When Muhammad Ali Knocked Out Sonny Liston

On Friday, Nov. 18, the Newseum will open its newest exhibit, “Photo Finish: The Sports Photography of Neil Leifer.” The exhibit features a career-defining selection of photographs taken by renowned photographer Neil Leifer, the man behind the camera during some of the greatest moments in sports.

Leifer, who was 18 when his photos first graced the coveted real estate on the front of Sports Illustrated, went on to become one of the most celebrated sports photographers in history.

“Photo Finish” includes nearly 50 of Leifer’s best-known images, including one of the most famous sports photographs of all time: boxer Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston after knocking him out in the first round of their 1965 title fight.

In 1999, Sports Illustrated selected the photo for the cover of the magazine’s special issue, “The Century’s Greatest Sports Photos.”

Among the other memorable moments captured in “Photo Finish” are Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi being carried off the field by his players after the team’s 1968 victory in Super Bowl II, Secretariat en route to winning the Kentucky Derby in 1973 and the “Thrilla in Manila,” the epic 1975 heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Each photograph is accompanied by the story behind the image, told in Leifer’s own words. The exhibit also includes a Newseum-produced video in which Leifer talks about his photos and his famous subjects.

“Great moments in sports often occur in a split second,” said Jim Duff, chief executive officer of the Newseum. “Neil has distinguished himself by capturing those blink-of-an-eye images time and again. He has an amazing gift and the spectacular photos we’ve selected for ‘Photo Finish’ spotlight that talent.”

Since first picking up a camera more than 50 years ago, Leifer has photographed every major sporting event, including the Olympic Games, World Series, Super Bowl, World Cup, Kentucky Derby and the biggest title fights in boxing.

His images have appeared on more than 200 covers of Time, Newsweek, People and Sports Illustrated, the magazine where he launched his professional career. More than a dozen books of Leifer’s photos have been published. His most recent publication is “Guts and Glory: The Golden Age of American Football, 1958 – 1978.”

“Athletic competition offers photographers some of the most challenging yet rewarding photographic opportunities, but capturing the most decisive of moments requires true talent,” said Bo Kajiwara, director of marketing, Nikon Inc. “Nikon is proud to sponsor ‘Photo Finish’ at the Newseum, which serves as an inspiration for all those who experience Neil Leifer’s stunning work.”

Nikon is the exclusive sponsor of “Photo Finish: The Sports Photography of Neil Leifer.” The exhibit will be on display through Aug. 12, 2012.

The Newseum — a 250,000-square-foot museum of news and history — offers visitors an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits.

In the picture above: Muhammad Ali knocks out Sonny Liston in 1965.

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Rakesh Raman