Boxing in the '60S was, first and last, illumined by a chrysalis out of Louisville who transformed himself from Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali and changed the game. It was the last decade of small clubs, when all divisions swarmed with tough, hungry contenders of all sizes and styles. There were still champions of the art of body punching, from Dick Tiger and Emile Griffith to Josè Torres and Carlos Ortiz. Blacks and Latins rose to dominate, leaving the '60s as the last decade for notable fighters of Italian descent: middleweight Joey Giardello; light heavyweight Willie Pastrano; and Nino Benvenuti, who read Voltaire and listened to Chopin and, in 1967, separated Griffith from his middleweight crown. Among the heavies, the decade began with Floyd Patterson KO'ing Ingemar Johansson and ended with young Joe Frazier flattening Jerry Quarry. But it was Ali who danced through the division and ushered in the era of big money—of Vegas extravaganzas and closed-circuit deals, of impatient managers and unschooled fighters, of purses so big that winners began sleeping in. As Pastrano put it, "You know, whether you're exercising or doing roadwork, it's a lot tougher to get out of bed wearing silk pajamas."
Ali vs. Cleveland Williams
The champ ruled the weigh-in and the fight, which ended with a third-round TKO.
MIAMI BEACH, 1961
Patterson vs. Johansson
In successfully defending his title, Patterson floored his rival in the sixth round.
LEWISTON, MAINE, 1965
Ali vs. Sonny Liston
In his first title defense, and his first fight as Muhammad AM, the young champ met Liston in a most unlikely venue.
October 27, 1992
Ali vs. Liston
Before the bout, Liston (seen through Ali's legs) looked smug; 1:52 into Round 1, Liston was on his back and the fight was over.
Frazier vs. Tony Doyle
Five months before his first title bout, Frazier smoked Doyle with a second-round TKO.
Benvenuti vs. Don Fullmer
In Benvenuti's middleweight debut on the world stage, he decisioned Fullmer in 12 stylish rounds.
LAS VEGAS, 1967
Tiger vs. Roger Rouse
In the midst of his reign as light heavyweight champ, Tiger TKO'd Rouse in 12 rounds.
Ali vs. Liston
In a postfight review, Ali entertained a coterie that included his manager, Angelo Dundee (white sleeve), and broadcaster Howard Cosell (upper left).