Backtrack 51 years (February 25, 1964) to Miami Beach, Florida, underdog Cassius Clay promised to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” against opponent Sonny Liston. At 22, Clay took the heavyweight championship world title from Liston by more than a KO – Liston, to put it in basic terms, quit. But in the following 24 hours, the title would be old news as the public learned Cassius Clay would never fight again. To the world’s surprise, Clay announced the following day that he had become a member of the Nation of Islam. Just about a week later, the almighty Muhammad Ali was born.
Of course, seeing as hardly my parents were of age to recall the monumental match, I had to brush up on my boxing history. Behold the glorious YouTube. So this morning, while I was slipping into my tights and blushing my cheeks, Cassius Clay was yelling things like “I’m ready to rumble! I can’t be beat! I’m the champ!” and sports anchor Steve Ellis was very eagerly acknowledging the large viewing audience, “via Theatre Network Television in over 350 locations tonight, you’ll be seeing this all important fight. That’s US and Canada location wise and by way of relay satellite, in 15 European countries we’ll also be offering this world title goal.” Now, as the boxers make their way to the ring and I apply my mascara, their every step is accounted for, Liston “bounces in calm, cool, collected,” and Clay, “the challenger, unbeaten, 19 wins, going for all the marbles in the boxing business.” Beside the fighters and around the arena, former world champs are accounted for: Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, and Rocky Marciano. The referee reminds the two, “I want a clean bout, men!” the bell sounds.
I watched Clay totally dominate Liston as I searched for the right bra. The underdog had the moves, the speed, the smarts (the looks) and Liston just seemed rattled. “Sonny seems to be trying to slip those left leads, can’t do it too successfully because the challenger is jabbing all over – body, head. And the right hand – the best punch of the fight so far!”
Sonny Liston lands a solid punch though Clay is entirely unfazed by it and proves to be quite good at dodging fists. Liston is targeting the challenger’s body before moving up to the face. It is safe to say Clay loves to antagonize. As I buttoned my skirt I concluded: Liston can’t read Clay. Certainly during break his trainers will tell him to chill the fuck out and get his head straight.
Clay proves that he literally cannot be hit. I mean, he dodges nearly every punch and Liston sets himself up for disaster. I throw my sweater on and Liston starts to bleed! Clay went to town on the champs face, “he has a cut below the eye, and he’s getting hit with all the punches in the book.” Liston has endurance, I’ll tell ya that.
I have to be honest; this round did not excite me all too much until Liston finally got a jab to Clay’s eye. They seemed reserved and the fans keep yelling, “Sonny you’re bleedin! You’re bleedin!” (It’s 8:30am; I can only imagine what my neighbors are thinking.) Liston hooked Clay *ouch* and his confidence heightened.
“They’re yelling from Cassius Clay’s corner. Something got in his right eye. He’s blinking badly! Sonny’s gonna try to pour it on!” Round five was Liston’s. He took it to the body, the head, he put Clay against the ropes – he started to fight. All I’m saying is Liston’s best round was when Clay’s eye was tainted.
Clay comes out strong for round six – I would not want to fuck with his left hook, right jab, undercut or any combo for that matter. Could you imagine a blow to the face from these guys? “Cassius Clay still with the faster hands and the better legs – or at least the faster legs.” Sonny basically just stood there while I tied my satin hair bow and Cassius Clay laid it on him. Poor Sonny Liston, he seems concerned.
Clay takes his corner. The bell sounds. Still no movement from Liston. Clay raises his gloves and starts his celebratory skip and dance; he knows, before everyone else, he is the new heavyweight champion of the world. Sonny Liston stopped the fight due to an injured left shoulder. Cassius Clay was crowned!
The next morning, Cassius Clay told the press that he had become one with the Nation of Islam and I hair sprayed my long brown locks. Many in the American public were not pleased, but despite the controversy Cassius Clay was named Muhammad Ali by the Nation of Islam’s leader, Elijah Muhammad on March 6 1964. Ali defended his heavyweight title until April 1967, when he refused drafting into the Vietnam War due to his religious beliefs. I was free to dose myself in my Clinique Happy perfume, but the legendary fighter was arrested and stripped of his title and boxing license, though never did time behind bars. After 3 years, Muhammad Ali returned to the ring after his convictions were removed. In 1974, Ali fought George Forman and wore the crown yet again. Now where did I put my heels?