So I started this story way back in early April and decided not to finish it somewhere along the line. Sonny Liston’s story was just pretty darn sad and unfortunate, and I thought, geez, we don’t need a sad and unfortunate story to go along with our sad & unfortunate situation. Today I noticed that it is the anniversary of Cassius Clay’s (Muhammad Ali)(“the Greatest”) decision not to enter the US military upon being drafted for the Viet Nam war, claiming he was a conscientious objector. Ali was probably one of the greatest boxers of all time, and perhaps was the most controversial ever. Even before his decision not to join the war, and for many years after his 4-year suspension, Ali continued to be loved and hated by much of the sporting world. Below, is the story I started on one of toughest opponents, Sonny Liston. The fights with Liston started his pro career. His later bouts with Joe Frazier and George Foreman were also high profile and controversial, as was everything Ali was a part of.
Somehow back in the 1950’s and 1960’s boxing was a huge thing. Everyone seemed to follow the big boxing events, generally staged at Madison Square Garden or some similar high profile venue. The fights were generally not available on TV, but I think were on Pay TV, so I am not sure I actually saw much of the action live, but probably later on video or in the newspaper.
The fights I remember best were the Sonny Liston vs. Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) fights of 1964 and 1965. There was a huge story and quite a build-up in the sports pages prior to both fights. Liston and Ali/Cassius Clay were a classic match-up.
Sonny Liston was a scary looking dude and lived a life to go along with his looks. When he met Ali in the ring for the first time in 1964, he was already the Heavyweight Champion of the world. He also was just out of prison for the 5th or (?) time. Sonny was born into a sharecropping family in Arkansas in 1930. He was the 11th of 13 children. You can imagine. Early on he was connected with organized crime as an enforcer and worse.
Muhammad Ali won both of his fights with Sonny Liston; one by a knock out in the 7th round, and the other with a knock-out in the 1st round; both, of course, highly controversial.
Ali finished his career with a record of 56 wins and 5 losses, not counting the victory he earned versus the US Government and the Supreme Court, in winning a split decision that could have sent him to prison. He had already “served” a 4 year banishment from the sport during his prime.
Despite all the good and the bad, Muhammad Ali was named greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC, and the third greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN….you can look it up.
Ok, ok, this story should not be entitled Sonny Liston, because really it is the story of Cassius Clay.
SSOMG followed Ali’s story over the last 60+ years with a good deal of interest….the good and the bad.
A Gold Medalist in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, SSOMG remembers well the lighting of the Olympic flame at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, by the Parkinson’s ravaged Ali…a crowning moment for the “Greatest”.