February 25, 1964... 50 years ago MUHAMMAD ALI became World Champion
by JAMES A. MARPLES
Feb 27, 2014 | 2146 views | 1 1 comments | 165 165 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was 50 years ago, that a young 22 year old man named Cassius Marcellus Clay defeated Sonny Liston who was then the WBA/WBC Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World at the convention center in Miami, Florida on February 25, 1964.  After the fight, Cassius Clay changed his name to the legendary boxing name we know now as "Muhammad Ali". 
 
Regardless of whether you loved him or hated him, Muhammad Ali backed up his words.  He has been quoted as saying: "It ain't bragging if it's true".  Indeed so.   Many people in the Gilmer-area can relate to straight talk, even if it has a tinge of lacking modesty.   Being too shy can be detrimental, too.  It can cost you lost opportunities.
 
At that 1964 boxing match, former heavyweight champion Joe Louis was ringside.   At that time, many reporters and even boxing promoters dismissed Clay (Ali) as a token opponent.  Muhammad Ali proved them wrong.  I have seen videotape of that fight as well as broadcasts of later matches I saw contemporaneously in the 1970s.   Muhammad Ali, with the exception of a few matches, was always sizing-up his opponent.  
 
Reporters and opponents heard his verbal taunting and he was even given the nickname "The Louisville Lip"; however that was just a gimmick to rally crowds and distract his opponent.  While they would steam and stew over a comment, Muhammad Ali would be doing his renowned dancing circles in the ring, lightly pawing (measuring the distance to land a jab) and then he would toss a flurry of punches.  The phrase: "Float like a butterfly and Sting like a bee" was the trademark of Muhammad Ali.
 
His later matches with Joe Frazier and George Foreman were legendary.  I have personally met George Foreman twice.  Each time, Mr. Foreman and I discuss Muhammad Ali.  Initially, I was sheepish by telling Mr. Foreman that "I like Muhammad Ali" (rest assured I liked Foreman too, but maybe Ali just a little bit better).  Mr. Foreman lightheartedly told me an open secret that he "likes Ali, too".  We both laughed.
 
Muhammad Ali almost defied physics by his movements in the ring. His body could be moving steadily forward; yet if an opponent threw a punch, Muhammad Ali (in his prime) had the unusual knack of moving his head backward, just in the nick of time and the blow would float harmlessly by him.   I think that was pivotal to his success.

 The only regret I have, is that Muhammad Ali stayed in the ring far too long, past his prime and endured much abuse which has undoubtedly added to his present parkinsonian condition.  He is now age 72.  I salute him on 50 years since becoming one of the greatest , if not "The Greatest" heavyweight boxing champions of our time.  He, like Mr. Foreman earned the "gold medal" in boxing at the 1960 and 1968 Olympic Games, respectively.  When I was growing-up: Everybody knew 'who' the World's heavyweight boxing champion was, by name. Now, few people, including myself, are hard-pressed to even name two or three people in the heavyweight ranks in general.   Muhammad Ali made Howard Cosell a household name and Muhammad Ali's legacy in the sport of Boxing continues to shine 50 years since he first become World Champion.
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Scott Cain
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February 24, 2014
Great article James. It brought back some good memories, of a more simple time. It was hard to believe how fast Ali's and Foreman's jabs were. They both were quite impressive. Again, great article!