Before Muhammad Ali got his illustrious career moving forward into great stardom, it began with his first title match against then-heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. That was the bout that gave him the push into becoming one of the most recognizable sports athletes of his time. Before that iconic match, Ali put on display his infamous trash talking to get inside Liston’s head before the two clashed in the boxing ring. That had reached the point for the heavyweight champion to pull out a gun on Ali.
Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston rivalry
Before Cassius Clay took on the name Muhammad Ali, he was a young and brash fighter who worked his way up the ranks.
Ali’s impressive start to his career earned him a shot at Sonny Liston for the Won WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles in his 20th career fight in February 1964. Ahead of that bout, he went his now patent route of taunting his opponent in many different manners all to get into his opponent’s head.
It was the biggest fight of Ali’s career up tot hat point with a chance to garner his first heavyweight title. However, it all turned out to be a mistake that wound putting him on the other end of the situation.
Sonny Liston shot a gun at Muhammad Ali
In the months ahead of the fight, Muhammad Ali went all sorts of routes to get into Sonny Liston’s head. That saw him drive a big red bus to Liston’s home that read, “Sonny Liston is a great but will fall in eight” along with the words “World’s most colorful fighter Cassius Clay.”
That situation led to Liston pulling fast one on Ali by pulling a gun on him inside the Desert Inn casino firing rounds that turned out to be blanks (as reenacted in the video from the movie “The Greatest”). In his autobiography “The Greatest, My own Story Muhammad Ali, he stated that he was scared out of his mind. (H/T Myboxingfans.com)
“I ducked. A chill went through my spine. BANG! BANG! He was still aiming at me. I leaped over the black jack table, then the dice table, scattering chips and cards all over the floor, ducking and dodging all the way out in the streets, and behind me the pistol: BANG! BANG!”
“When I got back to my hotel room, I threw myself on the bed, panting. My heart was beating fast, my hands were shaking. I was thinking maybe I should leave Liston alone. I knew I was only acting crazy, but he might be crazy for real. I was still shook up and hour later when a reporter came and told me that Willie Reddish was laughing. They said the joke was on me. Liston’s gun was loaded with blanks. Willie had set it up he told Liston I was coming and prepared him with a blank pistol.”
Liston got better of Ali in that situation, but it was one that was entirely out of the box and unexpected. However, that was short-lived for things to be titled in that favor.
Muhammad Ali got the last laugh
That hectic situation behind him, Muhammad Ali proved himself in the ring up for the challenge against Sonny Liston.
Their first fight went six rounds, grabbing control of the match at around the third onward. For the final three rounds, it began to move in his direction as Liston wore down gradually. Before the seventh round began, Liston’s corner decided to end the fight that saw him spit out his mouth guard in disgust from that decision.
Ali stepped up again in the rematch as he knocked out Liston behind what’s been dubbed the “Phantom punch” for his first successful title defense. He may have gone full steam ahead with his trash-talking throughout his career, but he backed it up with performance in the ring.