Little Larry Merchant

By Paul Gallender on July 23, 2015
Little Larry Merchant
Joe Louis compared Ali’s “knockout punch” to “throwing cornflakes at a battleship.”

For a celebratory parade to honor the new champ, Merchant suggested they use “shredded warrants of arrest for confetti…”

What kind of man harbors a grudge against a man who did nothing to him, and who’s been dead for almost 45 years? I’d say that person is a pathetic excuse for a man who never conquered his childhood insecurities.

Many years ago, a funny looking kid named Larry Merchant was born into a world that scared him to death. Short in stature and soft in form, the only remarkable thing about him was the size of his head. It was much too big for his body and there never was a day when a boy or girl didn’t laugh at him. He cried a lot, because, after all, there was nothing he could do about his physical deformity or his small stature. Everyone knew him as Little Larry.

There wasn’t much to like about Little Larry. Life was unfair to him and he vowed that someday—SOMEDAY—he would be the one to dish out the abuse. He would be proud of his Napoleon Complex. Even prouder than Napoleon himself!

Little Larry’s brain wasn’t as big as his oversized head might suggest, but he was smart enough to succeed academically in high school and college. He even played some sports. Unfortunately, the girls never stopped laughing at him, nor would they ever see him as anything more than a pompous, insecure, vindictive guy with a large head that always made them laugh. Occasionally, a girl would feel sorry for him but only because her head was almost as big as his.

Little Larry decided that sports journalism would provide him with the weapon he needed to pay the world back for the way it treated him. After all, sportswriters get to editorialize about people and things without having to justify their opinions. Creating controversy is what gets sportswriters the notoriety they crave but it doesn’t get them the respect of their peers or the athletes they cover.

Sportswriters can insult others all they want, in much the same way that conservative talk show hosts do. Say something, repeat it often enough, and people, especially the ones who choose not to think for themselves, accept it as fact.

So, Little Larry decided to attack the athletes he covered. And the bigger they were, the better! That would show all of those kids that there was a lot more to Little Larry Merchant than just a disagreeable kid with a big head. And it would show the athletes of the world that no matter how highly skilled or tough they were, they were no match him. The pen is mightier than the sword! And Little Larry felt his pen was even a lot bigger than his head.

Little Larry was writing for a Philadelphia newspaper when Charles “Sonny” Liston moved to the City of Brotherly Love. There had never been anybody tougher than Liston and Little Larry knew it. Sonny had served two jail sentences and the mob had their hooks into him. Of course, the mob had their hooks into most other big-name fighters and Sonny couldn’t get rid of the mob any more than Little Larry could get rid of his big head.

Their first meeting was a disaster. Liston looked right through Merchant and knew instantly that he was a weak, spiteful, and generally poor excuse for a man. Liston was good at sizing up people and he had Merchant’s number. Little Larry left Sonny’s gym so scared that he immediately developed an abiding, lifelong hatred for this big, black man. If Sonny Liston had actually taken a step in Little Larry’s direction, he may have soiled himself. From that day forth, Little Larry Merchant made Sonny Liston his own imaginary punching bag. Little Larry couldn’t actually move the bag, but punching bags don’t punch back.

For the first time in his life, Merchant’s peers looked upon him with a modicum of respect. They saw that the guy with the big head was “taking on” the toughest man on the planet. The fact that most of the city’s sportswriters were also opinionated cowards didn’t diminish the feeling of self-worth that Little Larry experienced. It coursed through his veins like a sort of life-giving elixir. He was ready to take on The Bear. Well, almost.

When Liston came to Merchant’s newspaper to confront the writer about a particularly insulting article, Little Larry ran out the rear exit as fast as his little legs would carry him. He lacked the courage to defend his opinions and statements in person so he took the coward’s way out. And, make no mistake about it, Little Larry Merchant has always been a big coward.

Sonny Liston lived in Philadelphia when he beat Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship of the world. For some reason, Merchant was beside himself with grief and anger. “So it is true,” wrote Little Larry, “in a fair fight between good and evil, evil must win.” For a celebratory parade to honor the new champ, he suggested they use “shredded warrants of arrest for confetti.”

Years after Liston was murdered, Merchant was more venomous than ever in describing the man who was universally loved by children. “Let’s be clear on one thing that cannot be up for debate,” insisted Little Larry. “He was the meanest, rudest, bullying, most unpleasant prick I have ever been around.” Some kids never get over the fears they faced as a child and Merchant is certainly one of them. Come to think about it, when Merchant first met Sonny Liston in person, maybe Little Larry soiled himself after all.

Little Larry simply will not let Sonny Liston rest in peace. More than 44 years after Liston’s passing, the little guy with the big head is still at it. A long article in the New Yorker on the Mayweather/Pacquiao bout devoted 71 words to the mystery of the second Ali-Liston fight in Lewiston, Maine. Predictably, Little Larry took the opportunity to give his personal opinion of what happened in that fight in a letter to the editor. Remarkably, the New Yorker printed it.

Back on May 25, 1965, Joe Louis compared Ali’s “knockout punch” to “throwing cornflakes at a battleship,” but, hey, what did the heck did the Brown Bomber know about punching? Little Larry knows with certainty that Sonny Liston didn’t throw that fight.

Little Larry Merchant doesn’t know squat. He is an embarrassment to the boxing press and he always has been. Just ask Floyd Mayweather about it. He’ll probably say I’ve been much too kind to the pathetic little old guy with the big head. If I ever meet Little Larry in person, that won’t be the case.

Paul Gallender is the author of Sonny Liston—The Real Story Behind the Ali-Liston Fights. He is currently working on a sequel.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Sonny Liston vs Floyd Patterson I

Sonny Liston vs Floyd Patterson II

Sonny Liston vs Muhammad Ali I

Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston II - 1965

Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles


This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. andrew 07:02pm, 07/27/2015

    Liston is my all time favourite but Joe Masterleo is spot on in noting Little Paul Gallender’s sick obsession with him.

  2. Clarence George 05:25pm, 07/27/2015

    “An aids infected penis”?  Good heavens, Norm, me auld son!  The Mütter Museum immediately leaped to mind…and stomach.

    I have the sneaking suspicion that all hell is about to break loose here, so I’m going to return to “WWE Monday Night Raw.”  Paige is in the ring, and she’s the sexiest of the Divas.

  3. Joe Masterleo 04:30pm, 07/27/2015

    Mr. Gallender, just when I think your fascination (love affair?) with Liston has maxed itself out, incredibly, you take it to more absurd heights, to the point of forfeiting your credibility as a writer. I dare say your have it backwards, as your thesis continues to be that anyone and everyone,  (the latest casualty of your blind spot being Merchant) who does not share the same passionate viewpoint on Liston as you, should be flayed, drawn and quartered. Why, your judgement on the man is so extraordinarily eclipsed as to qualify as an obsession, if not a mania.  Not to worry, there are indeed places for thinkers like you in boxing.  Who knows? Such myopia may one day even qualify you for the position of boxing judge.

  4. Norman Marcus 03:45pm, 07/27/2015

    Clarence: There is much confusion over a boxers hands being registered as deadly weapons. in some states judges have ruled so. In other states judges have thrown such charges out. Of course the boxer could be charged with simple assault but so could your ex wife or granny. The point being that it varies from state to state and judge to judge. Usually a judge will throw such charges out because the hands are a part of a persons anatomy not an object such as a knife, gun,  iron bar or wrench.
    Recently an aids infected penis was ruled a deadly weapon in a court case. That is on appeal however as we speak.
    By the way do you think Liston would really care about being charged with assault after he had the satisfaction of wringing Larry’s neck? A good lawyer, shrink, a 500 hours of community service and Sonny would walk. They spin anything if you have enough cash!

  5. Clarence George 02:03pm, 07/27/2015

    I have nothing more to say on Paul’s article, per se, but a word or two on fight or flight (well, flight) when confronted by a heavyweight hellbent on chastisement. 

    A heaping helping of trepidation is the natural reaction, of course.  I mean, have you ever met one of these guys up close and personal?  And Sonny Liston was unusually imposing and had an exceptionally fearsome reputation.  But there’s probably no cause for concern, regardless of the extent of the intimidation.  A pro boxer’s hands are considered deadly weapons under the law.  If he uses them outside the ring (except in cases of explicit self-defense), he’ll find himself in the hottest of legal hot waters, both criminal and civil.

    Remember, for example, what happened when pro wrestler David Schultz hit John Stossel.  The reporter sued the WWF (now the WWE), and won an award totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And that was some 30 years ago.

    What would Liston do to Larry Merchant?  Loom over him, sure, but probably too smart to do anything else, as Merchant would surely know.

  6. Norm Marcus 01:05pm, 07/27/2015

    Paul: I always enjoy your stories on Liston. But this piece on Larry Merchant is too scary for me. I’ll be honest with you, if Sonny Liston was pissed at me and entered the elevator on his way up to see me? I’d be on my way out the back door too.
    In the Marine Corps its called a strategic retreat. Holding the line is one thing but taking on a fella as big as a Sherman tank is another!
    There was only one Audie Murphy and maybe thats why he was the most decorated soldier in WWII!!!

  7. NYIrish 05:07am, 07/25/2015

    Undignified for a writer to “show his ass” in such a manner.

  8. Ka-Boing! 07:20pm, 07/24/2015

    This is a style issue, not a content issue.  An attack on someone’s conduct comes off one way. We judge it by its merits. An attack on someone’s appearance comes off another way, and not favorably.  There are only so many times you can mock someone’s body within 800 words and not come off as an A-hole.  In someone else’s voice, with someone else’s taste, this could have been a good, sharp hit piece.

  9. Robert Ecksel 12:17pm, 07/24/2015

    Jim Crue—There are plenty of comments taking Gallender to task, yet only one comment was deleted. Has the person who made that comment been abused in some way? Or is it possible that only so much vitriol, which in this case is all over the place, is acceptable? I’m not sure how much derangement is too much derangement, but the person who monitors the comments must have reached the breaking point.

  10. Robert Ecksel 12:03pm, 07/24/2015

    Thanks AKT. Much appreciated.

  11. AKT 10:50am, 07/24/2015

    If anyone ever needed any proof that is completely and utterly unbiased, here you go ...

    Robert, I really respect that. Well done.
    Robert Ecksel 05:14pm, 07/23/2015
    I like Larry Merchant. Growing up in Philly as a kid, I read him religiously when he wrote for the Daily News. Merchant showed me how to think, that it was possible to think about, and not just react to boxing. I’ve spent some time with him over the years and he has always been gracious. But I know where Paul’s coming from and he’s as entitled to his opinion as anyone else. Things are too far gone for simple bromides like right or wrong, terms whose elasticity has replaced meaningful meaning. If we start censoring work or censuring writers, what do we get? We get a pathetic little Bantustan run by a two-bit dictator who’s as full of himself as he’s full of shit. I’m not up for that. But there’s one thing I’ll say in defense of Paul Gallender. He’s confident enough to not get defensive when the wolves are at the door..

  12. Jim Crue 09:54am, 07/24/2015

    the owner of this site.
    Why do you keep deleting Ray Mc Cormack’s comment?
    You let this guy run off about Merchant but delete a counter punch.

  13. Aztec Warrior 12:21am, 07/24/2015

    Wow ! At least eight references regarding Larry’s cranium. Sheesh, Paul you really do dislike the man.

  14. Paul Gallender 09:21pm, 07/23/2015

    For the record, I’m 5’6”.

  15. andrew 08:30pm, 07/23/2015

    I think it is pathetic to belittle anyone for their physical traits. None of you bullies come close to Little Larry’s talent and none of you will ever achieve close to his recognition. Haters.

  16. Ted Sares 05:29pm, 07/23/2015

    My final post on this article unless I need to defend what I have said in defense of Paul:

  17. Eric 05:28pm, 07/23/2015

    All this talk about Larry Merchant’s height made me curious about how tall or short is Larry Merchant. Merchant is listed at 5’5,” that would put him at eye level with the NFL’s shortest player, Trindon Holliday. However, I doubt the 84-year old Merchant can manage a 4.2 in the 40 or bench press 225lbs for 10 reps. You have to wonder if the pen is actually more powerful than the sword, most people would rather face a lion than to face public ridicule. I’ve heard/read that Liston couldn’t read or at least not read very well, maybe Merchant viewed the hulking Liston as easy prey outside of the boxing ring. The “little guy” gets a chance to bully the baddest man on the planet. Has to be every “little guy’s” biggest fantasy.

  18. Ted Sares 05:24pm, 07/23/2015

    By the way, KB is Kid Blast and Kid Blast is Ted Sares

  19. kb 05:23pm, 07/23/2015

    This is what I wrote about Sonny (and it support Paul):


    A British sportswriter cruelly said about Liston: “Sometimes he takes so long to answer a question, and has so much difficulty in finding the word he wants to use, that it’s rather like a long-distance telephone call in a foreign language.”—“King of the World” by David Remnick, December 15, 1998

    One particularly incident has always stayed with me. Despite protests by the NAACP, who felt that Sonny was a thug and that his reputation was detrimental to the civil rights movement, he went ahead with his first fight with “good guy” Floyd Patterson—an event that was more a morality play than an athletic contest. The fight took place in 1962 in Chicago and lasted a little over two minutes with Sonny winning by a KO. When he returned to Philadelphia, his adopted hometown, there were few people to greet him at the airport and this cut him to the bone.

    Larry Merchant, Philadelphia Daily News sports editor at the time, wrote: “A celebration for Philadelphia’s first heavyweight champ is now in order…Emily Post would probably recommend a ticker-tape parade. For confetti we can use shredded warrants of arrest.” Even back then, the diminutive Merchant’s penchant for caustic and mean-spitted comments was alive and well.

    Shredded warrants or not, no one could controvert Liston’s achievements in the ring after he paid his debts to society. Along his fistic journey, Sonny beat Bert Whitehurst, Zora Folley, Eddie Machen, Roy Harris, Willi Besmanoff, Cleveland Williams, Henry Clark, Nino Valdes, and, of course, heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson twice. After his two losses to Ali (at least one of which remains highly controversial), he would go on to win fifteen of his last sixteen fights over a period of four years.

  20. KB 05:20pm, 07/23/2015

    But Liston, because of his past, had become fair game for many writers and judgmental moralists who always launched their attacks from a safe distance. Bad guy Liston was portrayed as the perfect foil for good guy Patterson. Patterson was the champion of the times—pleasant to reporters, a conformist, devout, and politically correct. “Liston was an illiterate brute and a thug.” Patterson was liked by the press for being cooperative, polite, and accommodating. Perhaps the press subconsciously liked him because he “knew his place.”

    Liston, on the other hand, spoke his mind. Words like surly, suspicious, brazen, non-apologetic, semiliterate, bad, mean, dark, and thuggish were used when describing Sonny.

  21. Robert Ecksel 05:14pm, 07/23/2015

    I like Larry Merchant. Growing up in Philly as a kid, I read him religiously when he wrote for the Daily News. Merchant showed me how to think, that it was possible to think about, and not just react to boxing. I’ve spent some time with him over the years and he has always been gracious. But I know where Paul’s coming from and he’s as entitled to his opinion as anyone else. Things are too far gone for simple bromides like right or wrong, terms whose elasticity has replaced meaningful meaning. If we start censoring work or censuring writers, what do we get? We get a pathetic little Bantustan run by a two-bit dictator who’s as full of himself as he’s full of shit. I’m not up for that. But there’s one thing I’ll say in defense of Paul Gallender. He’s confident enough to not get defensive when the wolves are at the door..

  22. KB 05:05pm, 07/23/2015

    I’m with Paul on this one. Moreover, it seems that every time something is said in a negative way about one of the native New York types, righteous indignation comes marching out like clockwork. I know all about Larry’s football days at—Erasmus I believe—big deal. The guy went after Liston with pure venom. I wrote about myself in different publications. He reminded me of the type of guy who was smart enough to know what would make people laugh or smirk, and then would write about it from a bully pulpit.

    In retrospect, I have come to appreciate Merchant a bit more given Max’s horrible interviewing skills and I also like his recommended solutions to the PED mess,  but Larry was and is no saint IMO.

  23. Paul Gallender 03:33pm, 07/23/2015

    I’m only responding in kind to the way Merchant treated Sonny Liston and continues to treat him. Pompous jerks like Merchant can dish it out but they usually can’t take it. There was nothing even remotely fair about his treatment of Sonny. Liston was no saint and he never claimed to be. But apart from most writers and law enforcers, everybody who knew him seemed to think very highly of the man. Sonny didn’t like people who disrespected him and neither do I. Think what you will of me and write what you will, but, unlike Merchant, I value the truth.

  24. peter 02:54pm, 07/23/2015

    I’m surprised that this slanderous article saw the light of day on The unhappy author wrote a contentious article riddled with angry rumination and larded with unsubstantiated claims—but very few facts…I would not be surprised if Larry Merchant could actually kick this writer’s ass. (I once played on a softball team with “Little” Mike Lupica, the author—The Writers against The Painters. “Little” Mike Lupica—our shortstop—was the best athlete on both teams.  I would pay to see Merchant give Gallender a well-deserved ass-whipping—after a well-deserved tonge-lashing.)

  25. Magoon 01:49pm, 07/23/2015

    Nasty. The kind of stuff you read on the walls of the boys’ bathroom. Mr. Gallender comes across like a really vicious schoolyard bully. And the same is true of some of the commenters here. At least others are speaking up for decency.

  26. tony 01:36pm, 07/23/2015

    This writer appears to be a little kid, but googling his name shows him to be suffering from second childhood. His accusations of Merchant is like describing himself, who thinks he’s a perfect human specimen.

  27. Bob 12:31pm, 07/23/2015

    The author seems to suffer from the same malady that he accuses Larry Merchant and other “notoriety seeking sportswriters” of having. Everything he accuses Merchant of he is guilty of here, especially the inveterate name calling and presumptions about Merchant’s childhood and character. The entire Little Larry schtick is wearisome. I don’t see the sense in attacking one writer by engaging in the same behaviors he accuses the target of possessing. This could have been a more interesting piece if it was not written in such a spiteful, vitriolic manner.

  28. KB 12:10pm, 07/23/2015

    or worse

  29. KB 11:29am, 07/23/2015

    Eric, Ron Borges, swine extraordinaire, is known for his contentiousness but some day he will be sent to “cut and paste ” dreamland. Most of these scribes are puny nerds who smelled used jockstraps in the HS locker room,

  30. Eric 08:52am, 07/23/2015

    This made me think of an incident that I read about Larry Holmes and Dick Young. Holmes said the 68-year old Young was calling him names, and making an arse out of himself while watching Holmes train for the Holmes-Spinks rematch at the Hilton Hotel & Casino. It got so bad that Holmes had to ask security to remove Young. I can see how someone like Holmes or Liston would be easy not to like, but I certainly wouldn’t want to take it to a personal level with either of these very large men. Always amazes me that some guy actually wants to piss off a man as tough as the heavyweight champion. “Napoleon Complex?” Could be, but wasn’t Napoleon about average height for his time?

  31. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:23am, 07/23/2015

    Keep it up, I think it’s working….it won’t be long before Merchant will be the one who was flat on his back in Lewiston all those years ago. It’ll take a little more seasoning though, because whatever put Liston on his ass and for whatever reason, might have caused Merchant to evacuate his bowels but it damn sure wasn’t enough to dent even “little Larry’s” chin whiskers.

  32. KB 07:38am, 07/23/2015

    Merchant did not know how to do that. He was a mean-spirited runt who disliked real warriors. His verbal disembowelment of Courage Tshabalala was so intense as to be almost orgasmic. Can you imagine what he would do with a Tor Hammer?

  33. Clarence George 07:26am, 07/23/2015

    There can be a great deal of satisfaction in penning a vitriol-filled letter.

    And then tearing it up.

  34. KB 07:15am, 07/23/2015

    Great piece Paul. The confetti episode was just one in a series of cruel acts for this diminutive prick with the little guy tude. Didn’t Randy Newman say something about guys like him?

  35. KB 06:30am, 07/23/2015

    Mean spirited and insensitive. Hateful keyboard warrior deluxe.

Leave a comment