In today’s episode of This Day in Miami History, we discuss arguably the most important sporting event in South Florida’s history. It’s the 60th anniversary of Sonny Liston’s defeat at the hands of Cassius Clay, who would go on to become Muhammad Ali and change the course of history.

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The Greatest Weekend – 60th Anniversary of Clay vs. Liston Fight Tickets, Multiple Dates | Eventbrite

Muhammad Ali | Washington Ave. BID (

AP Archive – YouTube – Clay AND Liston

Wolfson Archives | MDC Archives | Miami Dade College

Watch Muhammad Ali | Full Documentary by Ken Burns

King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero by David Remnick

Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami | Miami-Dade Public Library System (


[00;00;01;05 – 00;00;26;09] Matthew Bunch: Very often here at This Day in Miami History, we like to find moments, significant ones that might be underappreciated. But sometimes a moment is so big, so important, so significant to our community and to the world, you can’t really let the day go by without acknowledging it and attempting to give some context to the way that it changed everything.

[00;00;26;12 – 00;00;40;27] Matthew Bunch: And that’s what we’re going to try to do today. Earlier this month, my 3-year-old son was given an individual to learn about as part of his preschool’s Black History Month celebration. The individual he pulled was

[00;00;40;28 – 00;00;42;26] Matthew F. Bunch: Muhammad Ali.

[00;00;42;29 – 00;00;52;16] Matthew Bunch: Thanks, buddy. One could argue that for significant portions of the 20th century, Muhammad Ali was the best-known person on the planet.

[00;00;52;18 – 00;01;17;09] Matthew Bunch: He was named Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC in 1999. And while the Muhammad Ali we know was born in Louisville, Kentucky, it could be argued that the Muhammad Ali that would go on to become that sportsperson of the century was created in Miami. It was born today.

[00;01;17;11 – 00;01;32;07] Matthew Bunch: This Day in Miami History, February 25, 1964, when then-Cassius Clay knocked out Sonny Liston to claim the heavyweight title of the world at the Miami Beach Exhibition Center.

[00;01;32;14 – 00;01;51;29] King Elizabeth: ♪ “Miami Sunrise” by King Elizabeth ♪

[00;01;52;01 – 00;01;59;21] Matthew Bunch: By 1964, Cassius Clay was no slouch. He had won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

[00;01;59;22 – 00;02;16;23] Unknown Olympics Narrator: But the most popular USA winner was the lighthearted Cassius Marcellus Clay V, in white here, who easily defeated Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzykowski. Clay was by far the best of the USA boxers. His Roman name, Cassius, caused comment.

[00;02;16;25 – 00;02;41;12] Matthew Bunch: It would not be the last time his name caused comment. After his victory in Rome, the professional ranks were next. Less than two months after claiming the medal, Cassius Clay had his first professional fight. The 18 year old defeated 30-year-old Tunney Hunsaker in Louisville, Kentucky, Clay’s hometown. But Clay couldn’t be the big fish in the small pond forever.

[00;02;41;14 – 00;03;13;15] Matthew Bunch: Both he and his sponsors, known as the Louisville Sponsoring Group, knew they needed a big-time trainer to get a big-time fight in a big-time city. That’s where trainer Angelo Dundee officially comes into the picture. Unofficially, Cassius Clay had reached out to Dundee years before. This audio was an interview with Dundee conducted in 2011 by the Sky Sports Program “Ringside.”

[00;03;13;17 – 00;03;34;19] Angelo Dundee: I met Muhammad, I was in Louisville, Kentucky with Willie Pastrano, and we were in a hotel room and I get a call from the lobby. “My name is Cassius Marcellus Clay, I’m the Golden Glove champ of Louisville, Kentucky. I won the Gloves in Chicago. I won the Gloves in Seattle. I’m going to” — in fact, this was 1958 — “so I’m going to win the Olympics,” which wasn’t till ‘60.

[00;03;34;21 – 00;03;53;13] Angelo Dundee: So we sat down, for three hours we had conversations, but it was intriguing. The kid wanted to know every facet of boxing. How do you fighters eat? How long do they abstain from chasing chicks? Everything . . . how many rounds do your fighters spar? Everything. He was intrigued in learning something about boxing.

[00;03;53;18 – 00;04;20;08] Matthew Bunch: That Willie Pastrano match that Dundee recalls actually took place in February 1959. But it was before Ali — then Cassius Clay — became professional. And so Dundee, then a professional boxing cornerman, couldn’t work with him — yet. But by 1960, the time had come, and when that time came, it meant that Ali would move to the city where Dundee’s gym was located.

[00;04;20;10 – 00;04;34;16] Matthew Bunch: And that, of course, is the 5th Street Gym on Miami Beach. The voice you’ll hear is of Ali’s fight doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, in the 2008 documentary, Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami.

[00;04;34;19 – 00;04;49;13] Ferdie Pacheco: He came here a young man, wide-eyed, sparkling, smiling. He’s in Miami. He never saw anything like Miami. He’s with Angelo Dundee and everybody. He never saw anything like the 5th Street Gym. That was an island of democracy in the middle of all the segregation.

[00;04;49;16 – 00;05;24;21] Matthew Bunch: While it’s true to say that Ali came to Miami Beach to train, he didn’t live in Miami Beach. The Beach, as was alluded to by Pacheco, was segregated. And so he, like many black artists, performers and athletes, went to Overtown. Segregation was nothing new for Cassius Clay. After all. He was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. The distance between his residence and his training gym reflected the wide distance between the black and white communities in Miami in the early 1960s.

[00;05;24;23 – 00;05;31;25] Matthew Bunch: But also presented Cassius Clay a training opportunity that most other boxers simply didn’t have.

[00;05;31;27 – 00;05;49;20] Unknown Ali Assistant Trainer: And we get up every morning. That’s the most important thing about a fighter. You see those large boots he have on? We travel with those because lifting the weight helps build the ankles and the legs and everything. When you take those off and put those boxing trunks on, you have a little, two little invisible wings, I would say.

[00;05;49;28 – 00;05;56;28] Unknown Ali Assistant Trainer: Well, he got he got a rubber suit under that sweatsuit. When he’d take it off, he’d probably have a quart of water under there.

[00;05;57;01 – 00;06;24;25] Matthew Bunch: The training regiment, and specifically the jogging over the MacArthur Causeway from Overtown to the 5th Street Gym, ensured that Clay had peak physical fitness and was ready with top speed when he would take on professional challengers. And that was important. Before he became known as Muhammad Ali, before he won the world Heavyweight title. Cassius Clay was not known as a technically skilled boxer.

[00;06;24;27 – 00;06;47;08] Matthew Bunch: He was known for his speed. He was known for his fitness. And even on the day that the contract was signed, arranging for the first Clay/Liston fight, he told Liston and the gathered media in his own very unique way exactly what he thought about the reigning champion and how he was going to defeat him.

[00;06;47;10 – 00;07;01;14] Muhammad Ali: You know, I don’t have to think of no man weighing 230 pounds! The best light heavyweights can’t keep up with me! And boy, you’re going to be so tired in five rounds, you . . . I’m bad! I’m bad!

[00;07;01;17 – 00;07;22;24] Matthew Bunch: “You’re going to be so tired in five rounds.” The words to Liston. Eventually, Dundee stepped in and convinced him to stop talking, but not before throwing in the “I’m bad!” that would eventually become one of his staples. The young Kentuckian had the mouth, but Sonny Liston had the belt.

[00;07;22;26 – 00;07;31;12] Matthew Bunch: Attempting to best Liston was a monumental task. But Cassius Clay knew one thing. He wanted the match to be in Miami.

[00;07;31;14 – 00;07;43;27] Muhammad Ali: I’m going to fight Sonny Liston right after I annihilate Henry Cooper. And as soon as I annihilate Henry Cooper, I want that big, ugly bear right and . . . right here on Miami Beach at the Orange Bowl, because that’s not a place large enough inside to hold us.

[00;07;44;00 – 00;08;13;17] Matthew Bunch: He didn’t get his entire wish. The match didn’t take place at the Orange Bowl, but it was hosted at the Miami Beach Exhibition Hall, now the Miami Beach Convention Center. Liston was the odds-on favorite. 7-1 were the odds at the beginning of the fight. According to records at the time, out of 46 major sportswriters that covered the event, 43 of them predicted Liston would win, only three predicted Clay.

[00;08;13;19 – 00;08;40;25] Matthew Bunch: The question didn’t appear to be who was going to win, but would Cassius Clay make it out of the fight alive? In fact, a young reporter covering the fight, Robert Lipsyte, who eventually became a legendary boxing reporter, was told by his editor to figure out the route from the Miami Beach Exhibition Hall, now the Miami Beach Convention Center, to the hospital, to ensure that he could get updates on Clay’s condition after the fight.

[00;08;40;27 – 00;08;57;24] Matthew Bunch: But young Cassius Clay would not be going to the hospital. He would be going to the mountaintop. The 22 year old defeated Sonny Liston in seven rounds. The technical knockout made him the heavyweight champion of the world.

[00;08;57;26 – 00;08;59;27] Bob Halloran, WTVJ: What do you say I tell those people in Miami?

[00;08;59;27 – 00;09;11;12] Muhammad Ali: I shook up the whole world! I’m tired of talking. Let them talk about yourself. All I got to say is I beat Liston like he was an amateur. I held my hands a lot. I lean back. I’m still pretty. He was the one all cut up. I shook up the world!

[00;09;11;16 – 00;09;24;22] Muhammad Ali: Now what all . . .What do you all want to say about that now, huh? What are you gonna say about that? And you can call it a fix. Everybody said if Liston wins, it would be a fix. But what made it so good, both his eyes was closed, and the referees had to stop it.

[00;09;24;25 – 00;09;28;23] Muhammad Ali: No, he didn’t hurt me. I just wanted to get him in eight. I was mad because I couldn’t get him in eight.

[00;09;28;25 – 00;09;43;14] Matthew Bunch: That post-fight interview with WTVJ’s Bob Halloran was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Clay’s excitement over his defeat of Liston. He went even further in the post-fight press conference.

[00;09;43;16 – 00;10;09;19] Muhammad Ali: All of you reporters made it hard on Liston. Never write about me like that. Never make me 6-1. You just make me angry. Not a heavyweight in the world fast enough to stop me. Liston’s one of the powerfulest in the world, and he looked like a baby. I held my hands down. I just played with him. I just played with him. Bow to my feet! Tell me I am the greatest!

[00;10;09;22 – 00;10;30;12] Matthew Bunch: Now, if you recall a second ago, Clay told Bob Halloran the word “fix” would be thrown around if Liston had won. Unfortunately for all parties, a contract signed before the match, and the manner in which Liston refused to answer the bell to start Round 7 led to questions right away.

[00;10;30;15 – 00;10;33;24] Bob Halloran, WTVJ: Dick Beddoes of the Toronto Globe and Mail. Could you give us your opinion on the match?

[00;10;33;26 – 00;11;00;11] Dick Beddoes, Toronto Globe and Mail: My impression is that this was the greatest hoax perpetrated in boxing since [Primo] Carnera 30 years ago. I think that the fact that Liston, Liston’s people, had 47.5 percent of this promotion, and have since announced today that they, before the fight, had signed a contract with Clay to promote Clay’s next fight, indicates a great collusion between both parties. And you don’t find a champion, a bona fide champion quitting on the stool.

[00;11;00;13 – 00;11;19;02] Matthew Bunch: The allegations were serious. The Miami Beach Boxing Commission convened a meeting that night. State Attorney Richard Gerstein requested Sonny Liston’s medical records to investigate whether the fight had been tampered with. But eventually, it was all for naught.

[00;11;19;04 – 00;11;34;12] Matthew Bunch: Cassius Clay’s life would change forever, and perhaps the weight of the moment caused him a moment of reflection that brought down the facade of bravado so evident the night before.

[00;11;37;06 – 00;11;57;09] Muhammad Ali: I just . . . I just want to be . . . I just laid around and got away from the crowd. I was with a lot of people. I went over to the Hampton. I went to a little hotel and met all the people. We went back to the hotel and met a lot of people. A little hotel in Miami.

[00;11;57;11 – 00;12;26;17] Matthew Bunch: Of course, that little celebration back at the Hampton House wasn’t just a quiet celebration. It became immortalized in the film, “One Night in Miami,” the 2020 release that chronicled the soon-to-be Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke. There would be a rematch, but by the time the two men faced off again, the world had entirely changed around them.

[00;12;26;19 – 00;12;53;21] Matthew Bunch: Cassius Clay was no longer Cassius Clay. Within days, he would announce publicly his membership in the Nation of Islam, and a few days after that, he would be given the name Muhammad Ali by Nation leader Elijah Muhammad. Liston recovered from his injuries but faced off against Ali in Lewiston, Maine, in the rematch and lost in less than a round.

[00;12;53;23 – 00;12;58;10] Matthew Bunch: Ali was ascendant. Liston was done.

[00;12;58;10 – 00;13;22;24] Matthew Bunch: Ali’s half-century journey from underdog story to sports superstar to antiwar protester, religious liberty advocate and eventually proponent for peace can all be pinned back to one night in Miami: February 25, 1964.

[00;13;22;26 – 00;13;28;13] Matthew Bunch: I always like to give credit to the resources that I lean on in producing an episode, and today is no different.

[00;13;28;15 – 00;13;42;16] Matthew Bunch: In particular, as always, my friends at the Wolfson Archive, a lot of really unique video that I was able to pull and incorporate into either this episode or the social media posting around this episode.

[00;13;42;16 – 00;14;04;04] Matthew Bunch: Secondly, the 2021 Ken Burns documentary entitled Muhammad Ali, in particular “Episode 1: The Greatest.” It’s a fantastic resource to see Cassius Clay’s rise in boxing and eventually how he becomes Muhammad Ali, and how Miami plays such an important role in that development.

[00;14;04;06 – 00;14;40;23] Matthew Bunch: Thirdly, David Remnick’s 1998 book, King of the World, the biography of Muhammad Ali is really fantastic and provides a lot of good context for Clay/Ali’s place in American society and culture as the 1960s goes on. The Associated Press has a lot of amazing pre- and post-fight footage, some that the Wolfson Archive didn’t have. In particular, that press conference from the day after where you hear Ali allude to the one night at the Hampton House.

[00;14;40;26 – 00;15;08;07] Matthew Bunch: I would encourage you to check some of their video out. Additionally, there’s so much great stuff happening around town these next couple of weeks related to the 60th anniversary that I do want to give a shout out to. First off, if you’re listening, on the day that this episode is released, February 25, there were some celebrations at Hampton House where Ali had that famous night after that famous victory.

[00;15;08;10 – 00;15;37;19] Matthew Bunch: They’re celebrating “The Greatest Weekend,” and Sunday the 25th is the kind of capstone day. You can visit their website. for more information. Secondly, on Miami Beach, the Washington Avenue Business Improvement District is hosting a tribute event that actually opened on Friday the 23rd and will remain open until April 1. So, there should be a lot of time to go check it out.

[00;15;37;26 – 00;16;05;19] Matthew Bunch: And I do encourage you to do so because it is supposed to be a really good deep history about Ali, and particularly related to his proceedings in Miami and Miami Beach. So, again, that’s and and you can find the links for that in the show notes as well as our website.

[00;16;05;20 – 00;16;27;02] Matthew Bunch: Speaking of the website, A lot of work I’ve been putting in on that the last couple of weeks. Transcripts . . . pretty much every episode for the last 18 months that’s not an interview should now have a transcript, including this one on the 25th. It might be a little bit later in the day, but it will get up there.

[00;16;27;04 – 00;16;48;17] Matthew Bunch: The interview episodes are coming. They’re a little bit more complicated because they have two voices, but we are getting there. Accessibility is really important for me, and so getting those full transcripts up is a labor of love. And hopefully you as a listener or as a researcher might find it useful.

[00;16;48;17 – 00;17;13;17] Matthew Bunch: If you have feedback, if you see an error, please contact me @ThisDayMiamiPod on social media or, and do follow us on social media. Do subscribe or follow in your preferred podcast platform, and if you’ve done all that stuff: One, Thank you. And two: Go ahead and throw in a five-star review. It really helps the show and I really do appreciate it. So thanks for listening as always.

[00;17;13;17 – 00;17;15;27] Matthew Bunch: And until next time I’ve been Matthew Bunch.

[00;17;15;28 – 00;17;31;25] King Elizabeth: ♪ “Miami Sunrise” by King Elizabeth ♪

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