Back in 1964, America was just getting to know Cassius Clay, a brash 22-year-old from Louisville who four years earlier in Rome had won Olympic boxing gold.
But on Feb. 25, 1964 — 50 years ago today — the world would come to know “The Greatest.”
That night in a packed Convention Hall in Miami Beach, Clay stood in the ring waiting for the reigning world heavyweight champ, Sonny Liston, to answer the bell for the seventh round of their title bout.
Instead, Liston threw in the towel, launching Clay — who would soon convert to Islam and change his name to Muhammad Ali — into international superstardom and status as one of the 20th century’s most enduring cultural icons
“When Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, it became a newsworthy event that found its way onto the front pages,” Thomas Hauser, author of “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times,” told FoxNews.com. “And the more important Ali became as a social, political and religious figure, the more important the fight became. If Cassius Clay hadn’t beat Sonny Liston, the things he said and did afterwards wouldn’t have had the same impact.”
Six years later, Ali was perhaps the most recognizable man on the planet, a symbol of the anti-war movement, the equal of the sweet science’s greatest fighters and a pioneer of the audacious, trash-talking style so prevalent in modern sports. Liston, in stark contrast, would be dead, a broken alcoholic whose suspected heroin overdose prompted rumors of a mob hit.