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(Feb. 2014) 50 years ago, the world awoke to the Ali Legend
The fight that changed history.
It is 50 years to the day since a boxing match changed the course of history. Half a century exactly from the night a brash kid named Cassius Clay beat a terrifying brute of a man called Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title and in doing so challenged America to confront it's own dark reality. "I shook up the world," Clay famously screamed. More than he new at that frenzied moment when Liston failed to answer the the bell for the start of the seventh round. "I'm the Greatest" the Louisville lip shouted above the pandemonium in the convention hall at Miami Beach. On that evening of February 25th, 1964, we all assumed that this seemingly demented being was alluding solely to his prowess at prize fighting. He had indeed rocketed planet earth with one of the most seismic sporting upsets of all time. And, yes, the dazzling manner in which he did so excited predictions a legend had been born. Yet the world was soon to discover that this was not even half of it. The following day, Clay announced he was changing his name to Cassius X. Within a week he declared he was rejecting his 'slave name' entirely, demanding to be known thereafter as Muhammad Ali and pronouncing himself as a member of the Black Muslims. That public affiliation to what was perceived as 'hate--white' group was to have repercussions that grew with his fame and would alter the landscape of US life. A suspicion that he had already joined the nation of Islam, before the fight, so disturbed white America that many shied away on the night and the promoter of one of the most significant sports events ever staged ended up out of pocket to the tune of 300,000 dollars. That turned out to be the price of providing a global platform for the man whose rocketing stardom was to make him the noisiest and most visible spokesman for the civil rights movement. The American majority would spend decades trying to deny Ali's phenomenal talent to discredit his message. But not even the furore that surrounded his refusal to be drafted for military action in the Vietnam War --- and his resulting three year banishment from the ring ---- could silence that brilliant voice. It has taken Parkinson's disease to do that -- but not before his own country had joined the rest of the world in acknowledging that he is indeed the greatest of all time. Before any of that, however, hw had to fight a man regarded as a monster. Liston was nick named Big Bear. Clay called him The Big Ugly Bear. The goading went on for weeks and many thought Clay in his 22 year-old-craziness, was signing his own death warrant by provoking the glowering, intimidating spectre still regarded as the mightiest of all heavyweight punchers. Clay insisted it was Liston who would be killed and that he would then use his hide as a bearskin rug in his living room. One morning he turned up on the doorstep of Liston's home to screech that threat. At the weigh in, Clay sported a denim jacket emblazoned with the logo 'Bear Hunting' and worked himself into such a later that his heart rate soared from below 60 beats a minute to above 120. Mind games on an epic scale or plain fear ?? Both. Of the stare-down before the first bell, Clay was to admit later: "I won't lie. I was scared just knowing how hard he hit. But I didn't have no choice but to go out and fight." Clay knew Liston was older than the 32 years he claimed -- more like 40 -- and that the ominous presence and fearsome criminal reputation hid an insecure man so simple as to be almost child--like. If Liston was bemused by Clay's antics before the fight, he became totally befuddled as soon as it began. The first round charge which he expected to blow this upstart away hit thin.. air. And not only did Clay dance away but as he did so he clipped the fighter thought to be unbeatable with lightening combinations. A desperate Liston caught Clay with a huge left in te second but neither he or the rest of us were as yet aware that this kid had the skin of a buffalo. Clay took full control in the third, in which Liston suffered a cut eye for the first tine in his career and he ended up gasping for air. When Clay got back to his corner, he complained his eyes were on fire and begged for his gloves to be gut off. The blame was laid on a substance used to treat Liston's cut. Clay's fabled trainer Angelo Dundee, sponged down his face and told him "Get out there and run". So reluctantly, he complied and was almost disqualified for delaying the start of the fifth. He stayed out of trouble, despite shouting : "All I cab see of that bear is a shadow" His vision cleared, fatefully for Liston as he spent the sixth being pummelled by clusters of punches too fast for him to comprehend. At the rounds end, he slumped, bewidered on a stool and refused to rise again. The vacant expression told it's own story of a mental blockage. Clay went on to become Ali. The greatest. The fighter for freedom as well as world titles. The most recognizable person on the planet. Liston died alone in his bathroom on December 30 1970, a broken man. Ali, at 72 lives on . Which after all these years in the clutches of Parkinson's, is another remarkable tribute to his fighting spirit. The "Big ugly bear" is buried in a cemetery below the flight path at Las Vegas airport, his tombstone simply inscribed with these two words. "A Man" Whenever Ali travels to Sin City he visits that grave. After all, without Charles Sonny Liston Cassius Marcellus Clay could not have shaken the world.
Did Mafia rig Ali's title victory over Liston with 41 million bribe ? .
The brash upstart, who would enter the ring as a 7-1 underdog and pulled off a stunning upset to become the world heavyweight champion at just 22. But according to newly released FBI files, the result of the fight was set up by a shady Mafia figure and he and Liston made $1 million each by betting on a Clay triumph. The documents, released to the Washington Times under America's Freedom of information Act, show no evidence that Ali, now 72 and battling Parkinson's disease, had any knowledge of the cheating plot for the fight at Miami Beach Convention Centre on February 25 1964. The FBI could never definitely prove their suspicions, but the agency believed ex-convict Liston could have taken a $1 million bribe to surrender his World Championship Crown by failing to answer the bell of the seventh round. The young challenger had famously taunted Liston before the fight, boasting "Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" The FBI memos, addressed to the agency director J Edgar Hoover, named the "fix" suspect as Ash Resnick, a Las Vegas gambler with organised crime connections. Two days before the big fight, he was said to have told a Houston gambler not to bet on Liston winning, even though he was the runaway favourite. According to one memo, Resnick spoke to Texan Barnett Magids on the phone just hours before the bout. it read "At this time, Resnick said for him not to make any bets, but just go watch the fight on TV and he would know why and he could not talk any further at that time. Magid's did not go (to) see the fight on TV and immediately realised the Resnick knew that Liston was going to lose. One FBI report suggested that Resnick and Liston -- who insisted that he lost the fight because of a shoulder injury -- made more than $1 million each betting on a Clay victory. Resnick, who died in 1972, was also believed to to have bribed other boxers to throw big fights according to the documents. He was said to be friends with powerful mobster Meyer Lanskey and Vincent Alo, a member of the Genovese crime family. Few had given Clay much before the fight, despite his bravado, because the fearsome Liston had learned to box during two prison sentences. Clay was in trouble early on, losing his vision at one point, before an astonishing comeback to convincingly beat Liston. The victory was also for the champion announcing a day later that he would no longer answer to his 'slave name' Clay, and henceforth would be known as Muhammad Ali. The result was such a shock that there was immediate speculation that it may have been a set up. Florida State Attorney Richard Gerstein conducted a post fight investigation, which concluded that Liston went into the fight with a bad shoulder. He determined that there was no evidence that the fight was not completely regular. Miami Beach Boxing Commission chairman Morris Klein said commissioners were satisfied there was no 'wrong doing' and and allowed Liston to collect his £222,000 purse. A US Senate subcommittee conducted hearings three months later but found no evidence of a fix. Liston was found dead by his wife in their Las Vegas home on January 5, 1971. Police determined he died from a heroin overdose, but the cause of death remains controversial. Liston's friends insisted it was a murder covered up by the police. There have long been whispers of a set up in the two boxers' fight but they focused more on the re-match more that a year later when Liston went down halfway through the first round. Ali's phantom punch was reportedly so soft that a US sports writer said "It could not have crushed a grape"
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