Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston (2nd meeting)
1965-05-25 : Sonny Liston 215¼ lbs lost to Muhammad Ali 206 lbs by KO at 2:12 in round 1 of 15
- Location: St. Dominic's Hall, Lewiston, Maine, USA
- Referee: Jersey Joe Walcott
- Judge: Coley Wallace
- Judge: Russ Leonard
- Judge: Joe Colvin
Because of the unexpected and controversial ending of the first bout, boxing fans wanted to see a rematch. However, the WBA did not and stripped Ali of their title in September of 1964. The WBA, at that time, did not recognize return title fights.
The return bout was scheduled for November 16, 1964, at The Boston Garden in Massachusetts, but three days before the fight, Ali suffered an incarcerated inguinal hernia. He was rushed to Boston City Hospital and underwent immediate surgery. "It was such a marvelously developed stomach, I hated to slice it up," said one of the attending physicians.
The rematch was rescheduled for May 25, 1965. However, Massachusetts authorities, who had previously sanctioned the fight, now refused to do so because of fears that the promoters were tied to organized crime. The promoters had a hard time finding a new location. They tried Cleveland, but the city wanted nothing to do with it. Finally, the fight found a home in Lewiston, Maine, the state's second largest city. The fight took place at St. Dominic's Hall before a crowd of 2,412, the smallest crowd ever for a world heavyweight championship bout.
Three months before the fight, Malcolm X, a former Nation of Islam minister, was assassinated. Malcolm X had a bitter falling out with The Nation of Islam and many believed they were behind the killing. Leading up to the fight, there were rumors that followers of Malcolm X were coming to Lewiston to kill Ali, the Nation of Islam's most prominent member. As a result, Lewiston's police force was tripled and everybody who entered the arena was searched for weapons.
This proved to be one of the most controversial fights in history. Midway through the first round, Liston threw a left jab and Ali went over it with a fast right, knocking Liston down. Ali stood over Liston and shouted, "Get up and fight, sucker!" Referee Jersey Joe Walcott, a former world heavyweight champion himself, had a hard time getting Ali to go to a neutral corner. Walcott repeatedly pushed and shoved Ali away from Liston, only to have the champion charge back to ring center. Absorbed in this frustrating effort, Walcott never did start a count. Nor was he able to pick one up from the timekeeper. Liston struggled to his feet and Walcott wiped his gloves off.
At that moment, Walcott heard shouts from Nat Fleischer, publisher of The Ring magazine, who was sitting by the timekeeper. Walcott turned his back on the fighters to listen to Fleischer. Ali then started throwing punches at Liston, who moved his head to avoid the onslaught.
Fleischer, who had no official connection with the match, told Liston that the timekeeper had counted to ten and the fight was over. Walcott then stepped between the fighters and raised Ali's hand in victory.
Numerous fans booed and started yelling, "Fix!" Many did not see the punch land and some of those who did see it land, didn't think it was powerful enough to knock Liston out. Skeptics called the knockout blow "the phantom punch." Ali called it "the anchor punch." He said it was taught to him by comedian and film actor Stepin Fetchit, who learned it from Jack Johnson.
There were some, however, who believed the fight was legitimate. Jose Torres said, "It was a perfect punch." Jim Murray of the Los Angles Times wrote that it was "no phantom punch." And Tex Maule of Sports Illustrated wrote, "The blow had so much force it lifted Liston's left foot, upon which most of his weight was resting, well off the canvas."
Some found it hard to believe that the punch could have floored a man like Liston. Hall of Fame announcer Don Dunphy said, "Here was a guy who was in prison and the guards use to beat him over the head with clubs and couldn't knock him down." But others contend that he wasn't the same Liston. Dave Anderson of the New York Times said Liston "looked awful" in his last workout before the fight. Liston's handlers secretly paid sparring partner Amos Lincoln an extra $100 to take it easy on him. Arthur Daley of the New York Times wrote that Liston's handlers knew he "didn't have it anymore."
In the wake of the controversial fight, there was an outcry by press and politicians for the abolition of boxing. Bills to ban the sport were planned in several state legislatures.
A promoter in San Antonio apologized to his theater TV customers and, on the basis that they had been defrauded by a "shameful spectacle," donated his take to boys' clubs. The California legislature, in session, received a resolution calling for an investigation by the state attorney general to determine if its closed-circuit viewers had been fraudulently duped out of their money.
For those who believe that Liston took a dive, there are a number of theories as to why, including: (1) The Mafia forced Liston to throw the fight as part of a betting coup. (2) Liston bet against himself and took a dive because he owed money to the Mafia. (3) Liston was told by members of the Nation of Islam that they would kill him if he won the rematch. (4) Liston was afraid that he would be accidentally shot by followers of Malcolm X as they tried to kill Ali in the ring.
What really happened that day in Lewiston, Maine, is still debated to this day.
- "Didn't I tell the world that I had a surprise and if I told you the surprise, you would not come to the fight." - Muhammad Ali after the fight
- "The punch jarred him. It was a good punch, but I didn't think I hit him so hard he couldn't get up." - Muhammad Ali
- "That guy 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." - Sonny Liston's comments to Mark Kram of Sports Illustrated
- "It wasn't that hard a punch, but it partially caught me off balance and when I got knocked down, I got mixed up because the referee never gave me a count. I was listening for a count. That's the first thing you do, but I never heard a count because Clay never went to a neutral corner." - Sonny Liston's comments to Dave Anderson of the New York Times
- "The Unwanted" by Arthur Daley, The Telegraph, May 11, 1965
- "A Quick, Hard Right And A Needless Storm Of Protest" by Tex Maule, Sports Illustrated, June 7, 1965
- "Liston was trouble in and out of ring" by Mike Puma, ESPN.com
- "The Clay-Liston Fights - Fake or Legitimate" by Mike Dunn, BoxingScene.com, December 27, 2005