Sonny Liston

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Sonny Liston

Liston in 1963
Real nameCharles L. Liston
The Big Bear
Rated atHeavyweight
Height6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Reach84 in (213 cm)[citation needed]
Bornc. 1932
Sand Slough, Arkansas, USA
Diedc. December 30, 1970(1970-12-30) (aged about 38)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Boxing record
Total fights54
Wins by KO39
No contests0
  (Redirected from Charles Liston)
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Sonny Liston

Liston in 1963
Real nameCharles L. Liston
The Big Bear
Rated atHeavyweight
Height6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Reach84 in (213 cm)[citation needed]
Bornc. 1932
Sand Slough, Arkansas, USA
Diedc. December 30, 1970(1970-12-30) (aged about 38)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Boxing record
Total fights54
Wins by KO39
No contests0

Charles L. "Sonny" Liston (c. 1932–c. December 30, 1970) was an American professional boxer known for his toughness, punching power and intimidating appearance, who became World Heavyweight Champion in 1962 by knocking out Floyd Patterson in the first round. Liston failed to live up to his fearsome reputation in an unsuccessful defense of the title against Muhammad Ali; underworld connections and an early death—along with his unrecorded date of birth—added to the enigma. He is ranked number 15 in Ring Magazine's 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time.


Birth date controversy

There is no record of Liston's birth, he once gave an age compatible with his being born in 1928, but is said to be absent from the 1930 United States Census,[1] but he is listed in the 1940 Census as being born in 1929 or 1930;[2] it has been suggested he may not have known what year he was born.[3] Liston settled on a date of birth of May 8, 1932 for official purposes but by the time he won the world title an aged appearance added credence to rumors that he was several years older than claimed.[3][4]

Early life

Charles "Sonny" Liston was born into a sharecropping family who farmed the poor land of Morledge Plantation near Johnson Township, St. Francis County, Arkansas. His father, Tobe Liston, had been a widower in his fifties who had already fathered twelve children with his first wife when he and 16 year old Helen Baskin moved to Arkansas from Mississippi in 1916, they had 13 children together. Sonny is believed to have been the penultimate child and youngest son.[5] Liston's father inflicted whippings so severe that the scars were still visible decades later.[6] Helen Baskin moved to St. Louis with some of her children, leaving Liston—aged around 13, according to his later reckonings—in Arkansas with his father. Liston thrashed the pecans from his brother-in-law's tree and sold them in Forrest City. With the proceeds he traveled to St. Louis and reunited with his mother and siblings. Liston tried going to school but quickly left after jeers about his illiteracy, the only employment he could obtain was sporadic and exploitative.[5]

He turned to crime and led a gang of toughs who carried out muggings and robberies, often wearing a favorite shirt, and he became known to St. Louis PD as the "Yellow Shirt Bandit." In January 1950, he was caught after a gratuitously violent robbery.[3][4] He was convicted and, in June 1950, sentenced to five years in Missouri State Penitentiary. He gave his age as 20 years old; the St. Louis Globe-Democrat said he was 22.[5] He also served a prison sentence for assaulting a police officer.[3]

Liston never complained about prison, saying he was guaranteed three meals every day.[7] The athletic director at Missouri State Penitentiary, Father Alois Stevens, suggested to Liston he try boxing and his obvious aptitude, along with an endorsement from the priest, aided Liston in getting an early parole. Father Stevens organized a sparring session with a former pro light-heavyweight to showcase Liston's potential. After 2 rounds the ex-pro had taken enough. "Better get me out of this ring, he is going to kill me!" he exclaimed.[8] On Halloween night in 1952, Liston was paroled. Much was later made of his being controlled by criminals. However, according to the priest who interested him in boxing, underworld figures became his management simply because they were the only ones willing to put up the necessary money.[6]

Amateur boxing career

After he was released from prison on October 31, 1952, Liston had a brief amateur career that spanned less than a year. He won several amateur tournaments, including the Golden Gloves, which was his first. One of his opponents was Olympic Heavyweight Champion Ed Sanders in Chicago, whom he beat. This win put him into the national finals in March 1953, where he beat the respected New Yorker Julius Griffin, despite being dropped in round one.

Liston then entered the 1953 AAU event, but he lost in the quarter-finals to 17-year-old Jimmy Carter, whom he would later employ as a sparring partner. In the Kiel Auditorium in June 1953, Liston fought a boxer from a touring Western European side, Hermann Schreibauer, who only weeks earlier had won a bronze medal in the European Championships.[9] Liston KO'd him 2:16 into round 1. At this time the head coach of the St. Louis Golden Gloves team Tony Anderson commented Liston was the strongest fighter he had ever seen.

Liston signed his professional contract in September 1953, only exclaiming during the signing, "Whatever you tell me to do, I'll do."[8]

Professional boxing career

Liston made his professional debut on September 2, 1953, knocking out Don Smith in the first round in St. Louis, where he fought his first five bouts. Although he was dubbed the "Big Bear,"[10] at 6 ft ½ in (1.84 m) Liston was not a particularly tall heavyweight, but was exceptionally powerful with a disproportionately long reach. His noticeably more muscular left arm and crushing left jab, and his left hook was his most powerful big punch, all lent credence to the widely held belief that he was left-handed but utilized an orthodox stance. Early in his, career Liston faced capable opponents. In his 6th bout, in Detroit, Michigan, Liston faced John Summerlin (19-1-2) on national television and won an eight-round decision. He later beat Summerlin in a rematch. His next bout was against Marty Marshall, a journeyman with an awkward style. In the third round, Marshall managed to hit Liston, reportedly while he was laughing, and broke his jaw. A stoic Liston finished the fight but lost the decision.

In 1955, he won six fights, five by knockout, including a rematch with Marshall, whom he knocked out in six rounds after first getting knocked down himself. A rubber match with Marshall in early 1956 saw Liston the winner in a ten-round decision. Liston's criminal record, compounded by a personal association with a notorious labor racketeer, led to the police stopping him on sight, and he began to avoid main streets. In May he injured a police officer who, Liston claimed, had used racial slurs, and a widely publicized account of Liston resisting arrest even after nightsticks were allegedly broken over his skull was later to aid public perceptions of him as a nightmarish 'monster' who was impervious to punishment. He was paroled after serving six months of a nine-month sentence and prohibited from boxing during 1957. After repeated overnight detention by the St. Louis police and a thinly veiled threat to his life, Liston left for Philadelphia.[11] In 1958, he returned to boxing, winning eight fights that year.

The year 1959 was a banner one for Liston: after knocking out contender Mike DeJohn in six, he then faced No. 1 challenger Cleveland Williams, a huge (for the era) fast-handed fighter who was billed as the hardest-hitting heavyweight in the world. Against Williams, Liston showed remarkable durability and punching power. He also revealed heretofore-unsuspected boxing skills, nullifying Williams' best work before stopping him in the third round of an "incredible" contest that many still regard as his most impressive performance. He rounded out the year by stopping Nino Valdez, also in three.

In 1960, Liston won five more fights, including a rematch with Williams who lasted only two rounds. Liston's imposing appearance was artificially enhanced with towels under his robe at referee's instructions; opponents would often be "psyched out" by the impact of his massive physique and baleful gaze. Roy Harris had gone 13 rounds with Patterson in a title match, Liston crushed him in one round. Top contender Zora Folley was stopped in three rounds and the run of knock outs led to Liston being touted as a 'champion in waiting'.

Style review from Sports Illustrated

In a Sports Illustrated profile of Liston at this time it was opined that he was rather ponderous, relied too much on his ability to take a punch and could be vulnerable to an opponent with more hand speed.[12] Liston's next opponent was skilled and seasoned Eddie Machen whose mobility enabled him to go the distance despite taunting and provoking throughout their bout. However Machen's spoiling tactics of dodging and grappling (at one point almost heaving Liston over the ropes) so alienated the audience that Liston received unaccustomed support from the crowd.[13] Prior to his bout with Liston, Ali consulted Machen and was advised that that the key to success was to make Liston lose his temper.[13]

Title challenge delay

After years of being ducked Liston was indisputably the number-one contender, but the handlers of world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson further stalled a match for the title, ostensibly because of Liston's links to organized crime. Civic leaders were also reluctant, worrying that Liston's unsavory character would set a bad example to youth, Jack Dempsey spoke for many when he was quoted as saying Sonny Liston should not be allowed to fight for the title. Liston angrily responded by questioning whether Dempsey's failure to serve in World War I qualified him to moralize.[14] Frustrated, Liston changed his management and applied pressure through the media by remarking that Patterson (who had faced only white challengers since becoming champion) was drawing the color line against his own race.[15]


Ironically, Floyd Patterson's manager Cus D'Amato had his New York State license revoked over his own underworld connections, and so when Patterson finally signed to meet Liston for the world title the venue was the relatively unlucrative one of Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois.[16] Leading up to the fight, Sonny Liston was the major betting-line favorite, though Sports Illustrated predicted a Patterson victory in 15 rounds. James J. Braddock, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, Rocky Marciano and Ingemar Johansson all picked Patterson to win. Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) predicted a KO by Liston in the first five rounds. The fight also carried a number of social implications, as Liston's connections with the mob were well known and the NAACP had urged Patterson not to fight him, fearing that a Liston victory would tarnish the civil rights movement.[17] Patterson also claimed that John F. Kennedy did not want him to fight Liston.[18]

The one-sided nature of the bout was a major surprise. Patterson was expected to try to employ his speed and agility to counter Liston's size and power but in the event Patterson's tactics showed a complete lack of guile. Sports Illustrated writer Gilbert Rogin characterized the fight as "bathetic," claiming Patterson didn't punch enough, had inexplicably sought to clinch with his far heavier opponent and repeatedly made the basic error of failing to tie up both his opponent's arms in a clinch. Liston bulled Patterson around while using his free hand to batter him with body blows before shortening up and connecting with two double hooks high on the head.[19] It was the third-fastest knockout in a world heavyweight title fight and the first time the champion had been knocked out in round one. Rogin discounted speculation that Patterson had thrown the fight and suggested that "mental problems" had been responsible for his poor performance.[20]

Heavyweight Champion of the World

On winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World, Liston had a speech prepared for the crowd which friends had assured him would meet him at Philadelphia airport. But, on arriving, Liston was met by only a handful of reporters and public relations staff. During an era when white journalists could still describe black sportsmen in stereotypes, Liston had long been a target of racially charged slurs; he was called a "gorilla" and "a jungle beast" in print. There was a mocking suggestion that a ticker-tape parade could use torn-up arrest warrants, and one sportswriter facetiously suggested Liston's defeat of Patterson proved that in a fair fight evil will always triumph over good. There were even unsubstantiated rumors that his management got charges dropped after he raped a chambermaid.[6] Some writers thought Liston brought bad press on himself by a surly and hostile attitude toward journalists; he also had a reputation for bullying people such as porters and waitresses[21] and was disdained by many African-Americans. Asked by a young white reporter why he wasn't supporting the campaign for Civil Rights in the South, Liston replied "I ain't got no dog-proof ass."[22] However in the aftermath of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Liston broke off a European boxing exhibition tour to return home and was quoted as saying he was "ashamed to be in America."[23]

Run-ins with the police continued in Philadelphia. Liston particularly resented a 1961 arrest (by a black patrolman) for loitering, claiming to have merely been signing autographs and chatting with fans outside a drug store.[24] One month later Liston was accused of impersonating a police officer by using a flashlight to wave down a female motorist in Fairmount Park, although all charges were later dropped. Subsequently Liston spent some months in Denver where a Catholic priest who acted as his spiritual adviser attempted to help him bring his drinking under control. After he won the title Liston relocated to Denver permanently, saying, "I'd rather be a lamppost in Denver than the mayor of Philadelphia."[22]

Patterson–Liston II

Patterson and Liston had a rematch, held on the evening of July 22, 1963, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Liston floored the challenger three times in the first round of the scheduled-for-15 bout. The knockout came in 2 minutes 10 seconds, 4 seconds later than in their first meeting.[22] After this victory, the champion was loudly booed.[21]

Liston vs. Ali

On the evening of February 25, 1964 in Miami, Florida, he fought Cassius Clay, whom odds-makers had made a 7-1 underdog. Some were surprised during the referee's instructions to see that Ali was considerably taller than Liston, the so-called "Big Bear." When the fight started it became apparent that Liston was not in top condition.[6] Although he initially got through with some punches to the body, Liston had little offensive success after round two. Ali found him easy to hit and began to score with his quick jab and long right; a cut opened on Liston's face in round three. Ali's vision became severely impaired during rounds four and five, but Liston's work remained ineffectual nonetheless. At one point Ali was leaning on Liston 'like a drunk leaning on a lamppost' as he held him at bay with one extended arm while wiping his own eyes with the other.[25] Once Ali's eyes cleared, the fight became increasingly one-sided as he began to land at will; throughout the sixth Liston was mercilessly pummeled with combinations. Although Liston was losing he seemed able to continue, and it was a stunning surprise when he declined to come out for the seventh round, ostensibly because of a shoulder injury. One respected boxing figure claimed that after the fight Liston had picked up a heavy stuffed chair and tossed it across the locker room with his left arm.[26] Liston quitting was thought particularly remarkable as he had once fought several rounds with a broken jaw. However, some writers have contended that Ali inflicted more punishment on Liston than is usually acknowledged and maintain that Liston's motivation was simply to spare himself further trauma.[25] Another theory was that Ali's verbal prefight tirades had gotten to "the Ugly Bear." A possible more straightforward explanation was suggested by the promoter's allegation that the night before the bout Liston had been visibly inebriated.[27] Another possible theory is that Liston threw the fight.

Liston vs. Ali II

Liston lost twenty pounds during his initial preparation for the rematch, but there were again rumors of alcohol abuse in training.[28] On May 25, 1965, he faced Ali again. The bout was originally scheduled for Boston, Massachusetts, but Ali, just days before the fight was to take place, was hospitalized with a hernia.[29] The rescheduled match was held in the city of Lewiston, Maine.

Less than two minutes into the fight, while he was pulling away from Liston, Ali hit Liston with a punch that did not seem to have much weight behind it; Liston went down, rolling onto his back, but Ali did not go to a neutral corner as mandated by the rules and accordingly referee Jersey Joe Walcott never counted over Liston. Ali yelled hysterically at Liston, running around the ring, arms aloft. During this time Liston made a half-hearted attempt to get back to his feet, before again rolling onto his back. After Liston finally got up, ringside boxing writer Nat Fleischer informed Walcott that Liston had been on the canvas for over 10 seconds and that the fight should be over. Walcott then waved the fight off, even though he had never counted Liston out. A photograph showing Ali standing over Liston is one of the most heavily promoted photos in the history of sports, and was chosen as the cover of the Sports Illustrated special issue, "The Century's Greatest Sports Photos." Ali was never to stop another opponent in the first round.

While Liston publicly denied taking a dive, Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram said that years later Liston told him, “That guy [Ali] was crazy. I didn’t want anything to do with him. And the Muslims were coming up. Who needed that? So I went down. I wasn’t hit.”[30] Former champions Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Gene Tunney, as well as Ali opponents George Chuvalo and Floyd Patterson, have all stated that they consider the fight to be a fake. The extent to which Liston's heavy drinking and possible drug use may have contributed to his surprisingly poor performances against Ali is not known.[6]

Subsequent fights

After the second loss to Ali, Liston took a year off from boxing, returning in 1966 and 1967, winning four consecutive bouts in Sweden, co-promoted by former World Heavyweight Champion Ingemar Johansson. These knockout victories included one over Amos Johnson, who had recently defeated Britain's Henry Cooper. In 1968, he won seven fights, all by knockout, including one in Mexico.

America's first look at Liston since the Ali rematch was in a nationally broadcast match with an upcoming No. 5—ranked Henry Clark, whom he overpowered well in seven rounds. A 10-round decision over Billy Joiner in St. Louis continued the run of victories and Liston at 38 years old (but having the appearance of a man of 50[4]) seemed on the verge of making a comeback to the big time. He talked of a fight with Joe Frazier, claiming "it'd be like shooting fish in a barrel." But, in December, Liston was knocked out cold in the ninth round by Leotis Martin after dominating most of the fight and decking Martin with a left hook in the fourth. Martin's career ended after the fight because of a detached retina he suffered during the bout.

Liston won his final fight, a tough match against future world title challenger Chuck Wepner in June 1970.[31] The referee stopped the bout in the 10th round; Wepner needed 72 stitches and suffered a broken cheekbone and nose.

Personal life

Liston married Geraldine Clark in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, on September 3, 1957. He had a stepdaughter and the Listons subsequently adopted a boy from Sweden. Geraldine remembered her husband as, "Great with me, great with the kids. He was a gentle man."[22]


In the midst of negotiations for a match with Canadian Champion George Chuvalo, Liston's wife found him dead in their Las Vegas home on January 5, 1971.[32] On returning from a trip Geraldine had smelled a foul odor emanating from the main bedroom and on entering saw Sonny slumped up against the bed, a broken foot bench was on the floor. The date of death listed on his death certificate is December 30, 1970, which police estimated by judging the number of milk bottles and newspapers at the front door.[33] Following an investigation, Las Vegas police concluded that there were no signs of foul play and declared it a heroin overdose. An autopsy revealed traces of morphine and codeine of a type produced by the breakdown of heroin in the body, however the advanced state of decomposition meant that tests were inconclusive and officially Liston died of lung congestion and heart failure.[34] He had been suffering from hardening of the heart muscle and lung disease before his death.[35]

Some,[who?] however, believe that the police investigation was a coverup, and the cause of Liston's death remains unresolved.[4] After winning the title, Liston at first refused to go on an exhibition tour of Europe when he was told he would have to get shots before he could travel overseas. Liston's wife also reported that her husband would refuse basic medical care for common colds because of his dislike of needles. This, coupled with the fact that Liston was never known to be a substance abuser (besides heavy drinking), prompted rumors that he could have been murdered by some of his underworld contacts. Sonny's wife had a vivid dream the night of December 28, in which Sonny was in a shower shouting "Help me, Geraldine, help me, Geraldine."[36]

Additionally, authorities could not locate any other drug paraphernalia that Liston presumably would have needed to inject the fatal dose, such as a spoon to cook the heroin or an appendage to wrap around his arm. This only added to the mystery surrounding his death. A friend of Liston's told Unsolved Mysteries that Liston had been in a car accident a few weeks prior to his death. Liston was hospitalized with minor injuries, and received intravenous medicine. This is believed to be the source of the puncture wound that authorities found upon discovering Liston's body.

Sonny Liston is interred in Paradise Memorial Gardens in Las Vegas. His headstone bears the simple epitaph: "A Man."

Professional boxing record

Win50450–4WepnerChuck WepnerRTD(10)01970-06-29June 29, 1970Armory, Jersey City, New JerseyWepner down in fifth round by body punch. Fight stopped by ring doctor after round nine because of multiple cuts on Wepner's face.
Loss49449–4WepnerLeotis MartinKO(12)01969-12-06December 6, 1969International Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NevadaFor vacant NABF Heavyweight title. Martin down in round four, and was behind on points when he KOed Liston. Martin was forced to retire shortly afterwards, as he suffered a detached retina in this bout.
Win49349–3WepnerSonny MooreKO(10)01969-09-23September 23, 1969Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, Texas
Win48348–3WepnerGeorge JohnsonTKO(10)01969-05-19May 19, 1969Convention Hall, Las Vegas, Nevada
Win47347–3WepnerBilly JoinerUD1001969-03-28March 28, 1969Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri
Win46346–3WepnerAmos LincolnKO(10)01968-12-10December 10, 1968Civic Center, Baltimore, Maryland
Win45345–3WepnerRoger RischerKO(10)01968-11-12November 12, 1968Civic Center, Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaMain event of a benefit card for Ben Anolik, Pennsylvania's first heart transplant patient.
Win44344–3WepnerWillis EarlsKO(10)01968-11-03November 3, 1968Bull Ring, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico
Win43343–3WepnerSonny MooreTKO(10)01968-10-14October 14, 1968Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix, Arizona
Win42342–3WepnerHenry ClarkTKO(10)01968-07-06July 6, 1968Cow Palace, Daly City, California
Win41341–3WepnerBilly JoinerRTD(10)01968-05-23May 23, 1968Grand Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, CaliforniaJoiner down in the third. Joiner retired in his corner after seven rounds.
Win40340–3WepnerBill McMurrayKO(10)01968-03-16March 16, 1968Coliseum, Reno, Nevada
Win39339–3WepnerElmer RushTKO(10)01967-04-28April 28, 1967Johanneshov, Stockholm, SwedenRush down twice in fourth, three times in fifth and four times in sixth.
Win38338–3WepnerDave BaileyKO(10)01967-03-30March 30, 1967Masshallen, Gothenburg, Sweden
Win37337–3WepnerAmos JohnsonKO(10)01966-08-19August 19, 1966Ullevi, Gothenburg, Sweden
Win36336–3WepnerGerhard ZechKO(10)01966-07-01July 1, 1966Johanneshov, Stockholm, Sweden
Loss35335–3WepnerMuhammad AliKO(15)01965-05-25May 25, 1965St. Dominic's Hall, Lewiston, MaineFor World Heavyweight title.
Loss35235–2WepnerMuhammad AliRTD(15)01964-02-25February 25, 1964Convention Hall, Miami Beach, FloridaLost World Heavyweight title. Liston retired on his stool citing an injured shoulder. 1964 Fight of the Year by The Ring Magazine.
Win35135–1WepnerFloyd PattersonKO(15)01963-07-22July 22, 1963Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, NevadaRetained World Heavyweight Title. Patterson was knocked down three times.
Win34134–1WepnerFloyd PattersonKO(15)01962-09-25September 25, 1962Comiskey Park, Chicago, IllinoisWon World Heavyweight Title. Liston made history by being the first man to ever knockout a heavyweight champion in the first round in boxing history.
Win33133–1WepnerAlbert WestphalKO(10)01961-12-04December 4, 1961Convention Hall, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaFirst time Westphal was knocked down in his career.
Win32132–1WepnerHoward KingTKO(10)01961-03-08March 8, 1961Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida
Win31131–1WepnerEddie MachenUD1201960-09-07September 7, 1960Sick's Stadium, Seattle, WashingtonListon penalized three points for low blows.
Win30130–1WepnerZora FolleyKO(12)01960-07-18July 18, 1960Coliseum, Denver, ColoradoListon knocked Folley to the canvas twice in the second round.
Win29129–1WepnerRoy HarrisTKO(10)01960-04-25April 25, 1960Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, TexasHarris was down three times.
Win28128–1WepnerCleveland WilliamsTKO(10)01960-03-21March 21, 1960Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, TexasWilliams was down for an eight-count before the knockout.
Win27127–1WepnerHoward KingTKO(10)01960-02-23February 23, 1960Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida
Win26126–1WepnerWilli BesmanoffTKO(10)01959-12-09December 9, 1959Arena, Cleveland, OhioBesmanoff absorbed a barrage of punches in the sixth round and was bleeding from several bad gashes over his eyes. The referee stopped the bout between rounds and it was scored a seventh round TKO.
Win25125–1WepnerNino ValdezKO(10)01959-08-05August 5, 1959Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois
Win24124–1WepnerCleveland WilliamsTKO(10)01959-04-15April 15, 1959Auditorium, Miami Beach, FloridaWilliams was knocked down twice in the third.
Win23123–1WepnerMike DeJohnTKO(10)01959-02-18February 18, 1959Exhibition Hall, Miami Beach, Florida
Win22122–1WepnerErnie CabTKO(10)01958-11-18November 18, 1958Auditorium, Miami Beach, FloridaDoctor stopped the bout due to Cab's left eye and nose being cut.
Win21121–1WepnerBert WhitehurstUD1001958-10-24October 24, 1958Arena, St. Louis, MissouriWhitehurst was knocked through the ropes, and was attempting to climb back into the ring as the final bell rang at the count of seven.
Win20120–1WepnerFrankie DanielsKO(10)01958-10-07October 7, 1958Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida
Win19119–1WepnerWayne BetheaTKO(10)01958-08-06August 6, 1958Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois
Win18118–1WepnerJulio MederosRTD(10)01958-05-14May 14, 1958Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois
Win17117–1WepnerBert WhitehurstPTS1001958-04-03April 3, 1958Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri
Win16116–1WepnerBen WiseTKO(10)01958-03-11March 11, 1958Midwest Gymnasium, Chicago, Illinois
Win15115–1WepnerBilly HunterTKO(10)01958-01-29January 29, 1958Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois
Win14114–1WepnerMarty MarshallUD1001956-03-06March 6, 1956Pittsburgh Gardens, Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaMarshall substituted on four days notice for Harold Johnson who injured his shoulder in training.
Win13113–1WepnerLarry WatsonTKO(10)01955-12-13December 13, 1955Alnad Temple, East St. Louis, Illinois
Win12112–1WepnerJohnny GrayTKO(10)01955-09-13September 13, 1955Victory Field, Indianapolis, Indiana
Win11111–1WepnerCalvin ButlerTKO(8)01955-05-25May 25, 1955Arena, St. Louis, Missouri
Win10110–1WepnerEmil BrtkoTKO(10)01955-05-05May 5, 1955Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Win0919–1WepnerMarty MarshallTKO(10)01955-04-21April 21, 1955Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, MissouriMarshall down once in round five and three times in round six.
Win0818–1WepnerNeal WelchPTS801955-03-01March 1, 1955Masonic Temple, St. Louis, Missouri
Loss0717–1WepnerMarty MarshallSD801954-09-07September 7, 1954Motor City Arena, Detroit, MichiganListon suffered a broken jaw during round four.
Win0707–0WepnerJohnny SummerlinSD801954-08-10August 10, 1954Motor City Arena, Detroit, Michigan
Win0606–0WepnerJohnny SummerlinUD801954-06-29June 29, 1954Motor City Arena, Detroit, MichiganSummerlin had suffered a fractured nose in a sparring session shortly before this fight.
Win0505–0WepnerStanley HowlettPTS601954-03-31March 31, 1954Arena, St. Louis, Missouri
Win0404–0WepnerMartin LeeTKO(6)01954-01-25January 25, 1954Masonic Temple, St. Louis, Missouri
Win0303–0WepnerBennie ThomasSD601953-11-21November 21, 1953Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri
Win0202–0WepnerPonce de LeonPTS401953-09-17September 17, 1953Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri
Win0101–0WepnerDon SmithTKO(4)01953-09-02September 2, 1953Arena, St. Louis, MissouriAfter referee Jimmy Parker halted the fight, it was discovered that Smith was also sporting a badly-lacerated right eye.
50 Wins (39 knockouts, 11 decisions)—4 Losses (3 knockouts, 1 decision)—0 Draws[37]

In popular culture


Liston made a cameo appearance in the 1968 Head, which starred The Monkees.[38] Liston played the part of a farmer in the 1970 film Moonfire with Richard Egan and Charles Napier. In the same year, Liston appeared in a television commercial for Braniff Airlines with Andy Warhol.[4]

Portrayal in film

In the 2001 film Ali, Liston was portrayed by former WBO world heavyweight champion Michael Bentt.

Liston was the subject of a 2008 feature film based upon his life titled Phantom Punch. The film starred Ving Rhames as Liston and was produced by Rhames, Hassain Zaidi and Marek Posival.

Portrayal in fiction

Liston appears as a character in James Ellroy's novel The Cold Six Thousand. In the novel, Liston not only drinks, but also pops pills, and works as a sometime enforcer for a heroin ring in Las Vegas. Liston also appears in the sequel, Blood's a Rover.

Thom Jones titled his 2000 collection of short stories Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine.[39]


Liston has been referenced in many songs by artists such as Sun Kil Moon, The Animals, Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, Phil Ochs, Morrissey, The Mountain Goats, Freddy Blohm, Chuck E. Weiss, This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, KK Downing, The Roots, Wu-Tang Clan, Gone Jackals, Billy Joel, The Mountain Goats, Roll Deep, UCL, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Mark Knopfler's tribute to Liston, "Song for Sonny Liston," appeared on his 2004 album Shangri-La.

"Sonny Liston" is also the name of an indie folk band from Oxford, England.[40]


Liston appeared on the December 1963 cover of Esquire magazine (cover photograph by Carl Fischer) "the last man on earth America wanted to see coming down its chimney". [41]

Elizabeth Bear wrote the short story "Sonny Liston Takes the Fall", published in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2008.[42] The story speculates that Liston threw the Ali match for the social good.

See also


  1. ^ Tallent, Aaron (2 February 2005). "The Mysterious Birth of Sonny Liston". Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  2. ^ ""United States Census, 1940," Charlie I Liston in household of Tobbie Liston, Smith Township, Cross, Arkansas, United States"". National Archives and Records Administration. April 23, 1940. Retrieved August 13, 2012. "Charlie I Liston in household of Tobbie Liston, Smith Township, Cross, Arkansas, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 19-12B, sheet 13B, family 205, line 42" 
  3. ^ a b c d Puma, Mike (2007). "Liston was trouble in and out of ring". 
  4. ^ a b c d e Tosches, Nick (2000). The Devil And Sonny Liston. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-89775-2. 
  5. ^ a b c Remnick, David (1998). King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-330-37189-4. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Reputations: Sonny Liston: The Champion Nobody Wanted,(2001) 50 min, BBC Documentary
  7. ^ Sares, Ted (November 22, 2006). "Boxing's Hard Times, Good Times". East Side Boxing. 
  8. ^ a b Mee, Bob (2010). Liston and Ali: The Ugly Bear and the Boy Who Would Be King. London: Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84596-622-5. 
  9. ^ "Sonny Liston - From The Big House To The Big Time". Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  10. ^ Kisner, Ronald (21 January 1971). "Death Voids Court". Jet: 52–55. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  11. ^ Ebony Aug 1962
  12. ^ Rogin, Gilbert (1 August 1960). "Heavyweight In Waiting". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Watson, Emmett (19 September 1960). "Really A Hug Fest". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  14. ^ Ebony, Aug 1962, Page 50
  15. ^ Ebony Aug 1962, page 52
  16. ^ Mailer: A Biography By Mary V. Dearborn, page 186
  17. ^ Boyd, Todd. "Esquire covers commemorate boxing's prime". Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  18. ^ Ex-Champ Floyd Patterson Dies At 71
  19. ^ Sonny Liston: The Facts
  20. ^ The Facts About The Big Fight
  21. ^ a b Klapp, Orrin ( Symbolic Leaders: Public Dramas and Public Men. Aldine Transaction. pp. 47. ISBN 0202308677. 
  22. ^ a b c d Nack, William (14 February 1994). "O Unlucky Man". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  23. ^ Jet, 3 Oct 1963, p. 57.
  24. ^ Ebony Aug 1962, Page 52
  25. ^ a b Sugar, Bert Randolph (1981). The Great Fights: A Pictorial History of Boxing's Greatest Bouts. Rutledge Press; First Thus edition. ISBN 083173972X. 
  26. ^ Only the Ring Was Square, Teddy Brenner, 1981, Prentice Hall Trade
  27. ^ Jet 25 Jun 1964, p. 56
  28. ^ Kram, Mark (2 November 1964). "The Prefight Moods Of Sonny Liston". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  29. ^ "'Champ' has Has Operation For Hernia". The Pittsburgh Press. 14 November 1964.,5233942&dq=muhammad+ali+hernia&hl=en. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  30. ^ A TV documentary around 2000 detailed much the same with Liston's widow advising Sonny had told her similar. "Sonny Liston comments on Phantom Punch.". A TV documentary around 2000 detailed much the same with Liston's widow advising Sonny had told her similar.. Retrieved 2011-03-16. 
  31. ^ Conger, C. (2012). Lineage Unbroken: The Complete Lineal Tracing of World Heavyweight Championship Boxing (Post-Marciano Era) 1956–2003. CreateSpace. Retrieved May 7, 2012. 
  32. ^ Dettloff, William. "The Sad Legacy of Sonny Liston". Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  33. ^ Gustkey, Earl (30 December 1970). "Like Fights Against Ali, Liston Death a Mystery". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  34. ^ "Video". CNN. February 4, 1991. 
  35. ^ Jet 4 Feb 1971, P.51
  36. ^ Steen, Rob (2008). Sonny Liston: His Life, Strife and the Phantom Punch. London: JR. ISBN 978-1-906217-81-5. 
  37. ^ "Sonny Liston—Boxer". BoxRec. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  38. ^ Head at the Internet Movie Database
  39. ^ Jones, Thom (2000). Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine: Stories. Back Bay Books. ISBN 0316472409. 
  40. ^ "Official blog for Sonny Liston". Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  41. ^ "December 1963 cover". Esquire Magazine. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  42. ^ Bear, Elizabeth (2008). The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Sixteen Original Works by Speculative Fiction's Finest Voices. Del Rey; First Edition edition. ISBN 0345496329. 

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Floyd Patterson
World Heavyweight Champion
September 25, 1962 – February 25, 1964
Succeeded by
Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali)