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50 years ago today, 22-year-old challenger Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) battered the heavily favored heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in a bout that shook the boxing world. The fight ignited the career of one of sports’ most charismatic and controversial figures, whose bouts often became social and political events rather than simply sports contests. (Neil Leifer/SI)

GALLERY: Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston I

GALLERY: SI’s 100 Greatest Photos of Muhammad Ali

50 years ago today, 22-year-old challenger Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) battered the heavily favored heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in a bout that shook the boxing world. The fight ignited the career of one of sports’ most charismatic and controversial figures, whose bouts often became social and political events rather than simply sports contests. (Neil Leifer/SI)
GALLERY: Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston I
GALLERY: SI’s 100 Greatest Photos of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston after knocking him out in the first round of their 1965 fight. Ali turns 72 today. (Neil Leifer/SI)

Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston after knocking him out in the first round of their 1965 fight. Ali turns 72 today. (Neil Leifer/SI)

Joe Frazier leans in toward Muhammad Ali, both posing in boxing robes they wore the night of their first bout, during a photo shoot at Frazier’s Gym in Philadelphia on Oct. 2, 2003.  Smokin’ Joe, who passed away on Nov. 7, 2011, would have celebrated his 70th birthday today (Jan. 12, 2014).  (Walter Iooss Jr./SI)

Joe Frazier leans in toward Muhammad Ali, both posing in boxing robes they wore the night of their first bout, during a photo shoot at Frazier’s Gym in Philadelphia on Oct. 2, 2003.  Smokin’ Joe, who passed away on Nov. 7, 2011, would have celebrated his 70th birthday today (Jan. 12, 2014).  (Walter Iooss Jr./SI)

Howard Cosell interviews Muhammad Ali, with entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., after Ali’s victory over Joe Bugner by a 12 round unanimous decision at the Las Vegas Convention Center in 1973.  (Neil Leifer/SI)

GALLERY: Neil Leifer’s Iconic Boxing Photos

Howard Cosell interviews Muhammad Ali, with entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., after Ali’s victory over Joe Bugner by a 12 round unanimous decision at the Las Vegas Convention Center in 1973.  (Neil Leifer/SI)
GALLERY: Neil Leifer’s Iconic Boxing Photos

Nelson Mandela lands a playful punch on the chin of former world champion boxer Muhammad Ali. The two were in Dublin to attend the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. (Ray McManus/Reuters)

GALLERY: Nelson Mandela and Sports

Nelson Mandela lands a playful punch on the chin of former world champion boxer Muhammad Ali. The two were in Dublin to attend the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. (Ray McManus/Reuters)
GALLERY: Nelson Mandela and Sports

Muhammad Ali knocks out Cleveland ‘Big Cat’ Williams in three rounds at the Houston Astrodome to defend his heavyweight title in November 1966. The bout drew a record indoor crowd of 35,460. (Neil Leifer/SI)

GALLERY: SI’s 100 Greatest Sports Photos

Muhammad Ali knocks out Cleveland ‘Big Cat’ Williams in three rounds at the Houston Astrodome to defend his heavyweight title in November 1966. The bout drew a record indoor crowd of 35,460. (Neil Leifer/SI)
GALLERY: SI’s 100 Greatest Sports Photos

SI photographer Neil Leifer captures this aerial view of George Foreman on the canvas after being knocked out by Muhammad Ali at the Rumble in the Jungle. Ali turns 71 today. (Neil Leifer/SI)

GALLERY: The Best of Muhammad Ali

SI photographer Neil Leifer captures this aerial view of George Foreman on the canvas after being knocked out by Muhammad Ali at the Rumble in the Jungle. Ali turns 71 today. (Neil Leifer/SI)
GALLERY: The Best of Muhammad Ali

George Foreman and ABC Wide World of Sports commentator Howard Cosell chat before Foreman’s weigh-in for his 1974 fight against Muhammad Ali. (Neil Leifer/SI) 

George Foreman and ABC Wide World of Sports commentator Howard Cosell chat before Foreman’s weigh-in for his 1974 fight against Muhammad Ali. (Neil Leifer/SI) 

Former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands on top of SONNY LISTON rock during a 1991 SI photo shoot at his old training camp cabin in Deer Lake, Penn. (Neil Leifer/SI)  

GALLERY: Classic Muhammad Ali Photos

Former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands on top of SONNY LISTON rock during a 1991 SI photo shoot at his old training camp cabin in Deer Lake, Penn. (Neil Leifer/SI)  
GALLERY: Classic Muhammad Ali Photos

Muhammad Ali knocks out Cleveland Williams during round three of their 1966 fight at the Astrodome. (Neil Leifer/SI)

GALLERY: The Best of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali knocks out Cleveland Williams during round three of their 1966 fight at the Astrodome. (Neil Leifer/SI)
GALLERY: The Best of Muhammad Ali

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the famous bout between Muhammad Ali and Cleveland Williams in the AstroDome. In this iconic photo, Ali standing victorious after a third round knockout. (Neil Leifer/SI)

SI VAULT: Ali in charge, scores easy victory over Williams (11.21.66)
PHOTO GALLERY: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the famous bout between Muhammad Ali and Cleveland Williams in the AstroDome. In this iconic photo, Ali standing victorious after a third round knockout. (Neil Leifer/SI)
SI VAULT: Ali in charge, scores easy victory over Williams (11.21.66)PHOTO GALLERY: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell joke around while covering 1972 Olympic boxing trials together. (AP)

GALLERY: The Best of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell joke around while covering 1972 Olympic boxing trials together. (AP)
GALLERY: The Best of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali punches Ken Norton during their 1976 fight at Yankee Stadium. The two fought twice in 1973, splitting the fights, before the ‘76 rubber match. Ali slugged his way to a unanimous decision in 15 rounds. Norton’s own coaches believed their fighter had a comfortable lead heading into the 15th and advised Norton to stay away from Ali, which he did, possibly giving the fight away. After the bout, even Ali admitted he thought he had been beaten. (Jerry Cooke/SI)

GALLERY: The Best of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali punches Ken Norton during their 1976 fight at Yankee Stadium. The two fought twice in 1973, splitting the fights, before the ‘76 rubber match. Ali slugged his way to a unanimous decision in 15 rounds. Norton’s own coaches believed their fighter had a comfortable lead heading into the 15th and advised Norton to stay away from Ali, which he did, possibly giving the fight away. After the bout, even Ali admitted he thought he had been beaten. (Jerry Cooke/SI)
GALLERY: The Best of Muhammad Ali

Today marks the 37-year anniversary of The Thrilla in Manilla, the historic rubber match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The fight, which took place at the 16,500-seat Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, was won by Ali via 14th round TKO. As this photo shows, Frazier’s left eye was swollen shut and left him unable to defend himself, forcing trainer Eddie Futch to throw in the towel before the final round. (Neil Leifer/SI)

GALLERY: Ali-Frazier III - The Thrilla in Manilla

Today marks the 37-year anniversary of The Thrilla in Manilla, the historic rubber match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The fight, which took place at the 16,500-seat Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, was won by Ali via 14th round TKO. As this photo shows, Frazier’s left eye was swollen shut and left him unable to defend himself, forcing trainer Eddie Futch to throw in the towel before the final round. (Neil Leifer/SI)
GALLERY: Ali-Frazier III - The Thrilla in Manilla

Muhammad Ali stares down George Foreman during their 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire. Ali won by knocking out Foreman in the eighth round. (Neil Leifer/SI)

GALLERY: Rare Muhammad Ali Photos | Heaviest Boxing Champions

Muhammad Ali stares down George Foreman during their 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire. Ali won by knocking out Foreman in the eighth round. (Neil Leifer/SI)
GALLERY: Rare Muhammad Ali Photos | Heaviest Boxing Champions