Muhammad Ali

When The Beatles met Muhammad Ali

When The Beatles rose to global stardom in the mid-1960s, it appeared that everyone wanted to be a friend of the group of cheeky mop-tops. The Beatles first arrived in the USA on February 7th 1964; they were immediately swarmed by fans who had heard some of their early hits on US radiowaves over the previous year.

As the Fab Four were already huge stars in North America, their tour took them around the continent to some of the largest and most prestigious venues; they even managed to perform on live television for the Ed Sullivan Show. By February 18th, 1964, the group found themselves in Miami, Florida, in the company of the most iconic boxer of all time.

The Beatles had only been in the US for 11 days when their tour managers marshalled them into Miami Beach’s 5th Street Gym for a photo opportunity with 22-year-old boxer Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali following his conversion to Islam). At the time, Clay had been busy preparing for his big upcoming fight with the Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston. The Beatles, meanwhile, had turned up in Florida to film their second performance for the Ed Sullivan Show.

The Beatles were photographed multiple times in the ring with Clay for the newspapers during the visit. As seen in the photo collection below, the visit was quite the occasion, with all involved seemingly in great spirits. Despite appearances, though, The Beatles were purportedly hoping to see Liston and not, as John Lennon said, the “loudmouth who’s going to lose”.

In the following weeks, Clay, “the loudmouth”, was the one to win the fight as Liston bowed out in the seventh round. Clay also went on to win the highly anticipated rematch the following year in a first-round knockout on his unstoppable rise to prominence as one of the finest boxers in history, or as he put it, “the greatest”. Despite Clay’s dominance over this period, The Beatles remained loyal fans of Liston and even included his wax model in the photograph taken for the famous, star-studded album cover for 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Ali sadly suffered from a worsening case of Parkinson’s disease toward the end of his life and passed away in June 2016 after a short respiratory illness at the age of 74. He left a legacy, not just as one of the greatest boxers of all time but as a Black icon and an inspirational figure who, to this day, inspires people to follow their passions and fight oppression.

The famous photographs below have inspired a cultural exchange between The Beatles’ home city of Liverpool and Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The exchange was initiated in 2018 and has involved Carly Johnson, an up and coming singer and Beatles fan from Louisville, travelling to Liverpool to play concerts in some of the historic venues where The Beatles’ played, including the famous Cavern Club. For the return, six young boxers from the Liverpool City Region travelled to Louisville to train at the TKO gym and visit the Muhammad Ali Centre.

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