Fifty years ago Tuesday, Cassius Clay shocked Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight title.
In the decades afterward, the man later known as Muhammad Ali would politicize sports and transform the art of boxing into theater. He also would beat Liston again in a famously short meeting a year later. But this first fight, the one in Miami Beach, was the one that made it all possible.
Going into his first title bout, the brash 22-year-old was widely regarded as a sports sideshow. Taking his cue from the wrestler Gorgeous George, Clay was already telling everyone that he was the best and the prettiest. With some precision, he was predicting the rounds of his opponents' demise.
In 1962, for instance, he fought Archie Moore. "Archie Moore…must fall in four," Clay predicted, and that is precisely how long the Old Mongoose lasted.