Williams was inactive the entire year of 1965 while recovering from his injuries. The injury, surgeries and subsequent convalescence caused Williams to lose over 60 pounds, and over 17 months of his career. He regained his weight and strength by tossing 80-pound bales of hay daily on a cattle ranch until he had regained his fighting weight and physique. On February 8, 1966, Williams got a standing ovation from Houston fans as he returned to the ring, and knocked out Ben Black in the first round. It was in this condition that Williams fought for the heavyweight championship against Muhammad Ali on November 14, 1966 at the Astrodome. He lasted until the third round. He retired from boxing after the Ali bout, but later made a comeback. Although able to defeat journeymen fighters, he suffered several knockout losses before retiring for good in 1972. Williams finished his career with a record of 78 wins (58 KOs), 13 losses and 1 draw. He worked as a forklift operator and other odd jobs through the 1980s. On September 3, 1999, he was tragically killed in an unsolved hit-and-run accident. Four years later, Ring Magazine ranked him 49th on their list of the 100 greatest punchers of all time.
Note: Cleveland Williams' grave is presently unmarked. He is buried in the bottom left space of the White family plot. There is no mention of his name on the headstone.
Paradise North Cemetery