|The subject of both fights between Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, and Charles “Sonny” Liston is one that has been argued over for decades. Since as soon as the action in both matches ended there have been opinions aplenty as to the true nature of their results. Many|
people claim that both fights were undeniably fixed, while others still claim only the second fight’s validity is questionable. There aren’t, however, too many boxing buffs who are happy to accept that the two encounters were both on the level.
Things just do not sit right with a good many experts and fans alike with regards to the way Liston, who beforehand was thought of as practically unbeatable,meekly quit in bout number one, and then went down as though pole axed in fight number two. And this from a punch that many never even saw. While most of those who did see it - and who were/are satisfied when viewing the fight again on tape that a blow did indeed land - profess how the shot had no way near enough force behind it for it to do what it did to the awesomely strong Liston. And while one can fully understand the questions that these two fights have produced, I personally find myself in the minority as I believe both fights were completely genuine.
As for fight number one, Sonny’s own recollections of the action should give a big indication of how the fight was real. He expressed his shock and surprise aptly when he uttered how he (Clay) wasn’t the guy he was supposed to fight, as that guy could punch! And bear in mind the condition Liston’s face was in when he said these words - he was chopped to pieces!, especially
around the eyes. The main reason people had, and still have, trouble with the fight’s ending was due to Liston remaining firmly on his stool prior to the bout’s termination.
The fact that he quit with what he later claimed was an injured shoulder satisfied no-one and immediately there were whispers - soon to be deafening roars - that expressed the belief that Liston went into the tank. The reason he did so, they claim, is because he was under orders from his mob controllers who made a huge amount of money in betting on the massive underdog Cassius Clay.
When one looks at the facts, however, this notion fails to hold up. Firstly, we can all see the punishment Liston took in the fight - both during the action and then later by looking at his battered face. And as far as a huge gambling coup pulled off by the mob, the facts show that NO strange amounts of money were placed on Clay at any time. Both arguments are therefore quashed in my opinion.
What I believe to be the truth is far simpler. Sonny had trained with all the intensity of a man expecting an easy one round blow out against the young and inexperienced loudmouth. But the guy he fought was both physically bigger than Liston had figured and he was also incredibly fast and hard to hit. And he could also punch with authority, as Sonny himself later admitted. These are the real reasons Liston lost, not some fixed fight conspiracy. And on one final point. If Liston went into the fight knowing full well he was going to lose as arranged, then why would he throw everything he had in an all too obviously real attempt to get Clay out of there in the famous round when the young challenger was having serious trouble seeing?
Clay was blinded by something, perhaps something sinisterly and purposely put on Liston’s gloves or maybe an innocent and accidentally rubbed off amount of the solution being used to treat Sonny’s cut eye found its way onto his gloves. Whatever the case, the fact that Liston came out like a wild man as he saw a chance at finally getting to the super fast Clay simply does not jive with a man who is participating in a fight he has been ordered to lose. Fight number one was on the level, of that I am convinced.
A for fight number two, people have more trouble with the rematch than the first encounter. No less a respected figure than the legendary broadcaster Don Dumphy, who famously said, “if that’s a punch I’ll eat it!” upon viewing the rematch on tape for a documentary, claims wholeheartedly that the fight’s KO was bogus. And, admittedly, when one watches the tape of the knockout it doesn’t look like such a hard punch that Liston gets hit with. The punch does land though, Ali’s pectoral muscles clearly flex as he fires in the right hand to Liston’s head. And Sonny’s head can be seen to noticeably drop some. He was definitely hit, of that there is no doubt. But, was the punch hard enough to have done what it did to Sonny?
Angelo Dundee, Ali’s long time corner-man believes the punch hit Sonny on the temple. I think he is correct. Any boxer will tell you how messed up your equilibrium can become if you are hit with a shot to the temple. Instant dizziness and weakened legs are the order of the day. This is exactly what Liston experienced at the very moment Ali caught him coming in. The fact that Sonny was charging forward assisted the force of the punch. As a result there is the combined body weight of the two men crashing into Liston’s head. And on the weakest point there is - on the temple!
You can actually see Sonny’s foot being lifted off the canvas, such is the effect of the blow. And then he falls to the canvas. What he does next is undeniably a huge factor in people’s disbelief in the sincerity of the KO. Liston rolls around the ring in a very unconvincing fashion and it does indeed look as though he is play acting. He does make it to his feet though, only for referee Joe Walcott to stop the fight.
So yes, Liston’s reaction to the punch does look strange - until one remembers that it was a temple shot he was hit with. Remenber Mike Tyson’s brutal KO of Trevor Berbick in 1986? That too was a shot to the temple and as soon as the punch landed Berbick’s legs turned to jelly, his balance was completely gone and he fell three times form the one punch. That is what a punch to that part of the head can do. Sonny Liston was hit in the same place ( albeit on the other side of the head, with a right hand as opposed to a left) by Ali and collapsed also. The fact that his movements were neither as convincing as Berbick’s or that we didn’t have the luxury of having the punch captured by a perfectly positioned camera should not influence a person’s thinking. Fight number two was on the level, of that too I am convinced.
I am sure of my beliefs, but as Angelo Dundee once said, controversy is dynamite as it makes people want to see some more. Clearly, the controversy the two Ali vs. Liston fights produced is the very kind he was talking about. As such, people will forever want to see more. More than there actually is, that is!