The 31 year old Liston was the heavy favorite to beat who many thought was a brash, arrogant young blown-up light heavyweight.
Rounds 1 - 4
When the fight began, it was apparent that Clay was in better condition and had the upperhand. Right from the first round, Clay's superior speed was evident, as he slipped most of Liston's punches with seeming ease. Clay was constantly moving, and his superb reflexes and fast, effective jab made it difficult for Liston to score with his slower arm-speed and heavy punches. Toward the end of the round, Clay hit Liston with a combination of punches that electrified the crowd.
In the third round, Clay opened up his attack and hit Liston with several combinations, causing a bruise under Liston's right eye and a cut under his left. At one point in the round, Liston's knees buckled under Clay's attack and he almost went down.
During the fourth round, Clay coasted, keeping his distance.
Drama in the Ring
When Clay returned to his corner Clay after the 4th Round, he started complaining that there was something burning in his eyes and that he could not see. Clay shouted: "cut off my gloves," but trainer Angelo Dundee responded, "this is the big one, daddy . . . we're not quitting now!". He rinsed Clay's eyes with a sponge and pushed him off his stool to begin the fifth round, telling him to "get out there and run." Clay managed to survive the round.
It has been theorized that a substance used to stop Liston's cuts from bleeding (possibly Monsel's solution) may have caused the irritation, either through accidental contact with Clay or by being purposely applied to Liston's gloves by his corner, possibly at Liston's request. Neither explanation has ever been proven.
By the sixth Clay's sight had cleared, and he resumed control of the fight, landing combinations of punches seemingly at will. After the bell signaled the end of the round Liston, in his corner, told his corner-men that he couldn't continue and complained of a shoulder injury. Clay was the first to notice Liston spit out his mouth guard; he moved to the middle of the ring with his arms raised, dancing the jig that would become known as the "Ali Shuffle."
Liston had failed to answer the bell for the seventh round and Clay was declared the winner by technical knockout.
The two meet would meet again in Lewiston, Maine the following year. Clay, now Muhammad Ali, would KO Sonny Liston in the first round with his famous and controversial "Anchor Punch."
The bout was even at the time of the stoppage; 57-57 56-58 (Liston) 58-56 (Clay)
1964 Fight of the Year - Ring Magazine
After this fight Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad X and then Muhammad Ali.
Liston was 7-1 favorite to win.
Proclaimed the "Fight and Upset of the Decade" (1960s) by Ring magazine.
Many of those watching were surprised during the referee's instructions to see that Clay was considerably taller than Liston, the so called 'Big Bear'.
Of the 46 sportswriters at ringside, 43 had picked Sonny Liston to win by knockout.
"He's too ugly to be the world's champ! The world's champ should be pretty like me!" Ali's comment about Liston in pre-fight interview
"Round eight to prove I'm great!" Ali's prediction before the fight
"If Sonny Liston whups me, I'll kiss his feet in the ring, I'll crawl out of the ring on my knees, tell him he's the greatest, and catch the next jet out of the country" Ali's pre-fight comment
"Eat your words! Eat your words! I am the greatest." Ali shouting at reporters after the fight