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On February 25, 1964, 22-year-old Muhammad Ali — then named Cassius Clay — defeated heavily-favored, fellow-American Sonny Liston to claim his first heavyweight boxing championship in Miami Beach.

Today in Sports History presented by Starr Cards

Ali would go on to win his next eleven fights before losing to Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in 1971.


Ali entered his fight with Liston sporting a perfect 19-0 record, but was a 7-1 underdog to Liston who at the time had just a single loss in 36 ring appearances as a pro. Ali taunted Liston during the pre-fight buildup, calling him “the big ugly bear” and claiming after he beat him he was going to “donate him to the zoo.”

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An angry Liston rushed at Ali at the start of the fight, but the challenger’s superior speed allowed him to elude Liston, and by the end of the round Ali was repeatedly connecting with his jab.

Sonny Liston vs Cassius Clay official score cards

Liston recovered to win the 2nd, 4th and 5th round on the judges cards, but failed to answer the bell for the 7th round after being dominated in the 6th.


On May 25, 1965, Ali won his rematch with Liston in Lewiston, Maine — a mill town of 41,000 — after the fight was moved from Boston due to concerns about the promoters being tied to the mob.

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The fight ended in the first round on confusion between the knockdown timekeeper and the referee. Adding to the sense of a fix, many thought the punch that took Liston to the canvas in the first place had not truly connected.