The Shocking Truth Behind Cassius Clay’s Stunning Defeat to Sonny Liston


First of all, I assume you are referring to their second fight. In the first fight, Liston suffered a shoulder injury, as was confirmed by doctors.

As for the rematch, no one knows whether Sonny took a dive. There are some who think Sonny believed that supporters of Malcolm X would try to avenge his murder by shooting Ali during the fight, and Sonny was afraid of getting shot in the process. There were also rumors that the Nation of Islam threatened Sonny if he didn’t take a dive. But here are some things to consider:


1. Early in round one, Ali nailed Liston with a clean, hard right. Liston just shook it off and kept coming. Would’ve been a perfect time to go down without rousing any suspicion if Sonny wanted to take a dive.

2. He instead ended up going down from what many called a “phantom punch”. But the -slo-mo relays showed there was definitely a punch. Granted, Ali was moving backward and his feet were not set and it traveled only a short distance. But what no one seems to notice is that he knocked down Cleveland Williams with a very similar punch—while moving backward— a few years later.

3. Sonny was connected to the mob. Would the mob have just let the Nation Of Islam muscle in and threaten their guy with no retaliation or power struggle?

4. Sonny got up and continued to fight. Unfortunately, the Ring magazine founder/editor Nat Fleischer called out to referee Jersey Joe Walcott to inform him that Liston had been down 10 seconds and Walcott then stopped it. As a member of the media myself, I know that I am there to cover an event, not influence it’s outcome.

I don’t care who he was, Fleischer was way out of line and Walcott just as bad for listening to him. Just as bad—incredible, really— is the fact that neither of them understood a basic rule of boxing. It didn’t matter how long Liston was on the canvas, the count doesn’t start until the other fighter goes to a neutral corner.


And Ali had stood over Liston screaming for him to get up, so Walcott correctly waited to begin the count, never reached ten—and then got talked into retroactively stepping in. Somehow, no one ever talks about that.

As to whether Liston, had he not been wrongly counted out, could’ve come back to win, think about this: in the first fight, when Ali was blinded in Round 5, Liston landed 30 power punches, according to Compubox, and couldn’t knock him out, or even hurt him. The rest of the time, he couldn’t catch up to Ali, landing only 6 1/2 power punches per round (and that includes body shots). So how exactly was he going to beat Ali?

June 5-(Update) Something occurred to me as I just watched the fight for the umpteenth time. After Liston gets up, Ali comes at him firing combinations, looking to finish him. Liston repeatedly ducks and makes Ali miss. If he wants to throw the fight, there’s another chance to do it right there. And he didn’t. And he had no way of knowing that Walcott would suddenly come back and stop the fight. So Liston was in there trying to survive.

July 26-(Update) I recently read , in “Compubox: Muhammad Ali By the Numbers”, where they quoted Nat Fleischer as saying he did not tell Walcott the fight was over. “I merely aided in bringing Walcott over to the official knockdown timer,” he claimed. But Walcott disagreed, saying “ I looked at him (Fleischer) and he said, ‘that’s right, the fight’s over. ‘


Leave a Comment