Miami marks 50th anniversary of Ali's boxing match that 'shook the world'

Sun Feb 23, 2014 10:25am EST
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By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Fifty years ago, an upstart American boxer who later became known as Muhammad Ali "shook the world" when he dethroned Sonny Liston to claim the heavyweight championship of the world in Miami Beach.

That victory on February 25, 1964 was the last time Cassius Clay fought under his real name, announcing after that he was joining the religious black power movement, the Nation of Islam, and changing his name to Muhammad Ali.

The six-round bout that ended when Liston threw in the towel, launched Ali to international fame, giving him the stage to successfully protest everything from racial segregation to the Vietnam War, while declaring himself to be "The Greatest."

To mark the 50th anniversary of the fight the downtown HistoryMiami museum is celebrating the event with a month-long art and photo exhibition opening this week, including several previously unpublished images.

Today, a plaque commemorates the bout at the entrance to the Miami Beach Convention Center where the fight was held. A brass medallion embedded into the concrete exhibition floor marking where the ring once stood, has since disappeared.

Miami Beach in the early 1960s was seeking to launch itself as a tourist destination. The week before the Clay-Liston fight the city had hosted the Beatles for their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, broadcast live from the beachfront Deauville hotel.

Miami Beach was also a hub for boxing, centered on the Fifth Street Gym, a ramshackle place only a few steps away from the beach. The old gym was knocked down in 1993. In its place stands a shopping mall.

But in the early 1960s, the hotels and beaches were still segregated, while across the bay on the mainland the civil rights movement was bubbling and Miami's black Overtown district was home to a vibrant live music club scene that attracted the greatest jazz musicians of the era.   Continued...

Cassius Clay (L) and Sonny Liston face off in a WBA/WBC World Heavyweight fight in this Miami Herald photo from HistoryMiami taken in Miami Beach, Florida February 25, 1964. REUTERS/Miami Herald/HistoryMiami/Handout