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The day Muhammad Ali met the Beatles

Published 05/06/2016

In this March 29, 1967, file photo, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, center left, and Dr. Martin Luther King speak to reporters. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo/File)
In this March 29, 1967, file photo, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, center left, and Dr. Martin Luther King speak to reporters. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo/File)
In this Sept. 13, 2012, file photo, retired boxing champion Muhammad Ali, center, waves alongside his wife Lonnie Ali, left, and his sister-in-law Marilyn Williams, right, after receiving the Liberty Medal during a ceremony at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
In this May 25, 1965, file photo, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali is held back by referee Joe Walcott, left, after Ali knocked out challenger Sonny Liston in the first round of their title fight in Lewiston, Maine. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo/File)
In this Feb. 25, 1968, file photo, former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali speaks at a Black Muslim convention in Chicago. Seated behind Ali is Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo/file)
In this July 19, 1996, file photo, Muhammad Ali watches as the flame climbs up to the Olympic torch during the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics, in Atlanta. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)
This is an Oct. 9, 1974, file photo showing Muhammad Ali. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)(AP Photo/FIle)
This is a 1995 file photo showing Muhammad Ali smiling during a visit to New York. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, FIle)
In this Sept. 17, 1974, file photo, Muhammad Ali is greeted in downtown Kinshasa, Zaire. Ali is in Zaire to fight George Foreman. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo)
In this May 25, 1965 file photo, perspiration beads on the face of world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali during training for his fight with Sonny Liston, in Lewiston, Maine. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo/File)
In this Feb. 22, 2012, file photo, former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali poses at St. Joseph's Hospital Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this Oct. 1, 1975, file photo, Muhammad Ali's throws a right at Joe Frazier in the 13th round in their title bout in Manila, Philippines. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74. (AP Photo/FILE)
In this Sept. 27, 2014, file photo, Muhammad Ali is shown before the Ali Humanitarian Awards ceremony in Louisville, Ky. A spokesman for boxing great Muhammad Ali says the former heavyweight champion is being treated in a hospital for a respiratory issue. Spokesman Bob Gunnell said Thursday, June 2, 2016, that Ali is being treated by doctors as a precaution. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)
This file photo taken on May 24, 2011 shows World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali arriving at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, dies at 74. The former heavyweight world champion was hospitalized on Thursday at a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital with a respiratory issue, which US media reported was complicated by his Parkinson's disease. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPASYURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on May 24, 2011 shows shows World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, dies at 74. The former heavyweight world champion was hospitalized on Thursday at a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital with a respiratory issue, which US media reported was complicated by his Parkinson's disease. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPASYURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on December 16, 1994 shows Legendary US boxer Muhammad Ali is kissed by a young Ecuadoran girl at the Quito's Ruminahui Coliseum, Ecuador. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / Fernando AraujoFERNANDO ARAUJO/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on November 10, 2006 shows US boxing legend Muhammad Ali (R) is greeted by actor Dustin Hoffman at Madison Square Garden in New York. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARYTIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on January 14, 1999 shows Heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali (L) kissing the fist of Mexican-American lightweight champion Fernando Vargas during the Mike Tyson-Francois Botha weigh-in at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / MIKE NELSONMIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on January 15, 1998 shows Moroccan King Hassan II (R) decorating former World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali during a ceremony in the Royal Palace in Rabat. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / ABDELHAK SENNAABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on January 15, 1998 shows Former World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali participating in a religious ceremony for the holy month of Ramadan in the Royal Palace in Rabat. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, dies at 74. The former heavyweight world champion was hospitalized on Thursday at a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital with a respiratory issue, which US media reported was complicated by his Parkinson's disease. / AFP PHOTO / ABDELHAK SENNAABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on October 27, 1986 shows former heavyweight world boxing champion Muhammad Ali posing in Ellis Island before 80 Ellis Island medals of honor were awarded in tribute to the USA's ethnic heritages. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, dies at 74. The former heavyweight world champion was hospitalized on Thursday at a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital with a respiratory issue, which US media reported was complicated by his Parkinson's disease. / AFP PHOTO / MARIA BASTONEMARIA BASTONE/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on September 10, 1974 shows Former world heavyweight champion US Muhammad Ali posing in Paris, during a stopover on his way to Kinshasa, Zaire, before his world heavyweight championship fight against titleholder US George Foreman on October 30, 1974. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / --/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on October 05, 1986 shows Former heavyweight world boxing champion Muhammad Ali speaking during a press conference at the Marriott hotel in Cairo, Egypt. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / MIKE NELSONMIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on March 24, 2012 shows Director David Foster (R) bumping fists with boxing legend Muhammad Ali on stage at the Muhammad Ali's Celebrity Fight Night XVIII in Phoenix, Arizona. The event supports the fight against Parkinson's disease and this year also celebrates Ali's 70th birthday. Heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali, an icon of the 20th Century whose fame transcended the sport during a remarkable career that spanned three decades, died June 3, 2016, his family said. / AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECKROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on March 24, 2012 shows Boxing legend Muhammad Ali adjusting his glasses on stage at Muhammad Ali's Celebrity Fight Night XVIII in Phoenix, Arizona. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, dies at 74. The former heavyweight world champion was hospitalized on Thursday at a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital with a respiratory issue, which US media reported was complicated by his Parkinson's disease. / AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECKROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on January 01, 1965 U.S. boxing champion Cassius Clay alia Muhammad Ali in Paris. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / PIGISTEPIGISTE/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on October 30, 1974 shows Former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (L) and titleholder US George Foreman (R) fighting on October 30, 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire during their world heavyweight championship match. Ali won by knocking out Foreman in the eighth round. Heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali, an icon of the 20th Century whose fame transcended the sport during a remarkable career that spanned three decades, died June 3, 2016, his family said. / AFP PHOTO / --/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on October 27, 1974 shows US boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) standing with her mother Odessa Grady Clay during a training session three days before the heavy weight world championship in Kinshasa. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / STRSTR/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on October 30, 1974 shows the fight opposing former world heavyweight boxing champion the American Muhammad Ali (R) and his compatriot and titleholder George Foreman (L) in Kinshasa. Ali won and got back his title. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / --/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on October 19, 1974 shows US boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) 11 days before the heavy weight world championship in Kinshasa. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGERSTRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on October 21, 1996 shows Boxing great Muhammad Ali throws a punch towards photographers during a press conference in Jakarta. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALLJOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on September 01, 1994 shows Boxing great Muhammad Ali receiving a punch from a 79 old "sparring-partner" during a visit in a old people's home in Macau. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, dies at 74. The former heavyweight world champion was hospitalized on Thursday at a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital with a respiratory issue, which US media reported was complicated by his Parkinson's disease. / AFP PHOTO / Mike FialaMIKE FIALA/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on April 25, 1995 shows Former world heavyweight Boxing champion Muhammad Ali smiling during a press conference in Tokyo. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, dies at 74. The former heavyweight world champion was hospitalized on Thursday at a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital with a respiratory issue, which US media reported was complicated by his Parkinson's disease. / AFP PHOTO / TORU YAMANAKATORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on May 24, 2011 shows World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPASYURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images
Taken on May 24, 2011 shows Legendary heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (C) is greeted after a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinsons disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPASYURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images

It's hard to imagine the scene from 1964 now - someone barely having a clue who the Beatles were, or the man who would become Muhammad Ali.

But that's how things were when US journalist Robert Lipsyte found himself face to face with these future legends more than 50 years ago, through a chance of publicity matchmaking.

The New York Times plucked Lipsyte from the feature department to head for Miami Beach to cover the heavyweight boxing title fight between champ Sonny Liston and the upstart Cassius Clay, who would later change his name to Ali.

He barely knew who Clay was, and even less about the mop-top haired singers from Liverpool who happened to show up during his visit.

"I wasn't a teenage girl," Lipsyte said.

"I really didn't know who the Beatles were or what they would become."

A few days earlier they appeared for the first time on American television's massively popular Ed Sullivan Show, having enjoyed their first US number one single I Want To Hold Your Hand.

Now they were being led up a stairway in the gym where Clay trained, with an unwitting Lipsyte swept along.

"They're little guys with lots of hair and all wearing white terrycloth cabana jackets," Lipsyte said.

"They were yelling and cursing because they had just been told Clay wasn't there yet, and they wanted to leave. But these big security types just kind of herded them up the stairs."

The Beatles take a fake blow from Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, in 1964 at his training camp in Miami Beach (AP)
The Beatles take a fake blow from Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, in 1964 at his training camp in Miami Beach (AP)

Lipsyte found himself in a dressing room with the Beatles, who were not at all happy. They had gone earlier to Liston's training, but Liston took one look at them and refused to pose for pictures.

Lipsyte introduced himself and asked for their prediction, which was for a first-round Liston knockout. Then they all waited for 10 or 15 minutes, with the Beatles complaining the whole time, for Clay to arrive.

"But suddenly the door burst open and there he is. He's the most gorgeous creature I've ever seen. He kind of glows and he's laughing, and he says, 'Come on, Beatles, let's go make some money.'"

Make some money they did. In photos that would become legendary, Clay is shown knocking the Beatles down like dominoes, and standing over them sprawled out in the ring.

It was as if they had all rehearsed it beforehand, Lipsyte said.

"There was a lot of laughter, and then they're gone, off to their limo," he said. "Cassius then started training in front of people who paid 50 cents to get in."

After the workout, Clay went back to the dressing room for a rubdown, and Lipsyte crowded in with him. Clay recognized him as being in the room earlier, and beckoned him over with a question.

"Who were those little sissies?" he asked.

Clay, of course, would beat Liston and go on to even greater things as Muhammad Ali. Lipsyte would become a columnist for the Times and cover him for years.

And the Beatles? They ended up doing OK, too.

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