Today in Media History: In 1964, sportswriters reported that Cassius Clay was the new heavyweight boxing champion

February 25, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

“On the night of February 25, 1964, Cassius Clay entered the ring in Miami Beach wearing a short white robe, ‘The Lip’ stitched on the back. He was fast, sleek, and twenty-two. But, for the first time in his life, and the last, he was afraid. The ring was crowded with has-beens and would-bes, liege men and pugs. Clay ignored them. He began bouncing on the balls of his feet, shuffling joylessly at first, like a marathon dancer at ten to midnight, but then with more speed, more pleasure. After a few minutes, Sonny Liston, the heavyweight champion of the world, stepped through the ropes and onto the canvas, gingerly, like a man easing himself into a canoe. He wore a hooded robe. His eyes were unworried, and they were blank, the dead eyes of a man who’d never got a favor out of life and never given one out. He was not likely to give one to Cassius Clay.

Nearly every sportswriter in Miami Beach Convention Hall expected Clay to end the night on his back….”

— “American Hunger: As an ambitious, searching young man, Cassius Clay invented himself, and became 
the most original and magnetic athlete of the century — Muhammad Ali”
By David Remnick, The New Yorker
October 12, 1998

Contrary to predictions, this is how the Clay vs. Liston world heavyweight championship fight ended:

Newspapers across the county put the story on page one.

Here is the front page of the Michigan newspaper, The News-Palladium:

Image-News Palladium 1964

“In a pre-fight poll of 46 writers and columnists, three picked Clay to win. Only 8,297 fans, slightly more than half the capacity of Convention Hall, showed up for what would become one of boxing’s landmark nights. Boxing royalty was on hand, including Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, light-heavyweight champ Willie Pastrano and the great Joe Louis, who was serving as commentator for the closed-circuit telecast on the first TNT — Theater Network Television.

But most Americans would follow the fight on ABC Radio with Les Keiter calling the action and Howard Cosell, not yet a national name, providing commentary.

….Cosell was preparing to pass the microphone to Keiter for Round 7 when history intervened.

‘Wait a minute! Wait a minute!’ Cosell shouted. ‘Sonny Liston’s not coming out. He’s out!’

Liston stayed on his stool. Stunningly, the fight was over and the new champion began bounding around the ring, yelling at boxing writers ‘eat your words.’ Cosell dashed into the ring, grabbing hold of Clay.

Three times Clay shouted, ‘I am the greatest’ and added ‘I am king of the world.'”

— “A look back at Cassius Clay’s upset of Sonny Liston 50 years ago
By Richard Rothschild, Sports Illustrated
February 25, 2005

On the 50th anniversary of the fight, ESPN’s SportsCenter talked about Muhammad Ali’s place in the history of sports.