Remembering The Greatest Photo of Muhammad Ali Ever Taken

It was the moment when Ali became immortal.

placeholder title

Legendary boxer and cultural icon Muhammad Ali died Friday at a Phoenix hospital, where he had been treated for respiratory complications. He was 74. 

Here’s a look back at his most famous photo.

We’ve all seen this picture. It captures Muhammad Ali at the dizzying height of his beautiful, alpha dog dominance of boxing and probably manhood itself, and has served as a fierce touchstone of pride, defiance, and power for more than five decades. 

Not only was Ali’s stunning first-round knockout of Sonny Liston in their heavyweight title rematch in Lewiston, Maine on May 25, 1965 a triumph for “The Greatest”, but it also made for a a truly unforgettable image. 

Perhaps most famously captured by Life magazine’s Neil Leifer, Ali’s triumphant, taunting pose proved far more memorable than the fight itself, which Ali ended with a right to Liston’s jaw one minute and 44 seconds into the first round.

The 23-year-old champion, who was introduced in the ring for the first time as Muhammad Ali instead of Cassius Clay, stood over Liston, 34, and yelled, “Get up and fight, sucker!” as a scrum of ringside photographers clicked away. 

The quick finish–Liston had lasted until the 7th round before quitting in their first fight–led many to speculate that the troubled challenger, who had long-rumored mob ties, had thrown the match rather than being legitimately vanquished by Ali’s then-controversial  “Phantom Punch.”

But Ali’s overhand right to Liston’s chin was very real indeed. “He knocked out big Sonny Liston,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Tex Maule, “with a punch so marvelously fast that almost no one believed in it—but it was hard and true.” 

The punch landed. The picture was taken. And more than fifty years later, it’s still an absolute knockout. 


Chris Wilson