Most people have seen the photos of The Beatles and Muhammad Ali, but how did their meeting come about and what happened when they met? There are many different accounts online telling the story, but they all seem to contradict each other. You want the truth, right?
In this article, we’ll tell you exactly what happened when The Beatles met Muhammad Ali, from how they came to meet and what was said between them, helping you to separate the myths from the truth.
What Happens When Legends Come Together?
Both The Beatles and Muhammad Ali are legends in their own rights, albeit for slightly different things. The Beatles became famous for revolutionising music and transforming it into what it is today, whilst Muhammad Ali earned his fame as a heavyweight boxer.
But what exactly happened when these legends joined forces on the evening of their fateful meeting in February 1964?
Playing With The Opposition
The first thing that we should make clear is that Muhammad Ali was not the original person that The Beatles wanted to meet that night. In fact, it was heavyweight champion Sonny Liston that they first approached, asking him to take part in a publicity photoshoot with them. Liston refused, offending the band members.
So, The Beatles did exactly what any other snubbed band would do and approached his opponent instead. And that’s how The Beatles came to meet Muhammad Ali.
However, although the band were happy to meet Ali, they were clear that they would have rather met Liston. John Lennon even referred to Ali as “the loudmouth who’s going to lose”.
Muhammad Ali Or Cassius Clay?
At the time, Muhammad Ali was just 22 years old and was still largely unknown. At this time, he was known as Cassius Clay. It was just weeks after this meeting that Clay changed his name to the famed Muhammad Ali that is known across the globe today.
On the night of 18th February 1964, Muhammad Ali was preparing for a fight with Sonny Liston, who at the time was one of the leading heavyweight champions. Ali was determined to earn his fame, so it was a crucial fight for his career.
Held Against Their Will
The Beatles were in Miami Beach to perform on the Ed Sullivan show during their first tour of the United States. They were taken to Muhammed Ali’s training camp, where he’d been preparing for his big fight with Liston.
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing. When The Beatles arrived at Miami Beach’s 5th Street Gym to meet Ali, they found that the boxing champion was running late. When they heard that he was running late, they reportedly said “We’re the F out of here” and turned to leave.
As they tried to leave, The Beatles were quickly stopped by Ali’s PR team, who were also keen for the publicity. The band members were ushered into a dressing room, along with journalist Robert Lipsyte, and the door locked.
Understandably, the band weren’t very happy with the situation. They banged on the dressing room door whilst shouting to be released, claiming that they had been abducted.
Making Money With Muhammad Ali
As the band continued to curse, the door suddenly opened and Muhammad Ali stood towering in the doorway in his boxing shorts. The Beatles fell silent and gasped at the sight of Ali.
According to Robert Lipsyte, Muhammad Ali broke the silence by exclaiming “Hello there, Beatles! We oughta do some roach shows together. We’ll get rich!”. However, other reports have claimed that he actually said “Hey, Beatles! Let’s go make some money!” Either way, it was Ali that broke the ice and helped to diffuse the situation.
The Famed Photographs
Thanks to Muhammad Ali’s ability to get back onto the right side of The Beatles, the famous photos were taken quickly afterwards. The five men enjoyed playing around in the gym, staging photographs which they all hoped would earn them some much-needed publicity.
One image shows Ali lifting Ringo Starr, whilst the other Beatles lay on the ground, looking like they’ve been knocked out. Another photograph shows the bandmates falling like dominoes after Muhammad punched George Harrison.
The light-hearted photographs perfectly captured the fun and enjoyable mood of the photoshoot. During the shoot, Ali is said to have quipped at The Beatles “You ain’t as dumb as you look”, with John Lennon quickly retorting “No. But you are!”. There was an awkward silence before the group burst into laughter.
The Results Of The Fight
A week after the famed photoshoot, Muhammad Ali went on to fight Sonny Liston. Ali was a 7-1 underdog whilst Liston was the World Heavyweight Champion, so no one expected Ali to have any chance of winning the fight.
However, Muhammad Ali surprised the world by defeating Liston in three rounds. After clearly dominating Liston in the sixth round, Sonny Liston admitted defeat at the beginning of the seventh round, with Ali declaring himself “The Greatest”.
This was a turning point in Ali’s career, earning him worldwide fame and marking the beginning of his legendary career. The duo had a rematch in May 1965, where Muhammed Ali knocked out Liston in the first round, securing his fame across the globe.
The Beatles Reflect On Meeting Ali
The Beatles have spoken of their meeting with Muhammad Ali many times over the past six decades. In The Beatles Anthology, George Harrison wrote:
“Obviously we were having an effect, because all these people were clamouring to meet us – like Muhammad Ali for instance. We were taken to meet him on that first trip. It was a big publicity thing. It was all part of being a Beatle, really – just getting lugged around and thrust into rooms full of press men taking pictures and asking questions. Muhammad Ali was quite cute. He had a fight coming up in a couple of days with Sonny Liston. There is a famous picture of him holding two of us under each arm.”
When Muhammad Ali passed away in June 2016, both Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney took to Twitter to honour the boxing legend and pay tribute to his life. McCartney described him as “a beautiful, gentle man with a great sense of humour”.
A Meeting That Influenced Their Respective Careers
It’s clear that Muhammad Ali and The Beatles thought highly of each other, celebrating each others’ career successes and running into each other over the years.
The impact that each had on the others’ careers is also apparent. The Beatles went on to sell over 250 million records, earning themselves a name across the globe, whilst Muhammad Ali is arguably one of the world’s most well-known boxers of all time.
It’s unclear just how much of that fame was generated by their 1964 meeting, but the famed photos of The Beatles and Muhammad Ali demonstrate five legends coming together to have fun and raise each others’ profile. They are photographs that have earnt their place in history and will be looked back on for many years to come.