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Liston in 1963
|Real name||Charles L. Liston|
The Big Bear
|Height||6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)|
|Reach||84 in (213 cm)|
Sand Slough, Arkansas, USA
|Died||December 30, 1970 (aged about 38)|
Las Vegas, Nevada
|Wins by KO||39|
Liston in 1963
|Real name||Charles L. Liston|
The Big Bear
|Height||6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)|
|Reach||84 in (213 cm)|
Sand Slough, Arkansas, USA
|Died||December 30, 1970 (aged about 38)|
Las Vegas, Nevada
|Wins by KO||39|
Charles L. "Sonny" Liston (c. 1932 – 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 Cassius Clay (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 The Ring magazine's 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time.
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. Listed in the 1940 Census as being born in 1929 or 1930, it has been suggested he may not have known what year he was born. 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.
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. Liston's father inflicted whippings so severe that the scars were still visible decades later. 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.
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. 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. He also served a prison sentence for assaulting a police officer.
Liston never complained about prison, saying he was guaranteed three meals every day. 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 two rounds the ex-pro had taken enough. "Better get me out of this ring, he is going to kill me!" he exclaimed. 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.
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. Liston knocked him out 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."
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," 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. 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'.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
Ironically, Floyd Patterson's manager Cus D'Amato had his New York State license revoked over his own underworld connections. When Patterson finally signed to meet Liston for the world title, the venue was Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. 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. Patterson also claimed that John F. Kennedy did not want him to fight Liston.
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 apart from an excellent jab in the opening seconds Patterson showed a complete lack of aggression or guile. Sports Illustrated writer Gilbert Rogin characterized the match as "bathetic", claiming Patterson did not punch enough, and had inexplicably sought to clinch with his far heavier opponent while making the basic error of failing to tie up both Liston's arms. 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. The fight only lasted 2:05 before Patterson was knocked out. 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, suggesting that "mental problems" had been responsible for his poor performance.
On winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World, Liston had a speech prepared for the crowd that 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 were still able to 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. 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 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." 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."
Liston's run-ins with the police had continued in Philadelphia. He 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. 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 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."
Patterson and Liston had a rematch held on the evening of July 22, 1963, in Las Vegas, Nevada. This time, the fight lasted 2:09 and Liston again won by a knockout as he knocked Patterson down three times, with the three-knockdown rule being in effect. After this victory, Liston was loudly booed.
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. 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, and a cut opened up on Liston's face in round three. However, Ali's vision became severely impaired during rounds four and five, and he was unable to be effective against Liston. 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. Liston, however, was unable to capitalize on this. 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. The Liston camp attributed his retiring to a shoulder injury; some, claiming inside knowledge, disputed this and said Liston used the same arm to throw a chair after the match. Liston quitting was thought particularly remarkable because 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 probably to spare himself further trauma. The promoter alleged that the night before the bout Liston had been visibly inebriated.
Liston lost twenty pounds during his initial preparation for the rematch, but there were again rumors of alcohol abuse in training. On May 25, 1965, he faced Muhammad 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. 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 got up the fight resumed, but was quickly interrupted by Nat Fleischer climbing into the ring opining that Liston had been KOed. Walcott accepted this view and awarded the fight to Ali. However, Fleischer was quite wrong in his interpretation of how the rules applied: since Clay had deliberately not gone to a neutral corner, Walcott had been correct in not counting Liston out; the actual time Liston had been down was beside the point. 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."
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.” Former champions Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Gene Tunney, as well as Ali opponents George Chuvalo and Floyd Patterson, all stated that they considered the fight to be a fake. Ali biographer Wilfrid Sheed opines in his book Muhammad Ali that Liston planned to throw the fight by using an actual knockdown as the opportunity to do so. However, Sheed says that the punch that knocked Liston down "may have been genuine, but when referee Joe Walcott blew the count and gave him all evening to get up, Liston's rendition of a coma wouldn't have fooled a possum.” 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.
After the second loss to Ali, Liston took a year off from boxing. He returned in 1966, 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.
America's first look at Liston since the Ali rematch was in a nationally broadcast fight with No. 5–ranked Henry Clark, whom he overpowered in seven rounds. A 10-round decision over Billy Joiner in St. Louis continued his run of victories and Liston at 38 years old (but having the appearance of a man of 50) 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. However, Martin's career ended after that 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. The referee stopped the bout in the 10th round; Wepner needed 72 stitches and suffered a broken cheekbone and nose.
Liston married Geraldine Clark in 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."
In the midst of negotiations for a match with Canadian Champion George Chuvalo, Liston was found dead by his wife in their Las Vegas home on January 5, 1971. 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 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. 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, but the advanced state of decomposition meant that tests were inconclusive and officially Liston died of lung congestion and heart failure. He had been suffering from hardening of the heart muscle and lung disease before his death.
Some,[who?] however, believe that the police investigation was a coverup, and the cause of Liston's death remains unresolved. 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."
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 his told Unsolved Mysteries that Liston had been in a car accident a few weeks prior to his death, 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 his body.
Sonny Liston is interred in Paradise Memorial Gardens in Las Vegas, NV. His headstone bears the simple epitaph: "A Man."
|50 Wins (39 knockouts, 11 decisions), 4 Losses (3 knockouts, 1 decision), 0 Draws|
|Win||50–4||Chuck Wepner||RTD||9 (10)||29/06/1970||Armory, Jersey City, New Jersey, United States||Wepner down in 5th round by body punch. Fight stopped by ring doctor after round 9 because of multiple cuts on Wepner's face.|
|Loss||49–4||Leotis Martin||KO||9 (12)||06/12/1969||International Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States||For vacant NABF Heavyweight title. Martin down in round 4, 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.|
|Win||49–3||Sonny Moore||KO||3 (10)||23/09/1969||Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, Texas, United States|
|Win||48–3||George Johnson||TKO||7 (10)||19/05/1969||Convention Hall, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States|
|Win||47–3||Billy Joiner||UD||10||28/03/1969||Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri, United States|
|Win||46–3||Amos Lincoln||KO||2 (10)||10/12/1968||Civic Center, Baltimore, Maryland, United States|
|Win||45–3||Roger Rischer||KO||3 (10)||12/11/1968||Civic Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States||Main event of a benefit card for Ben Anolik, Pennsylvania's first heart transplant patient.|
|Win||44–3||Willis Earls||KO||2 (10)||03/11/1968||Bull Ring, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico|
|Win||43–3||Sonny Moore||TKO||3 (10)||14/10/1968||Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix, Arizona, United States|
|Win||42–3||Henry Clark||TKO||7 (10)||06/07/1968||Cow Palace, Daly City, California, United States|
|Win||41–3||Billy Joiner||RTD||7 (10)||23/05/1968||Grand Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, California, United States||Joiner down in the 3rd. Joiner retired in his corner after 7 rounds.|
|Win||40–3||Bill McMurray||KO||4 (10)||16/03/1968||Coliseum, Reno, Nevada, United States|
|Win||39–3||Elmer Rush||TKO||6 (10)||28/04/1967||Johanneshov, Stockholm, Sweden||Rush down twice in 4th, three times in 5th and four times in 6th.|
|Win||38–3||Dave Bailey||KO||1 (10)||30/03/1967||Masshallen, Gothenburg, Sweden|
|Win||37–3||Amos Johnson||KO||3 (10)||19/08/1966||Ullevi, Gothenburg, Sweden|
|Win||36–3||Gerhard Zech||KO||7 (10)||01/07/1966||Johanneshov, Stockholm, Sweden|
|Loss||35–3||Muhammad Ali||KO||1 (15)||25/05/1965||St. Dominic's Hall, Lewiston, Maine, United States||For World Heavyweight title.|
|Loss||35–2||Muhammad Ali||RTD||6 (15)||25/02/1964||Convention Hall, Miami Beach, Florida, United States||Lost World Heavyweight title. Liston retired on his stool citing an injured shoulder. 1964 Fight of the Year by The Ring Magazine|
|Win||35–1||Floyd Patterson||KO||1 (15)||22/07/1963||Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States||Retained World Heavyweight Title. Patterson was knocked down 3 times.|
|Win||34–1||Floyd Patterson||KO||1 (15)||25/09/1962||Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, United States||Won World Heavyweight Title. Liston made history by being the first man to ever knockout a heavyweight champion in the first round in boxing history.|
|Win||33–1||Albert Westphal||KO||1 (10)||04/12/1961||Convention Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States||First time Westphal was knocked down in his career.|
|Win||32–1||Howard King||TKO||3 (10)||08/03/1961||Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, United States|
|Win||31–1||Eddie Machen||UD||12||07/09/1960||Sick's Stadium, Seattle, Washington, United States||Liston penalized three points for low blows.|
|Win||30–1||Zora Folley||KO||3 (12)||18/07/1960||Coliseum, Denver, Colorado, United States||Liston's sledge-hammer hands smashed Folley to the canvas twice in the 2nd round.|
|Win||29–1||Roy Harris||TKO||1 (10)||25/04/1960||Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, Texas, United States||Harris was down three times.|
|Win||28–1||Cleveland Williams||TKO||2 (10)||21/03/1960||Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, Texas, United States||Williams was down for an 8-count before the knockout.|
|Win||27–1||Howard King||TKO||8 (10)||23/02/1960||Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, United States|
|Win||26–1||Willi Besmanoff||TKO||7 (10)||09/12/1959||Arena, Cleveland, Ohio, United States||Besmanoff absorbed a barrage of punches in the 6th round and was bleeding from several bad gashes over his eyes. The referee stopped the bout between rounds and it was scored a 7th round TKO.|
|Win||25–1||Nino Valdez||KO||3 (10)||05/08/1959||Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Win||24–1||Cleveland Williams||TKO||3 (10)||15/04/1959||Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, United States||Williams was knocked down twice in the 3rd.|
|Win||23–1||Mike DeJohn||TKO||6 (10)||18/02/1959||Exhibition Hall, Miami Beach, Florida, United States|
|Win||22–1||Ernie Cab||TKO||8 (10)||18/11/1958||Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, United States||Doctor stopped the bout due to Cab's left eye and nose being cut.|
|Win||21–1||Bert Whitehurst||UD||10||24/10/1958||Arena, St. Louis, Missouri, United States||Whitehurst was knocked through the ropes, and was attempting to climb back into the ring as the final bell rang at the count of seven.|
|Win||20–1||Frankie Daniels||KO||1 (10)||07/10/1958||Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, United States|
|Win||19–1||Wayne Bethea||TKO||1 (10)||06/08/1958||Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Win||18–1||Julio Mederos||RTD||2 (10)||14/05/1958||Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Win||17–1||Bert Whitehurst||PTS||10||03/04/1958||Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri, United States|
|Win||16–1||Ben Wise||TKO||4 (10)||11/03/1958||Midwest Gymnasium, Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Win||15–1||Billy Hunter||TKO||2 (10)||29/01/1958||Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Win||14–1||Marty Marshall||UD||10||06/03/1956||Pittsburgh Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States||Marshall substituted on four days notice for Harold Johnson who injured his shoulder in training.|
|Win||13–1||Larry Watson||TKO||4 (10)||13/12/1955||Alnad Temple, East St. Louis, Illinois, United States|
|Win||12–1||Johnny Gray||TKO||6 (10)||13/09/1955||Victory Field, Indianapolis, Indiana, United States|
|Win||11–1||Calvin Butler||TKO||2 (8)||25/05/1955||Arena, St. Louis, Missouri, United States|
|Win||10–1||Emil Brtko||TKO||5 (10)||05/05/1955||Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States|
|Win||9–1||Marty Marshall||TKO||6 (10)||21/04/1955||Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri, United States||Marshall down once in round 5 and 3 times in round 6.|
|Win||8–1||Neal Welch||PTS||8||01/03/1955||Masonic Temple, St. Louis, Missouri, United States|
|Loss||7–1||Marty Marshall||SD||8||07/09/1954||Motor City Arena, Detroit, Michigan, United States||Liston suffered a broken jaw during round 4.|
|Win||7–0||Johnny Summerlin||SD||8||10/08/1954||Motor City Arena, Detroit, Michigan, United States|
|Win||6–0||Johnny Summerlin||UD||8||29/06/1954||Motor City Arena, Detroit, Michigan, United States||Summerlin had suffered a fractured nose in a sparring session shortly before this fight.|
|Win||5–0||Stanley Howlett||PTS||6||31/03/1954||Arena, St. Louis, Missouri, United States|
|Win||4–0||Martin Lee||TKO||6 (6)||25/01/1954||Masonic Temple, St. Louis, Missouri, United States|
|Win||3–0||Bennie Thomas||SD||6||21/11/1953||Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri, United States|
|Win||2–0||Ponce de Leon||PTS||4||17/09/1953||Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri, United States|
|Win||1–0||Don Smith||TKO||1 (4)||02/09/1953||Arena, St. Louis, Missouri, United States||Smith apparently did not have a chance, as Liston swarmed all over him. After Referee Jimmy Parker halted the fight, it was discovered that Smith also was sporting a badly lacerated right eye.|
Liston made a cameo appearance in the 1968 Head, which starred The Monkees. 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.
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.
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, 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.
A wax model of Liston appears in the front row of the iconic sleeve cover of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He is seen in the far left part of the row, wearing a white and gold robe, standing beside the original-look Beatle figures.
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".
Elizabeth Bear wrote the short story "Sonny Liston Takes the Fall", published in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2008. The story speculates that Liston threw the Ali match for the social good.
|Awards and achievements|
|World Heavyweight Champion|
September 25, 1962 – February 25, 1964
Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali)