Today’s iconic photograph is from the world of sports. And it features a very special person.
His life was such that it could inspire a typical 1970s Bollywood movie. A young man was persecuted by a gang of rich guys. He was ridiculed for being a black. He felt deeply hurt and decided to fight the menace of racism. He beat-up the white guys who maltreated him. And, in order to prove himself, he went on to become a World Heavyweight Boxing Champion and a sports icon.
The story sounds familiar? No?… Yes?… Who was this guy?
Well, he was Cassius Clay who later became known by his adopted name Muhammad Ali. As you know, Ali is considered one of the greatest sports person in the world. As a young man he won an Olympic Gold Medal in light heavyweight boxing at the Rome Olympics in 1960. Later, however, as Ali revealed in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story, he threw the gold medal in the Ohio river after he was refused service in an all-white restaurant. From there on he went on to become three-time World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. He is considered the greatest boxer ever.
Today’s photograph shows Muhammad Ali standing imposingly over his fallen opponent Sonny Liston and yelling at him, “Get up and fight, sucker!”. This photograph was shot by ringside photographer Neil Leifer. It has become an iconic photograph in the sport of boxing and was even chosen as the cover of the Sports Illustrated special issue, “The Century’s Greatest Sports Photos”. Neil Leifer recalls taking this photo:
Well, I was lucky. I don’t want to sound like I’m just being modest .. The photographer you see between Ali’s legs is Herbie Scharfman, the other Sports Illustrated photographer. It didn’t make a difference how good he was that night. He was obviously in the wrong seat. What the good sports photographer does is when it happens and you’re in the right place, you don’t miss. Whether that’s instinctual or whether it’s just luck, I don’t know.
Ali had knocked down Liston and was challenging him to stand up. When Liston finally stood up he was knocked out by Ali. This final blow is now known as the phantom punch because most people did not see it. Even Ali was not sure whether his punch connected Liston or not! This fight took place on 25 May 1965. It was not well recorded because the original venue was changed and the new venue was not easily accessible. Due to the remote location (140 miles north of Boston), only 2,434 fans were present, setting the all-time record for the lowest attendance for a heavyweight championship fight. Here is the video of this famous fight:
Did you know?
- In his sports life Ali suffered only five losses while amassing 56 wins (37 knockouts and 19 decisions). He did not draw any fight.
- He describes his fighting style as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”
- Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964. In 1975 he converted to Sunni Islam.
- He refused to join US Army to fight in Vietnam war saying “War is against the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. I’m not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers.” Such a refusal was a crime in the US and he was convicted for it. The case went up to the Supreme Court where he was acquitted.
- Ali famously said “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me Nigger.”
- He is nick-named “The Greatest”
- He is the only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion (won the titles in 1964, 1974, and 1978)
- He was declared the “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC
- Later in age, Ali developed Parkinson’s disease
This iconic photograph is among those that have been the most popular pip-up posters. Other popular pin-ups that I have written about in this series of famous photos are: Tennis Girl, Bruce Lee, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe.
What do you think of this photograph and the story behind it? Please comment and give your feedback as it helps me in writing better content for my readers. Thank you for reading and stay connected with my website as I will continue to bring stories on more iconic photographs for you.