Sonny Liston was the World Heavyweight Champion at the time of the first Liston–Clay fight in Miami Beach on February 25, 1964, having demolished former champion Floyd Patterson by a first-round knockout in September 1962. Ten months later, Liston and Patterson met again with the same result—Patterson was knocked out in the first round.
Sonny Liston was the most intimidating fighter of his day, and considered by some, at the time of the Clay fight, to be among the best heavyweights of all time. Many were reluctant to meet him in the ring. Henry Cooper, the British champion, said he would be interested in a title fight if Clay won, but he was not going to get in the ring with Liston.
The two fights between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston for boxing‘s World Heavyweight Championship were among the most anticipated, watched and controversial fights in the sport’s history. Sports Illustrated magazine named their first meeting, the Liston–Clay fight (Ali had not yet changed his name from Cassius Clay), as the fourth greatest sports moment of the twentieth century.
The first bout was held in February 1964 in Miami Beach, Florida. Clay (later Ali) won when Liston gave up at the opening of the seventh round (after being clearly dominated in the sixth). Their second fight was in May 1965 in Lewiston, Maine, which Ali won with a first-round knockout.