Clay's Last Workout Before Liston Fight
Inscribed extensively by the artist in many media
Muhammad Ali (1942–2016) was one of the greatest boxers of all time. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky, he was a legendary, three-time heavyweight champion and a courageous, popular, but polarizing public figure. He captured the world’s attention with his provocative style, bold statements, and strong political and religious convictions.
LeRoy Neiman is widely known for his brilliantly colored paintings and the energetic style he used to capture sporting events and leisure activities. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Neiman studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1960 until his death, Neiman traveled the world, observing and painting leisure life, social activities, and athletic competitions, including the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and championship boxing. Of the many subjects Neiman painted, his long-time friend Muhammad Ali was among his favorites. The two men met in May 1962 at St. Nick’s Arena in New York City before Clay fought Billy Daniels. Neiman immediately began drawing the young boxer, and they struck up a lasting friendship. By this time, Clay had already won an Olympic gold medal in Rome and boasted that he was sure to beat heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Neiman followed Ali throughout the boxer’s storied career, capturing public and private moments. He also taught Ali drawing. They shared a love of boxing, the limelight, and breaking with convention. LeRoy Neiman’s works are in the permanent collections of many American museums, including the Smithsonian, the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as in private and corporate collections.
On February 25, 1964, the twenty-two-year-old Clay had his desired match-up with Liston in Miami Beach. The odds were seven to one against him, as Liston had knocked out the previous champion, Floyd Patterson, in one round, so that even his financial backers expected disaster. For months Clay taunted Liston with a barrage of insults and other antics aimed at psychologically gaining an advantage. The weigh-in the morning of the fight was no different. “I’m the champ!” he hollered. I’m ready to rumble! Tell Sonny I’m here! He ain’t no champ! Round eight to prove I’m great! Bring that big ugly bear on!” Against Clay’s fast reflexes and quick feet, Liston had a hard time landing punches. As Neiman noted in his sketch, “Cassius prancing, dancing side-to-side, actually seems to tower over the lumbering heavy-footed champion.” After six rounds, Liston sat in his corner and refused to get up. Clay, realizing he was now the heavyweight champion, yelled, “I am the king! King of the world! I don’t have a mark on my face and I upset Sonny Liston!”
This collage records the last workout before the Liston-Clay fight, which Neiman was covering for Playboy magazine. Among the notable vignettes Neiman depicted on the sheet are the men in Clay’s corner, such as the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and his trainer Angelo Dundee. To finish the work in his studio, the artist consulted the scenes he recorded ringside in a sketchbook. Neiman also made many annotations around the edges of the work, including the press predictions for the fight heavily in favor of Liston and attached ephemera to make it a collage (including a ticket for the fight in the upper left corner).
The artist and his family