Cassius Clay lived in Overtown, and became Muhammad Ali in Brownsville. He owned a duplex in the City of Miami, was loved by the local black community, and could often be found entertaining neighborhood youths with his storytelling and athletic prowess.
Walk up to any stranger of a certain age on the streets of Overtown today, and they will likely tell you how he used to lead massive jogs throughout the neighborhood, trailed by packs of kids excited by the bombastic young fighter's charisma.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Cassius Clay beating Sonny Liston at the sweet science in the squared circle in Miami Beach, and proclaiming, "I shook up the world." HistoryMiami is hosting "I Shook Up the World" Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston," an exhibition commemorating this great event in American sports history featuring never before seen archival materials. This weekend is your last chance to check it out.
Unbeknownst to the world at the time, by the time of the Sonny Liston fight, Cassius Clay had already joined the Nation of Islam. This occurred when Cassius Clay met a guy known as Cap'n Sam at a popular motel, bar, and nightclub called the Hampton House Hotel and Villas in the historic Brownsville section of Miami. Popular entertainers such as Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin were known to perform there, and the house band played live music seven nights a week to great acclaim. Capn Sam introduced Clay to Malcolm XAnd there is a famous photograph of the guys together there. The Hampton House is one of the places where Clay and Malcolm X spent time discussing life, pride, and Islam.
The HistoryMiami exhibit is located in the front lobby of the museum. A placard explaining the exhibit notes that the Miami Herald sent photographers Doug Kennedy, Bob East, Mike Freeman, John Walther, Ray Fisher, Albert Coya, Tom McCarthy, and John Pineda to cover the event. They shot tons of images, many of which were never published or even saw the light of day until now.
Here we see Ali jumping into the ring, ready for action. There are a great array of photos on the wall, and historic souvenirs from the event in a display case below them.
Before the fight began, Clay was already ready already. You can practically see the explosive power of his punches, even when he's standing still.
Miami has a tremendous boxing history. Some of the greatest fighters in the world spent mucho tiempo aqui. Two others are Archie Moore, and Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson also lived in Overtown after marrying a local girl named Edna Mae. He used to drive a pink Cadillac convertible all over Miami with her beside him in the front seat.
Sonny Liston was such a formidable opponent that most members of the sports media spent their time debating just how many punches Clay would be able to take before he was knocked out cold by the favored heavyweight.
But Cassius Clay was just too fast for the bigger man, and tired Liston out with a jab, jab, and juke strategy.
As the rounds progressed, Clay went closer and closer in on Liston, delivering barrages of heavy hits whose force has not been matched since.
The beleaguered Liston resorted to low blows, like the nefarious hip-shot pictured above.
It was an exciting match to say the least, full of action that captivated the world's imagination.
And in the end, Liston was vanquished, and the better sportsman won the day.
Of course, Clay didn't do it alone. He had the help of his trainers, cornermen, coach, and fight doctor.
And maybe even the man upstairs was on his side to win.
To this day, Cassius Clay is a symbol to the world for perseverance, determination, ambition, talent, and ability. More succinctly, Muhammad Ali is the greatest champion that Earth has ever known.
And today his words ring true as ever, and he did shake up the world.
Check out this awesome signature, and also the series of paintings by his fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco.
The works range from abstract to realist and exhibit a real passion for the subject.
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Here's a great painting of a 19-year-old Ali training at the 5th Street Gym on South Beach.
But no matter how much the ocean side of the bridge influenced his career, it was the City of Miami that influenced him to be the great man he is today.
HistoryMiami's exhibit "I Shook Up the World: Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston" is on view through this Sunday, June 15. Admission costs $8. Visit historymiami.org.