Sonny Liston


August 19, 2022

Charles L. "Sonny" Liston (May 8, 1932, Arkansas (date and exact place of birth disputed) – December 30, 1970, Las Vegas, Nevada) was an American heavyweight boxer and world champion in his weight class. He won his world title from Floyd Patterson in 1962 and defended it once in a rematch. Liston defeated Patterson both times by knockout in the first round. In 1964, he unexpectedly lost his world championship to Muhammad Ali and was unable to win it back even in a rematch. After that, he didn't fight for the championship again. Sonny Liston was already considered a major boxer during his lifetime, and during his world championship days he was compared to great world champions like Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. Liston was about ten kilos heavier than the middleweight boxers of his time and had an attacking style. He also had a fearsome reputation among other boxers, and the tops of his time, such as Ingemar Johansson, Henry Cooper or Joe Frazier, did not agree to face him. Muhammad Ali also admitted afterwards that he considered Liston a scary opponent. Liston had connections to the underworld and the mafia, and criminals influenced his background throughout his career. According to the alleged connection of these? even contributed to his untimely death in 1970, but this has not been proven. Liston's life has been made into the film Phantom Punch, which premiered in 2008, in which he is played by Ving Rhames.

Life and Career

Youth and prison time

The exact date of Liston's birth is unknown and there is conflicting information about the place as well. He was born in the state of Arkansas between 1930 and 1940 in the family of cotton farmer Tobi and Helen Liston, who had 24 children in addition to him. The family was poor, and Liston often used to say: "Ever since I was born, I've been fighting for my life." Since the children were born at home, they did not have birth certificates. However, local legend says that when Liston was born, a sign was made on the tree in his memory. Liston wrote his birth certificate afterwards in 1953 and stated his birthday on May 8, 1932. However, the accuracy of the date is disputed. Liston's childhood was difficult, as the father of the family often abused his children. He never learned to read, and needed the help of friends to read throughout his career. At the age of 13, Liston ran away from home to St. Louis and ended up in a reformatory there. He drifted into crime at a young age and joined a gang that, in his own words, was "always looking for trouble". He worked for a long time as the bodyguard of a gangster named John Vitale and made acquaintances in the circle of organized crime that would torment him throughout his life. When Liston was guilty of an armed robbery of a restaurant and several assaults and thefts, he was finally sentenced to five years in a Missouri prison in 1950. At that time, Catholic prison chaplain Edward Murphy devised to divert Liston, who had lost faith in society, to boxing to give him something else to think about. Pastor Alios Stevens, who ran the prisoners' boxing program, introduced him to the sport in more detail, and Liston won his prison's boxing championship. The connection between boxing and the Catholic religion was also visible later in Liston's life, because when he was defending his championship, priests with "I like Sonny" pins on their chests were sometimes waiting in the locker room.

Early career and second prison sentence

After being paroled in 1952, Sonny Liston immediately began a career as an amateur boxer, despite being older than many other aspiring boxers. In his short amateur career, Liston won the St. Louis and Missouri local Golden Gloves championships, through which he was promoted to