Ghosts of Miami

By Robert Ecksel on February 24, 2014
Ghosts of Miami
Jumping to conclusions, however satisfying, isn't always the shortest distance to the truth.

The FBI isn’t infallible, no more infallible than Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston.

On this the 50th anniversary of Cassius Clay’s defeat of Sonny Liston on Feb. 25, 1964, at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the Washington Times, known derisively as the Moonie newspaper, published a series of FBI memos it acquired under the Freedom of Information Act detailing the FBI’s suspicions that the fight may not have been legit.

The memos reveal that the FBI believed Ash Resnick, a Las Vegas gambler knee-deep in organized crime, may have fixed the fight between Clay and Liston.

Before allegations of this sort are accepted as truth, one must consider the source, or in this case the sources, which include the FBI; a newspaper bankrolled by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the cult leader with presumptive ties to the Korean CIA; and the mob, where self-mythologizing is as commonplace as loansharking.

To bolster their claim that Liston took a dive, an FBI memo dated May 24, 1966, details an interview with a Houston gambler named Barnett Magids, who described an alleged conversation with Resnick before the Clay-Liston fight.

“On one occasion,” according to the memo, “Resnick introduced Magids to Sonny Liston at the Thunderbird. About a week before the Liston and Clay fight in Miami, Resnick called and invited Magids and his wife for two weeks in Florida on Resnick. Magids’ wife was not interested in going, but Magids decided to go along, and Resnick was going to send him a ticket.

“Two or three days before the fight, Magids called Resnick at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami to say he could not come. On this call, he asked Resnick who he liked in the fight, and Resnick said that Liston would knock Clay out in the second round. Resnick suggested he wait until just before the fight to place any bets because the odds may come down.

“At about noon on the day of the fight, [Magids] reached Resnick again by phone, and at this time, Resnick said for him to not make any bets, but just go watch the fight on pay TV and he would know why and that he could not talk further at that time.

“Magids did go see the fight on TV and immediately realized that Resnick knew that Liston was going to lose. A week later, there was an article in Sports Illustrated writing up Resnick as a big loser because of his backing of Liston. Later people ‘in the know’ in Las Vegas told Magids that Resnick and Liston both reportedly made over $1 million betting against Liston on the fight and that the magazine article was a cover for this.”

There are many reasons that Resnick and Liston might have thought that Sonny would lose, and not all of them are connected to gambling. Jumping to conclusions, however satisfying to absolutists seeking answers, isn’t always the shortest distance to the truth.

Liston claimed he hurt his shoulder in the first round, a diagnosis reportedly confirmed by a Miami Beach Boxing Commission doctor who discovered a torn tendon in his left shoulder. A Florida State Attorney fronted a post-fight investigation which agreed that Liston was injured, but questioned the timeline. Despite the discrepancy, he decided the evidence was inconclusive and that the fight was “completely regular.”

The Miami Beach Boxing Commission investigated the fight, found “no wrongdoing” and let Liston collect his $370,000 purse. Three months later, a US Senate subcommittee also conducted hearings and concluded that Liston didn’t go into the soup.

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  1. sonnylistonmichael77 10:33pm, 02/28/2014

    Liston never collected his purse that’s fact number 1 second the odds drop which I have 100 per cent concrete proof third do you people ever read both sides of an issue. According to the FBI rap sheet there is Not One conviction for strong arming   It’s suspicion of , but I guess I guess they got that wrong also. And the moonie paper please, you can’t go better than that.  Liston never got paid for that fight that is a undeniable fact.

  2. kid vegas 01:25pm, 02/26/2014

    Mafia? What’s that?

  3. Mike Casey 12:25pm, 02/25/2014

    Let us not forget that J Edgar Hoover and his boys refused to believe there was such a thing as the Mafia. They weren’t always on the ball.

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