Neil Leifer Takes Most Famous Sports Photo of All Time: This Day in Sports History


In the history of sports, the argument over who's the GOAT can be debated.

In the history of sports photos, however, there is no argument. There's only Neil Leifer's picture of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston. On this day in sports history, the famous Sports Illustrated photographer took that photo.

The year was 1965. Ali was still in the early stages of his involvement with the Nation of Islam. He beat Liston in their first fight in 1964. There was controversy leading up to the rematch not only because of Ali's new allegiance and rumors that Liston threw the first fight, but also because Liston was arrested twice before the bout. As a result, the fight was moved to Lewiston, Maine.

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The fight didn't last long. Ali hit Liston with the now-infamous "phantom punch" and Liston went down less than two minutes into the fight. Ali stood over him and shouted, "Get up and fight, sucker!" That's when Leifer took the famous photo.

Controversy reigned once again. Was the fight fixed? Was the count by the ref right? Did Ali even connect with a punch? All have been debated ad nauseam. The only thing that can't be debated is how perfect of a photo Leifer took.

The shot showcases Ali in all his power, taunting Liston as he did so many of his opponents. It encapsulates the essence of Ali more than any other photo taken of him during his career. It also encapsulates the essence of what it means to be an athlete. There is a winner. There is a loser. One celebrates. The other is knocked on their back. It's an unforgettable moment captured by one of the greatest sports photographers ever.

Leifer took many other famous photos. There's another of Ali after he knocked out Cleveland Williams. The overhead shot shows Williams face-up on the mat and Ali on the other side with his arms raised. But while it's also beautiful, no photo in the history of sports sums up one person better than Ali standing over Liston. Thanks to Leifer for capturing that moment as only he could.