of fight fans and the world over. Muhammad Ali was a one-of-a-kind boxer; an anomaly in a sport that prides itself on the classic virtues of the “sweet science.” Ali broke the mold in his own unique way, and he’ll live on in history as the best to ever lace up the gloves.