'No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger': celebrating 40 years of the greatest boxer of them all.

Author:Goodwin, Clayton
Position:Boxing - Muhammad Ali
 
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25 February 1964 ... It is 40 years since the young, brash Cassius Clay (later changed to Muhammad Ali) upset the boxing form-book by taking the world heavyweight title from the fearsome Charles 'Sonny' Liston. Neither boxing nor the world has been the same since. Clayton Goodwin reports.

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The day after his triumph, the victor changed his name to Muhammad Ali and for the rest of his career (and for many years since) he was acclaimed to be one of the best-known people on the earth. It is quite a claim for a mere pugilist, but, then, Muhammad Ali hasn't been a "mere" anything and he did revolutionise boxing and the world.

The young challenger confused and humiliated Liston, a knockout specialist who was considered to be well-nigh invincible, by his unorthodox tactics. He feigned fear, ran unashamedly before him, and just when the champion thought he was fighting a coward, Ali turned and counterattacked with speed and ferocity.

Liston had faced nothing like it in his long career inside and outside the ring, inside and outside prison. He quit sitting on his stool, vexed and perplexed, rather than come out for a 7th round of mockery. As the newspapers proclaimed, the result was a tremendous "Feat of Clay".

By the early-1960s, professional boxing, especially the heavyweight division which set the tone for the sport, seemed to be in terminal decline. Liston was loathed, and his immediate predecessors, Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson, were regarded as being respectively a psychological lightweight and a dilettante playboy. And if Clay, who had won the Olympic Games light-heavyweight gold medal in Rome in 1960, insisted on mixing boxing with entertainment, it seemed to be a recipe for ridicule.

Cassius had shown already a capacity to excite publicity and dominate headlines. He was arrogant--he was handsome--he predicted the rounds in which he would win--and he learned from that same wrestling how to attract crowds by outrageous utterances and behaviour.

Along the way, and the luckless Liston wasn't the only one to miss this, Clay had beaten some very good contenders. His hands and his feet were fast, very fast. The youngster buried the "age-less" and almost indestructible Archie Moore under a fusillade of leather and sliced open the eyes of injury-prone Henry Cooper like a diced cutlet.

Cassius played with Sonny (not the walkman). "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see", he taunted...

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