Category: Cassius Clay

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The Beatles meet Muhammad Ali at 5th street gym in Miami Beach on February 18, 1964.  

Photos by Paul Slade 

Muhammad Ali with his mentor

Malcolm X at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, 1964.

Malcolm arranged for Ali (then Cassius X) to meet with diplomats from Africa and Asia at the United Nations. Sports writer Murray Robinson noted in the New York Journal American that Malcolm intended to “make the heavyweight champion an international political figure.”

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Muhammad Ali:

“Malcolm was my brother, friend, mentor and often my confidant. He was a remarkable man whose thirst for truth and righteousness for all people set him on a path that often isolated him from others. But he knew it was the path that he must walk, regardless if he found himself walking alone. Malcolm inspired me with his eloquence and wisdom. He still inspires me. Sometimes the right road isn’t the easy road. It takes courage, conviction and personal sacrifice to stand up for truth and justice. Malcolm was that kind of man.”

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JET Magazine covers from 1964

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Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X at the United Nations on March 4, 1964.

Malcolm X arranged for Ali (then Cassius X) to meet with diplomats from Africa and Asia at the United Nations.

Sports writer Murray Robinson noted in the New York Journal American that Malcolm X intended to “make the heavyweight champion an international political figure.” Malcolm and Ali made plans to tour Africa together. Days later on March 6, Elijah Muhammad gave Cassius the name Muhammad Ali and forbade all members to communicate with Malcolm after he was ostracized from the Nation of Islam.

A few months later in May 1964, Muhammad Ali had a chance meeting in Ghana, with his former friend and mentor Malcolm X but he turned his back on him.

“Turning my back on Malcolm,” wrote Ali in his 2004 autobiography The Soul of a Butterfly, “was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life. I wish I’d been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he was right about so many things.  But he was killed before I got the chance… Malcolm was the first to discover the truth, that color doesn’t make you a devil. It is the heart, soul, and mind that define a person. Malcolm was a great thinker and an even greater friend. I might never have become a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Malcolm. If I could go back and do it over again, I would never have turned my back on him.” 

(Read more about their relationship in the book Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X)

Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, March 1964.

On February 25, 1964 Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) won the World Heavyweight boxing title against Sonny Liston. Many had predicted an easy knockout for Liston but Malcolm X told the press otherwise: “Clay will win. He is the finest Negro athlete I have ever known and he will mean more to his people than Jackie Robinson. Robinson is an establishment hero. Clay will be our hero…. Not many people know the quality of mind he has in there. One forgets that though the clown never imitates the wise man, a wise man can imitate the clown.”

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Muhammad Ali celebrating with Malcolm X at the Hampton House in Miami after he won the World Heavyweight Championship against Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964.

Photos by Bob Gomel

Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) vs Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight boxing title

at Miami Beach Convention Hall on February 25, 1964.

As the 7-1 underdog, 22-year-old Ali defeated Sonny Liston in six rounds by TKO. The fight was almost cancelled due to Ali’s religious beliefs. While he trained in Miami he had his mentor Malcolm X with him.

When the promoter threatened to cancel the fight if Ali didn’t distance himself from Malcolm and the Nation of Islam, Ali said, “My religion is more important to me than the fight.” The promoter finally relented when Malcolm agreed to leave Miami and return only the night of the fight. Before the fight, Malcolm X told Ali, “This fight is the truth. It’s the Cross and the Crescent fighting in a prize ring–for the first time. It’s a modern Crusades–a Christian and a Muslim facing each other with television to beam it off Telstar for the whole world to see what happens! Do you think Allah has brought about all this intending for you to leave the ring as anything but a champion?" 

Malcolm was sitting ringside in seat number 7 when Ali became the champion.

Muhammad Ali at 5th street gym

training for his title fight against Sonny Liston in Miami Beach, February 1964.

Photos by Paul Slade

The Beatles meet Muhammad Ali at 5th street gym in Miami Beach on February 18, 1964.  

Photographer Harry Benson told the Beatles he would set up a picture with the heavyweight champion, Sonny Liston.

But instead he had dumped them in the training camp of whom they thought would be Liston’s next victim, Cassius Clay. John Lennon called Clay “that big mouth who’s going to lose.” Clay’s press agent, wanted the photo op to help promote the fight and brought them into Clay’s dressing room. When Clay entered the room he said, “Hello there, Beatles. We oughta do some roadshows together. We’ll get rich.” Moments later, the five of them were in the ring, cavorting like old pals. When it was over,

Benson

recalls, the Beatles told him they would never speak to him again. The session had been “degrading. You made a fool of us,” one of them said.

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