“I shook up the world!”
Cassius Clay’s emphatic statement moments after dethroning Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title meant more than an unexpected ring accomplishment. Not only was there a changing of heavyweight champions but with identity. Clay immediately announced that his new name was Muhammad Ali, who would become one of sport’s most iconic figures of the 20th century.
Now, with the 50th anniversary of the Clay-Liston fight approaching, HistoryMiami will celebrate the event. Beginning Tuesday and running through the end of March, the museum will present an art and photo exhibit commemorating the fight.
And on Feb. 25, coinciding with the fight’s date at the Miami Beach Convention Center 50 years earlier, HistoryMiami will host a panel discussion featuring experts with links to the bout.
“We are going to take visitors back to the tense days leading to the fight, and drama that ensued during the fight,” said Ramiro Ortiz, president of HistoryMiami. “The panelists in our symposium will provide first-hand accounts, thanks to their connections to the fight.”
The panel will feature Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, the lone surviving member of Ali’s training team, Jim Dundee, son of Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee, and Suzanne Dundee Bonner, daughter of the bout’s promoter, Chris Dundee. Miami historian and writer Howard Kleinberg will provide the media’s viewpoint and boxing historian Don Cogswell will talk about Liston.
“I believe we have put together an interesting cross-section of experts that will make us appreciate further what this fight meant,” said Ortiz, who will moderate the panel discussion.
“Ferdie will give us an insight as to what happened during the fight, especially when Clay’s eyes got rubbed with a substance from Liston’s gloves in the fourth round. Clay wanted to have his gloves cut and the fight stopped but Angelo did a masterful job of throwing water in his eyes and told Clay to move around until his vision cleared.”
Dundee’s quick actions enabled Clay to avoid a possible Liston fifth-round knockout win. Clay resumed his earlier-fight dominance in the sixth round and Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round, earning Clay the seventh-round TKO victory.
“The days before the fight you also had the issue of Clay wanting to reveal that he had joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name,” Ortiz said. “Early 1960s America was not ready for this radical change. Jimmy and Suzie Dundee will talk about how their fathers’ influences convinced Clay to refrain from officially announcing the name change until after the fight.”
Liston was the solid favorite before the bout but Clay’s histrionics toward his opponent during fight week intensified the hype.
“Everything in boxing was stoic until this young man came along,” Ortiz said. “Not many people gave him much of a chance. The question going in wasn’t if Liston would win but if Clay would last four rounds.”
The exhibit will feature never-before seen photos from the fight as well as the incidents preceding the bout. Ortiz said the photos were donated by retired Miami Herald photographer Tim Chapman.
“These were negatives that were never processed or ran in the Herald,” Ortiz said.
For information on the exhibit’s visiting hours and ticket information on the Feb. 25 panel discussion, call 305-375-1614 or visit the museum website at www.historymiami.org.
Around the ring
• More than three years after a failed heavyweight title bid, Pembroke Pines resident Shannon Briggs (51-6, 45 KOs) will make his ring return. Briggs, the last American heavyweight to win a world title, is scheduled to fight Kertson Manswell in Atlanta on Sunday.
“After over three years of staying away from the ring, I’m back where I belong,” Briggs said Friday on his Facebook page. “I’ve decided to fight again.”
Briggs, 42, has not fought since he lost a lopsided decision against Vitali Klitschko Oct. 2010 in Germany. Briggs absorbed repeated punishing shots throughout the bout that required a week’s stay at a German hospital.
• Miami resident and former light-heavyweight champion Glen Johnson will fight Jaime Velazquez on Friday in Lincoln, R.I. Johnson, who turned 45 in January, fought as recently two months ago, when he won a convincing decision against Bobby Gunn.