How Good Was Sonny Liston?

Sonny Liston was once thought of as the ultimate Heavyweight fighting machine. Liston was a rock solid, muscular 6’ 1” inches and usually weighed about 220 lbs. Liston carried knockout power in either hand, similar to that of George Foreman years later. His 84” reach combined with his natural power combined to create one of the most lethal, damaging jabs in heavyweight history.

If Ali jab was a range finder… and Holmes was a range finder with more power, Liston’s was an incoming missile. To truly appreciate the Liston jab, you’d have to see it on video or have seen in live. Words don’t accurately convey what a devastating punch this really was.

Today, those who are unfamiliar with boxing history (the “armchair fan/historian” you might say), often dismiss Liston as a big bully who was exposed against Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali in their two controversial fights which took place in 1964-65.

You couldn’t create a more inaccurate picture of Charles “Sonny” Liston if you tried. During Liston’s climb and subsequent reign as champion, former champions such as Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano and others considered Liston to be one of the greatest Heavyweights to ever step into the ring.

The Liston who stepped into the ring against Floyd Patterson in September of 1962 was as sure a bet, if not more, than the young, explosive, Mike Tyson was twenty-four years later against defending champion – Trevor Berbick.

Nick Tosches wrote a compelling biography of Liston a book entitled, “The Devil and Sonny Liston.” This book reveals an interesting look at Liston’s two bouts with Ali and suggests that both fights were thrown. In the first, Tosches asserts that Liston was supposed to go the distance and lose – but bailed after getting tired of playing the part of a “punching bag” after 6 rounds. Mob money played a big part in the career of Sonny Liston. With possible rape charges that were pending against Liston at the time, it would have been the perfect time to cash out on their investment.

Whether you believe the stories or not it will ultimately be up to you to decide for yourself.

– The Boxing Magazine: June 2009

One Response to “How Good Was Sonny Liston?”

  1. Greg Gorecky says:

    I have always thought that something was amiss in the two fights between Liston and Ali, and believe Liston should be measured against others in his prime, and on any given night may have beaten anyone.

    I once read an article by Monte Cox I believe where he states that the title wasn’t doing Liston any good so he decided to dump it.

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