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Cassius Clay V Sonny Liston: 50 Years On (PICTURES/VIDEO)

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It was 50 years ago today Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, was crowned heavyweight champion of the world at the age of 22.

Although unbeaten in 20 fights, Clay, who had already proclaimed he was "the greatest", was a 7-1 underdog when he entered the ring to face defending champion Sonny Liston at Miami Beach in Florida.

Liston had taken the title from Floyd Paterson when he knocked him out in 1962 and had served two years of a five-year sentence for robbery in 1950. He also had mob ties.

cassius clay sonny liston

Liston jabs at Clay during their bout in Florida

It didn't intimidate Clay.

American politics at the time were fascinating. The nation was still grieving over President John F Kennedy's death three months earlier, the civil rights movement intensified and Vietnam was becoming more topical.

Clay was regarded as a brash motor-mouth overdue a comeuppance. His reputation changed overnight, as the battered Liston didn't answer the bell for the seventh round and the next morning he cited a shoulder injury for throwing in the towel.

cassius clay sonny liston

Clay celebrates his victory over Liston

Robert Lipsyte, covering the fight for The New York Times, said: "The only thing that could scare Sonny was a crazy person who defied any kind of logic. I think Clay understood you could psyche out Sonny Liston by some show of insanity. And I think that's exactly what he did."

The gloves Clay wore to defeat Liston were sold for an astonishing $836,500 earlier this month at Heritage Auctions' Sports Platinum Night Auction.

Shortly after that fight, Clay announced he was a Muslim and had joined the Nation of Islam. Eventually, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

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    File photo dated 19/06/1963 of American Boxer Cassius Clay.
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    File photo dated 31/08/1963 of American Boxer Sonny Liston.
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    FILE - In this Feb. 25, 1964, file photo, with flailing arms and legs, new heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay is lifted off the ring floor in Miami Beach by one of his handlers when Sonny Liston was unable the answer the bell for the seventh round. Another Clay handler, left, climbs through the ropes as trainer Angelo Dundee, right, reacts. Dundee, the trainer who helped groom Muhammad Ali (Clay) and Sugar Ray Leonard into world champions and became one of boxing's most recognizable figures, died Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. He was 90. (AP Photo/hlv, File)
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    FILE - In this Feb. 25, 1964, file photo, Sonny Liston, right, lowers his head and works in close during the sixth round of heavyweight championship fight against Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) in Miami Beach, Fla. Ali turns 70 on Jan. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/File)
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    The new world heavyweight champion Cassius Clay and his corner team celebrate in the ring following Clay's victory over former world champion Sonny Liston
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    Challenger Cassius Clay bangs a right to the left shoulder of crouching Sonny Liston during their World Heavyweight. Clay became the new champion on a technical Knock out in the seventh round. Liston 7 - 1 on favourite to retain his crown failed to answer the bell at the start of the seventh round. He claimed his shoulder was injured during a first round melee
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    World Champion Sonny Liston gives his prediction on how many rounds his fight will go against Cassius Clay
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    Cassius Clay gives his prediction on how many rounds his fight will go against World Champion Sonny Liston
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    SONNY LISTON PUNCHES CASSIUS CLAY (MOHAMMED ALI) DURING THEIR WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT
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    Referee Joe Walcott gives Sonny Liston the count as he lies on the canvas while Muhammad Ali celebrates his victory
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    Sonny Liston ducks to avoid a blow from Muhammad Ali. Ali retained his heavyweight title by knocking out Sonny Liston in sixty seconds of the first round of their contest at Lowiston, Maine, USA. The fight has caused such a great controversy that a demand has been made in the house of representatives forrr an inquiry to be held. Referee Joe Walcott jumps in the ring to stop the fight.
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    Referee Joe Walcott restrains World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali as challenger Sonny Liston rolls on the canvas. Ali knocked out Liston in the first round to retain his title in Lewiston, Maine
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    World Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston (right) and challenger Cassius Clay (seated) exchange unpleasantries as Dr Alexander Robbins (left) examines Clay at the weigh-inbefore their fight
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    World Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston (right) waves a fist at title challenger Cassius Clay (second left) as a preview of things to come as the two meet for the weigh-in.
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    Cassius Clay who recently became the new World Heavyweight Champion when he defeated Sonny Liston is pictured with his mother at their Louisville home in Kentucky.16th March 1964.
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    World Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston (foreground) is examined by Dr Alexander Robbins (right) at the weigh-in for his title bout with challenger Cassius Clay - seen here hurling insults after being pushed into the background at Miami Beach.