On November 29, 1964, during the height of the American Civil Rights Movement, a car driven by Williams was stopped near Houston, Texas, by highway patrolman Dale Witten, who stated afterwards Williams was speeding. According to the police report subsequently filed by the patrolman, Williams resisted arrest, and the officer's .357 magnum revolver went off during the struggle to arrest him. The bullet moved across his intestines, and lodged against his right hip. He ultimately had to undergo four operations in the next seven months for colon damage and an injured right kidney. The right kidney of Williams was too damaged and not working, and had to be removed in June 1965. Doctors could not take out the patrolman's bullet, which had broken his right hip joint and caused partial paralysis of some of Williams' hip muscles. He was fined $50 and briefly jailed after pleading no contest to charges arising from the incident.
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.
NoteCleveland 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.
29° 53.419, -095° 27.580
Paradise North Cemetery