SONNY LISTON/CASSIUS CLAY I
Miami Beach Convention Hall, Florida
February 25, 1964
Clay won a 7th round TKO
SONNY LISTON/MUHAMMAD ALI II
St. Dominic's Arena, Lewiston, Maine
May 25, 1965
Ali won a 1st round KO
About Sonny Liston
Born Charles "Sonny" Liston
May 8, 1932 in Sand Slough, Arkansas
(There is no record of Liston's birth date. Though this is his officially claimed birth date, he may, in fact, be several years older.)
Died December 30, 1970
Career record: 50 wins (39 KO), 4 defeats (3 KO)
"The Big Bear"
The son of a sharecropper, Liston was born into abject poverty, believed to be one of 25 children sired by his abusive father. His trouble with the law began at an early age: he was sentenced to eight years in prison for his participation in a gas station robbery when he was a teenager. When he committed robberies, he always wore the same yellow shirt and became known to the local police as the "Yellow Shirt Bandit". It wouldn't be the last time Liston spent in prison, and often said that he actually enjoyed it: the food was better than outside, and he befriended a Priest who taught him to box. Later, when he became a professional boxer, much speculation was made about the "criminals" who controlled him. The Priest who first interested Liston in boxing theorized "the underworld figures who managed Sonny were the only ones willing to put up the money."
Liston had a disproportionately long 84" reach and at 15" around, the largest fists in heavyweight history, making him the 7-1 favorite over Clay in their first fight. Shockingly, Liston lost his title when he refused to come out for the seventh round.
Their second fight was originally scheduled to take place in Boston, but Ali's hospitalization for a hernia put the fight on hold and the rescheduled match was set for Lewiston, Maine. Less than two minutes into the first round, Ali hit Liston with a punch that didn't appear to connect, but it floored Liston anyway. The Neil Leifer photo of that knockdown has become one of the most famous sports photos of all time. Nearly 50 years later, boxing historians and fans are still unsure whether or not Ali actually landed "the Phantom Punch", but nevertheless, Ali won with a first round knockout and many speculate that Liston was ordered to take a fall by either mobsters or Black Muslims.
Liston was in negotiations to fight George Chuvalo when he was found dead by his wife Geraldine. He had been dead for several days, and the December 30, 1970 date was estimated based upon the condition of his body. Tests of his decomposed body were inconclusive and the cause of his death remains unknown, though the police called it a drug overdose.