This playful picture was taken back in 18 February, 1964 at Miami Beach’s 5th Street Gym.
Muhammad Ali, a 22-year-old boxer, was still named Cassius Clay and it was only days before he was to become world champion, still considered an underdog, and only a month before taking the Muslim name. British band “The Beatles”, on the other hand was hugely popular and was on their maiden tour in the US.
The band was in town to film their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Clay was preparing for his big fight with Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston.
The Beatles were longing to meet a champion boxer and get their pictures in the papers, but they initially wanted to meet Liston and not, as John Lennon said, “that loudmouth who’s going to lose” – which meant Clay. But Liston had no interest in wasting time with a rock group just one week before the big fight, so they agreed to settle for Clay.
As photographer Harry Benson furiously snapped photos, the five of them spent the next few minutes goofing around in the gym. Clay pretended to punch George Harrison, with the others looking like they were about to fall down like dominoes. The boxer lifted Ringo Starr into his arms, and then the entire band got on the ground like he’d just KO’d them all. The Beatles wouldn’t start filming A Hard Day’s Night for another few weeks, but they were already great at creating little slapstick routines.
Later, reminiscing the event, in the Beatles Anthology, George Harrison said, “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.”
By the time of the big fight, the Beatles were already back in London and gearing up to record “Can’t Buy Me Love.” In one of the most shocking moments in boxing history, Liston essentially surrendered after seven rounds in the ring with Clay. “I’m the greatest,” said Clay, who would change his name to Muhammad Ali the following month. “I shook up the world!”
Nine years later, Ringo Starr would release a song called “I’m the Greatest,” written by John Lennon.