Best Heavyweight Jab?

By Paul Gallender on November 20, 2013
Best Heavyweight Jab?
Sonny had learned on the streets and in jail that you couldn't survive without a good jab.

Great fighters have great jabs. The most basic of all punches, a jab stings but it rarely wounds. It’s as much a defensive weapon as it is an offensive one because it’s hard for an opponent to mount an attack when a jab is always in his face. Mike Tyson learned that the hard way against Buster Douglas whose jab, for one memorable night at least, made him look like a great fighter.

I’m amused when I read that Sonny Liston had one of the best jabs in history. Say what you will about the jabs of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and Larry Holmes, but their jabs didn’t come close to being the weapon that Liston’s was.

Trainer Johnny Tocco saw Sonny knock guys out with a single jab. Angelo Dundee saw Liston knock people’s teeth out with his jab and likened it to a battering ram. Rocky Marciano speculated that being hit with it was like running into a boxcar or a trailer truck.

“I developed that jab myself,” Sonny said. “I jab wherever his head is. I jab to hurt. That’s all.” His sparring partners called it the Cannon and its impact was fueled by his massive 15½-inch fists and incredible 84-inch reach. “His jab always lands around the temple,” said sparring partner Ben Skelton, who worked with 11 heavyweight and light heavyweight champions. “I’ve never felt a punch to equal it, and that includes Joe Louis.”

Sonny had learned on the streets and in jail that you couldn’t survive without a good jab. “Man, you don’t hit first there, you don’t hit,” he would say. “Keep poppin’ that jab right to the middle of the forehead and the other guy can’t punch right because he’s never got the balance to punch right.”

In his book, My Life Story, Joe Louis counseled young boxers to jab through their target rather than at it. Liston went Louis one better by bludgeoning his opponents with it. When asked how he would have fought Sonny, Joe said: “Well, I wouldn’t have jabbed with him.”

“He knocked me out with a right but it was that left jab that did the original damage,” said Cleveland Williams. “The left jab numbed me.” Chuck Wepner was Liston’s final opponent and claimed he heard his bone shattering when Sonny’s jab landed. Ray Schoeninger sparred with Liston in Denver in the mid-1960s and said the stitching in his headgear came apart when Sonny hit him. “He shattered my teeth. He knocked my shoulder out of place. Hey, I lost three teeth when he hit me with a jab wearing 20-ounce gloves. He knocked me on my ass from a foot away,” said Schoeninger.

A jab stings but it rarely wounds. Liston’s jab was the exception to that rule. More to the point, Sonny’s jab was the rule.

Paul Gallender is the author of Sonny Liston – The Real Story Behind the Ali-Liston Fights.

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  1. Tex Hassler 06:39pm, 05/23/2015

    Either Liston or Joe Louis had the hardest jab ever thrown.  If you know any thing about boxing history do not judge Liston by the fights he had on the tail end of his career. He beat most of the top contenders before he got a title fight that he should have had years before. Liston through 1963 was a truly great fighter. He should not be forgotten.

  2. Paul Gallender 01:11pm, 05/03/2014

    I’ve thought that way for many years, Mike. It’s what motivated me to write my biography of Sonny.

  3. Mike 09:41am, 05/03/2014

    I Watch a Liston Video last Night , never watch a liston fight , and at the moment i thinking he is the best heavyweight ever

  4. Paul Gallender 10:07am, 11/27/2013

    Hard to believe it took six days for anybody to react in a positive way to this article. You’re right, George. No boxer ever had a body like Sonny’s. Look at his back muscles! His Las Vegas sparring partner, Gary Bates, told me that the muscles in Sonny’s hands were as well defined as all of his other muscles. I too have described Liston as a freak of nature but I don’t think he would have taken kindly to that description. Good list, Steve. But like Joe Louis said, he wouldn’t have jabbed with Sonny.

  5. Steve Vercelli 08:42am, 11/27/2013

    1)-Joe Louis. Watch the Max Baer fight. Louis carved faces with his jab. He also had the most underrated left hook in heavyweight history.
    2)-Sonny Liston. The reach, combined with evil intent. The only criticism: It looked to be “flicked” at times. I’m sure, however, that they didn’t FEEL flicked.
    3)-Larry Holmes. It was like a piston: Flashing out in force, and snapped back like his fist was on a spring.
    4)-George Foreman. Clubbing, brute force. Accuracy and clumsiness were drawbacks at times. But that uppercut…with EITHER hand….THAT’S why Ali beat him: Uppercuts from a distance were next to useless against Ali. And the uppercut was Foreman’s most frightening weapon.
    5)-Muhammad Ali. Flicking, persistent, but lacking the brute force of the 1st 4.
    6)-Gene Tunney. Watch the way he threw it. It had an almost upward trajectory. It was deadly accurate. He busted up some great fighters with that jab.

  6. George 07:26am, 11/27/2013

    I agree

    This combination of Brutal Power , solid Speed , 84 inch reach and technic is unmatched up today in Bowe / Lewis / Klitschko era

    Look Listons arms , Klitschko or Lewis looks like a Child In contrast.
    They are bigger men but not stronger.

    Listons arms have Schwarzenegger style , look that pic , hell
    what a freak of nature



  7. Paul Gallender 09:57pm, 11/23/2013

    Liston’s fists measured 15 1/2 inches. Guys, there are a lot of things that were said or written about Sonny that were flat-out wrong. Listing his fists as 14” was one of those.

  8. Jason 05:48pm, 11/23/2013

    Eric, I’ve also read accounts of how Liston’s hands have grown since his death.

    Ted, yes Holmes, and, of course, Ali’s jab was a beautiful thing as well.

    Hell, I thought Tyrell Biggs had a great jab, it’s just that the rest of him tended to fall apart.

  9. Eric 04:56pm, 11/21/2013

    George Foreman had a pretty devasting jab himself. Liston’s fists get bigger every time I read about him. Used to be Sonny’s fists were routinely listed at 14” and now they’ve grown to 15 1/2”? That’s larger than a great deal of fighter’s calves and biceps. I don’t even think I recall even Primo Carnera’s fist measurement ever exceeding or even reaching 15”.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:38am, 11/21/2013

    If his jab was all that he should have been able to KO Big Cat with it alone because Williams was one of the all time chinny overachievers in boxing history. Which reminds me…Leotis Martin performed a bully beat down on Liston only eclipsed by Buster Douglas’ public service conducted on Tyson some years later in Japan. One more thing….WTF is a six foot tall fighter doing with an 84” reach and a 16” fist any Godammed way?

  11. Mike Casey 08:26am, 11/21/2013

    Did you call, my dear Watson?

  12. Ted 08:07am, 11/21/2013


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