Titles: Heavyweight Champion 1962-1964 Record: 50-4 Born: May 8, 1932 in St. Francis Co., Arkansas (USA) Years active: 1953-1970 Nickname: "Sonny" and "Old Stoneface" If you want to describe the life of Sonny Liston in one word it would mysterious. Was Sonny Liston a Mob fighter? Did Liston take a dive in one or both Ali fights? Did Liston commit suicide or was he killed? How old was he really? When he fought Ali he was supposedly 31 years old, yet he had a 17 year old daughter? All questions still remain open to interpretation. Liston was a icon of sorts who carried a aura of dread around him much the same as Tyson does. His career was strange as he only fought 54 times over a 16 years and although he is rated very high by some on their all time heavyweight rankings he only had a 17 month title reign. Thought to be unbeatable by most after he gained the championship from Floyd Patterson because of his brute power and a ram rod jab. The jab of Liston has been really underrated and I believe was on a par with Holmes or Joe Louis. Liston only stood 6 foot 1 inches but he still had a amazing 84 inch reach to stick his jab out with, his large fists was measured as 15 inches. At his peak condition he weighed 215 pounds. In the ring Liston possessed everything needed for greatness a powerful left hook was actually secondary to his straight right hand. His powerful right hand was the finishing punch to many a fight and along with Max Baer's must be thought of a one of the best of all time. If his punches were not his best weapon than perhaps it was his intimidating stare which would often beaten before the bell even sounded. If he lacked in any area it might have been handspeed but only the great Ali take advantage of it...... so was it a real weakness? But like Foreman who many thought was also unbeatable Ali was to be his downfall. Liston was born in a Shanty town in Arkansas as one of 25 children, he ran away at the age of 13 heading for the big city of St. Louis where trouble seemed to find him easily. At age 18 after a conviction for armed robbery he was sent to the penitentiary where he was introduced to boxing by the prison Chaplain, boxing would vent his aggression and channel his energies. When paroled he fought as a amateur and won the heavyweight Golden Gloves championship and immediately turned pro in search of much needed money. In his first 34 fights Liston suffered only one loss when his jaw was broken. This was in his 8h fight against veteran trialhorse Marty Marshall, yet he finished the fight only to loose on points. The loss was twice avenged in rematches. Those first 34 fights were spread over nine years as in between fights Liston was plagued by run ins with the law that ended up with Liston spending several months in prison. After his 15th fight almost two entire years (1956-57) were lost when Liston was convicted of hitting a police officer and sentenced to nine months in prison. He and other maintained that Liston was the victim of constant police harassment which led to this arrest. He might be correct since he was arrested 19 times by the St. Louis police for minor violations, that is hard to do even if you are a bad crimial! When he was released from prison Liston went back to boxing and winning. In 1958 Liston was ranked by The Ring magazine as the ninth rated contender, within two years he would be listed as the number one contender by the same unbiased magazine. Liston made his claim to being the number 1 contender by ripping through all the contenders. He knocked out Cleveland Williams (twice), Nino Valdez, Zora Folley, Roy Harris and only Eddie Machen could last the distance with this boxing machine. In the Machen fight Liston proved he could box as well as slug, he won on points against a Machen who was a skilled counterpuncher. In 1962 Liston was finally given a title shot by Floyd Patterson who was man enough to veto the decision of his trainer Cus D'Amato to avoid Liston. The result was a forgone conclusion to most as Patterson was giving away 25 pounds to Liston at Chicago's Cominsky Park. It was over quick, two left hooks were followed by a straight right hand that dropped the champion for the count. The boxing insiders were right as Liston destroyed Patterson in 2 minutes and 6 seconds establishing his myth of invincibility. A rematch 10 months later ended in the same fashion but Patterson was able to last 4 seconds longer this time. The menacing appearance of Liston along with his past criminal record made Liston a anti hero to most Americans but still they flocked to see the man they thought to be unbeatable. His time as a champion should have been joyous but the editorial pages of the newspapers derided him as a bad example to the youth and touted his supposed mob connections. Still he was made a 7 to 1 favorite against a brash young challenger named Cassius Clay (later changing his name to Muhammad Ali) and many feared for the challenger who purposely angered the champion. In Miami on fight night Ali proved he knew what he was doing when he confused and was simply to fast for the lumbering champion. After six rounds of fighting Liston remained on his stool at the start of the 7th round refusing to come out stating a shoulder injury as the reason. Many believed the fight was fixed thinking Liston to be unbeatable, his past mob connections and the fact no one knew how great Ali would become. X-ray's did show some damage to his shoulder but most think not enough to make Liston quit, most believe he was demoralized by Ali's speed and countering tactics. The fight destroyed the Liston myth of invincibility. Still when the two men stepped into the ring again it was Liston who the odds favored once again. The rematch would end in a even more controversial manner as the famous "Phantom Punch" which many say never landed while other stated they clearly saw, knocked Liston down in the first round. Referee Jersey Joe Walcott was confused to the extent to which he gave Liston 30 seconds to reach his feet and had to be told Liston did not beat the count. The bout was stopped when it became clear Liston would not have beaten the original 10 count, many still claim Liston took a dive and it hurt his chances of ever getting another title shot. A inglorious 4 years of comeback fights ensued and covered 14 wins yet he was never considered for a title shot. His first 4 fights back were held in Sweden far away from American crowds and newspapermen. A knockout at the hands of Leotis Martin for the NABF title ended any chance Liston had over ever getting another title shot and Liston retired. One last fight a 1970 knockout of Chuck Wepner would send Liston of in a winning fashion. The death of Liston is surrounded be mystery and most think he was killed (though the motive and person remain a mystery) and did not commit suicide as the coroner report states. It is said a overdose of heroin thorough intervenious injection killed Liston, but Liston had stated to many persons and was reported in various magazines as having a intense fear of needles. Liston died as he lived, under confusing and mysterious circumstances.
1953 Sep 2 Don Smith St. Louis, MO KO 1 Sep 17 Ponce DeLeon St. Louis, MO W4 Nov 21 Ben Thomas St. Louis, MO W6 1954 Jan 24 Martin Lee St. Louis, MO KO 6 Mar 31 Stanley Howlett St. Louis, MO W 6 Jun 24 John Summerlin Detroit, Mi W 8 Aug 10 John Summerlin Detroit, Mi W 8 Sep 7 Marty Marshall Detroit, Mi L 8 1955 Mar 1 Neil Welch St. Louis, MO W 8 Apr 21 Marty Marshall St. Louis, MO KO 6 May 5 Emil Brtko PA KO 5 May 25 Calvin Butler St. Louis, MO KO 2 Sep 13 John Gray IN KO 6 Dec 13 Larry Watson E. St. Louis, MO KO 4 1956 Mar 6 Marty Marshall PA W 10 1958 Jan 29 Bill Hunter IL KO 2 Mar 11 Benjamin Wise IL KO 4 Apr 3 Bert Whitehurst MO W 10 May 14 Julio Mederos IL KO 3 Aug 6 Wayne Bethea IL KO 1 Oct 7 Frankie Daniels FL KO 1 Oct 24 Bert Whitehurst MO W 10 Nov 18 Ernie Cab FL KO 8 1959 Feb 18 Mike DeJohn FL KO 6 Apr 15 Cleveland Williams FL KO 3 Aug 5 Nino Valdes IL KO 3 Dec 9 Willie Bermanoff OH KO 7 1960 Feb 23 Howard King FL KO 8 Mar 21 Cleveland Williams TX KO 2 Apr 25 Roy Harris TX KO 1 Jul 18 Zora Folley CO KO 3 Sep 7 Eddie Machen WA W 12 1961 Mar 8 Howard King FL KO 3 Dec 4 Albert Westphal PA KO 1 1962 Sep 25 Floyd Patterson Chicago KO 1 (Wins World Heavyweight Championship) 1963 Jul 22 Floyd Patterson Las Vegas KO 1 (Retains World Heavyweight Championship) 1964 Feb 25 Cassius Clay Miami Beach KO by 7 (Loses World Heavyweight Championship) 1965 May 25 Muhammad Ali Lewiston, Me KO by 1 (For World Heavyweight Championship) 1966 May 29 Gerhard Zech Sweden KO 7 Aug 19 Amos Johnson Sweden KO 3 1967 Mar 30 Dave Bailey Sweden KO 1 Apr 28 Elmer Rush Sweden KO 6 1968 Mar 16 Billy McMurray NV KO 4 May 23 Billy Joiner CA KO 8 Jul 6 Henry Clark CA KO 7 Oct 14 Sonny Moore AZ KO 3 Nov 3 Willie Earls Mexico KO 2 Nov 12 Roger Rischer PA KO 3 Dec 10 Amos Lincoln MD KO 2 1969 Mar 28 Billy Joiner MO W 10 May 19 George Johnson NV KO 7 Sep 23 Sonny Moore TX KO 3 Dec 6 Leotis Martin NV KO by 9 1970 Jun 29 Chuck Wepner NJ KO 10