Boxing by the Book: “The Real Story Behind the Ali-Liston Fights”

By Norman Marcus on September 19, 2012
Boxing by the Book: “The Real Story Behind the Ali-Liston Fights”
“I can do something good for somebody else. I will be a decent, respectable champion.”

Paul Gallender’s new book reveals the real deal on Charles “Sonny” Liston. It also opens one’s eyes to the real Muhammad Ali…

“No athlete was ever vilified more viciously and unfairly than Sonny Liston. Among other things, Liston was called an inferior Negro, less than human, slow-thinking, a primitive in a primitive profession, a latter-day caveman, a savage, glaring eyed gorilla, a rogue elephant, a congenital thug, a cop hater and stronger than a yoke of oxen and just as dumb.”—From “Sonny Liston – The Real Story Behind the Ali-Liston Fights”

Paul Gallender, author of “Sonny Liston – The Real Story Behind the Ali-Liston Fights,” takes us behind the scenes to show us what really happened in the fight game during the early sixties. Liston and Ali squared off during the start of the Civil Rights Era and the Vietnam War. It is a story that has never been told from a boxing point of view.

I caught up with Paul by phone in Monterey, California recently. Here is a guy who spent thirty years researching and writing a book about a man that even today few want to talk about, Charles “Sonny” Liston. The author only saw Liston once in person, at the Main Street Gym in L.A. in 1968. The book has literally a thousand footnotes to back up his facts and conclusions. Paul told me in a nice way, “I own Sonny Liston. Anyone who wants to know anything about him has to come to me.” Liston was not a beloved character the way Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) was. He served time in prison for armed robbery and had other scrapes with the law. Some of his friends, however, say most of his police record could be described as good old police harassment.

Liston’s troubles started in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, and followed him to Philadelphia where his boxing career really started to take off. So I guess you can count Liston as another of those special Philly fighters.

So extensive and intense was Gallender’s research that he got to know more about Sonny Liston than even the boxer’s own family. The author described Sonny as a gentle giant. Because of his background, he was wary of people he didn’t know but very warm with people he trusted. He was hard to get an autograph from unless you were a little kid. Sonny loved children and he of course loved grown women too. His wife Geraldine used to say, “Ain’t no man married when he ain’t home.” But his wife stuck with the champ until the day he died.

Liston took great pride in being heavyweight champion of the world. He would tell friends, “I have reached my goal as heavyweight champion. When you reach your goal, you represent something and you have a responsibility to live up to it. As champion, I can do something good for somebody else… I will be a decent, respectable champion. If the public allows me the chance to let bygones be bygones, I’ll be a worthy champ. If they’ll accept me, I’ll prove it to them.”

Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammed Ali, was another story. While Liston had a good side, people didn’t know about it. Clay had a bad side but it was over looked by a friendly press. He loved to harass Liston whenever he bumped into him. At a restaurant, bar or on the lawn of Sonny’s house in the middle of the night, Cassius played head games with him and the media. “Where do you think I would be next week if I didn’t know how to holler and make the public sit up and take notice?,” Clay asked. “I would be poor for one thing, and I would probably be down in Louisville, Kentucky, my home town, washing windows or running an elevator.” (Ali used the same insulting tactics preceding his fights with Joe Frazier, who never fully forgave him.) On the Vietnam War Ali said, “Elijah Muhammad told me that I can’t go. I’m afraid, Ray (Robinson), I’m really afraid.” About integration and brotherhood he remarked, “I believe the important thing is knowing where you belong and where you don’t belong. He’s heavyweight champion and he’s catching hell because he wants to integrate. I want to be with my people, and I’m catching more hell than he is.”

Ali had a mean streak hidden behind all the jokes. For example, later in his career, when he fought Floyd Patterson on September 20, 1972 at Madison Square Garden, he carried Floyd and prolonged the action so as to inflict more punishment on the former champion. Ali considered Patterson, who insisted on calling him by his “slave name,” an “Uncle Tom.” The fight was finally stopped “on cuts” to Patterson’s eyes. It was a RTD7 for Ali, but he could have ended it much sooner if he had wanted.

During the first Liston-Ali fight at the Convention Hall in Miami Beach on February 25, 1964, Sonny had a bad left shoulder. He had gone to see Joe Louis’s doctor who treated him for bursitis, but there wasn’t enough time for the treatment to work. Sonny was around forty-five years old at the time, which was a well kept secret, and old men like Sonny just healed more slowly. He asked the Florida Boxing Commission for a postponement of the fight. He was turned down and fought the six rounds with the damaged left shoulder, which he completely tore up during the fight. He had no jab and no left hook that night because of it. He didn’t have a chance against the young healthy Cassius Clay. It was a RTD6 for the new champ. Soon after the fight, which was ranked the 1964 Fight of the Year by The Ring Magazine, Clay changed his name to Cassius X and finally to Muhammad Ali.

In the second fight at St. Dominic’s Hall in Lewiston, Maine, on May 25, 1965 a really bizarre situation developed.  According to Gallender, Malcolm X’s people had a hit out on Ali (Ali sided with the rival Elijah Muhammad). Elijah’s Black Muslims kidnapped Geraldine Liston and Liston’s son Bobby. Sonny was told to lose the fight to Ali or he would never see his family again! The fight lasted one round with Liston going down from the famous “Phantom Punch.” Did a “phantom punch” KO Liston? Did the Black Muslims release Geraldine and Bobby? Did Sonny just “go in the tank” to save them?

You’ll have to buy the book to find out the rest. I’ve told you too much already!

“One day you are the king,” Liston told the press. “Your friends, or guys you think are your friends, are all around you. They give you, ‘Yes, champ; no, champ; you got no worries, champ, they said the day before… Then all of a sudden you’re not the champ and you are alone. The guys with the big mouths are talking about you, not to you, and what they say isn’t what they said they day before. It’s a big price to pay.”

Paul Gallender’s new book is a well paced story that has all that you need to know about these two fights. It reveals the real deal on Charles “Sonny” Liston. It also opens one’s eyes to the real Muhammad Ali.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Sonny Liston vs Cassius Clay (Original)

Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston II (1965) [FULL FIGHT]

Muhammad Ali Telling it like it is

Sonny Liston Interview - Rare

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  1. Carlostelf 07:47pm, 08/28/2015

    Heinz was one of the greatest sportswriters in history, and the Book of Boxing is a collection of stories put together by Heinz and Nathan Ward, covering boxing in literature across many different eras and generations.

  2. Steve R 02:36am, 07/20/2014

    Conrad and Dana…all the more reason why the development of computer simulation would be so beneficial…it could potentially give us the answers to such lofty philosophical inquiries e.g. Liston vs Frazier!! Would love to see this happen in my lifetime!!

  3. Dana Preis 06:48pm, 07/19/2014

    Steve, With all due respect, I’m with Conrad on this one….

  4. Steve R 03:21pm, 07/19/2014

    Wouldn’t it be something if computer technology progressed to the point where we could have simulated bouts that would literally bring the fighters back as they actually were during their respective career peaks!! (Forget that Ali-Marciano fiasco back in the late 60’s—that was truly LAUGHABLE!!)

    I’d be willing to wager that someday it could very well happen—-God that would open up an ENTIRELY new sports betting activity!! I would absolutely LOVE to see simulation technology progress to that point—-just think of all the dream match-ups you could come up with—(in all weight classes not just heavyweights)!! I’m not sure I’ll see it in my lifetime (I’m currently 51 years young LOL!!) but I truly believe it could happen!! If we’re lucky enough to be around when it does we’ll finally get answers to all these hypothetical scenarios!!

  5. Conrad 08:38am, 07/19/2014

    Steve you make some good points but I still think you missed mine.  Number one, Frazier was almost always in great condition.  Liston was not.  Number two, its tough in a way to figure Liston’s true peak because he was always an old fighter.  Number 3 Liston’s jab was not that fast, more powerful than Ali for sure, but very slow in comparison.  Frazier can certainly slip Liston’s jab, even Patterson was doing it if you look at the film. Frazier’s head movement was very underrated, he could get inside Liston (and there is no video to show that Liston was a pusher with fighters that got inside like Foreman was).  If this fight comes down to who can wear who out.  All the evidence favors Frazier.  I agree that the early rounds are dangerous for Frazier but I think if this ‘dream’ fight did occur Eddie Futch would have had Frazier well warmed up in the dressing room knowing this.  Liston is NOT going to wear down Frazier it would certainly be the other way around.  Most people take the attitude Frazier has to get through the first 3 rounds to win.  I take the attitude that Liston must take out Frazier in the first 3 rounds or he loses!  There seems to be this mentality that Frazier doesn’t get through those rounds.  But the evidence shows that with the exception of one fight he ALWAYS did (and sometimes it was his opponent who did not)!  There is also this line of thinking that you could hit Frazier with uppercuts.  While if it was that simple why didn’t it happen much more?  BECAUSE in order to throw a right uppercut you have to leave your whole face open to?  You got it a left hook!  Frazier’s ha one of the best left hooks in heavyweight history.  You may get him with the upper cut but you took a big risk. Most of the time a hook will beat an upper cut to the target.  Liston/Frazier is a far more interesting fight than most people think.

  6. Steve R 03:18am, 07/19/2014

    Dana—You are 100% correct that Frazier took a while in his fights to get into a flow and a rhythm (or star “Smokin” as he would say)—and that’s where I think he’d meet his doom in a match with Liston. I can see Sonny busting up Joe early with that pulverizing 84” reach jab (Frazier’s reach BTW was just 73”—Liston had over a 1 FOOT REACH ADVANTAGE!!) then moving in quickly for the kill!! I think it would be a similar outcome to Joe’s 1st fight with Foreman—-Sonny would KO him in about 2-3 rounds.

    If Joe could somehow weather the early storm than he might have a shot but even if he managed to stretch the fight into later rounds I still believe Liston’s size and power would wear him down. Frazier only knew one way to fight and that was constantly boring in on his opponent—and I think that particular style would spell big trouble against Sonny.  (I will say one thing on Joe’s behalf—he would never give up and he’d keep on coming and coming no matter what—Sonny would have to literally kill him before Joe would quit—his heart was incredible no question about it!!)

  7. Dana Preis 03:19am, 07/18/2014

    @Steve R. IMHO, For Liston to beat Frazier, he’d have to do with within 2 or 3 rounds. He doesn’t wear Frazier out,——it’s the other way around. If Frazier gets though the early rounds he takes Liston apart. Frazier was a notoriously slow starter. That’s when he was vulnerable. Once the fight gets into the middle rounds, Frazier was a force of nature.

  8. Steve R 03:05am, 07/18/2014

    Some excellent points regarding Sonny’s fight with Machen and the Whitehurst comments—(I do recall reading that particular statement in the Gallender book). However, if I remember correctly didn’t Sonny knock Whitehurst through the ropes in the final round? (I think he was saved by the bell so there was no KO just a decision).

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Sonny’s power at some point would blast through pretty much any defense. (I’m going to try and find footage of the Machen fight—would be very interested to see how he managed to stay upright for the entire bout). And regarding a match-up between Liston and a peak Joe Frazier I think it would be one hell of a war but Liston’s size and power would wear Joe down in the end. Remember that Cleveland Williams (who might have been one of the hardest punchers ever—even harder than Frazier) went toe to toe with Sonny and rocked him with everything in his arsenal yet he couldn’t put him down. Sonny was a friggin TANK—if a 6"3 inch 215lb Cleveland Williams couldn’t stop him I definitely don’t think a 5"11 205lb Frazier could do it!!

  9. Conrad 09:19am, 07/15/2014

    Steve’s point about Liston’s reach reveals something that some people don’t realize.  This is exactly why Liston had trouble with inside fighters.  If the fighter slipped the jab and got inside his arms Liston’s power was somewhat negated.  Liston’s jab, while powerful, was no where near as fast as Ali.  Even a petrified, china glass chin Patterson was slipping Liston’s jab if you look at the video.  This is why I content that fighters like Frazier, while admittingly being underdogs, could have beaten Liston.  If you can slip Ali’s jab as Frazier repeatedly did he certainly could slip Liston.  If nobodies, with no punch, like Scrap Iron Johnson and Bruce Whitehurst could do it certainly Frazier could have.  That’s just common logic. Let’s quote Whitehurst on page 6 of Gallender’s book “On the outside it was hell, but in close it was calm and safe”.  Liston won a lot with intimidation.  I highly doubt, based on everything we saw in Frazier’s career, he would have entered the ring intimidated by Liston.  And that’s half the battle.  Second, Liston was not used to someone throwing punches at him which Frazier would have done in bunches.  Lastly let’s address Foreman’s..  Liston could back him up with the jab.  Foreman was a standup fighter and not that good at moving his head either.  Made to order for the slow powerful jab. Frazier’s head movement did not make him that easy a target for jabs.  Lastly to many ignorant people read into Foreman’s wins over Frazier to say Liston would have done the same thing.  First Foreman (as he often admitted did not fight the prime Joe Frazier).  Second, Foreman did not keep Frazier away with his jab (no one ever did), he kept him away by flat out shoving him back which should not have been legal, in fact Mercante finally gave him a warning for it in the second round but by then all the damage had been done.  Lastly there is an intangible in the Liston/Frazier matchup that cannot be ignored.  Liston displayed none of the heart that Frazier did.  I can’t help but continue to see a Sonny Liston sitting on his stool. spitting out his mouthpiece, and quitting against the light hitting Ali because his arm hurt.(supposedly despite throwing 26 jabs the round before)  When he had his first chance to join the legendary champions by displaying his ability to come back from adversary, to fight back hurt, he spit the bit.  By contrast a blinded Frazier is begging his manager to let him come out for the 15th round against Ali in manila.  If Frazier/Liston becomes a war of attribution (which most Frazier fights did), who is more likely to quit.  That’s pretty obvious!

  10. Dana Preis 03:16am, 07/09/2014

    That is true, Steve. Liston was certainly not at his best in the two fights with Ali. One thing that I would ask you to note is—-four years earlier Eddie Machen went the distance with him. And Machen, while crafty, was no Ali.

  11. Steve R 02:53am, 07/09/2014

    One very critical factor that people forget about Sonny is his reach—84 INCHES!! That is 6 inches more than Ali—(who is always praised for his prowess with the jab). To quote Angelo Dundee: “Liston had a jab that was like a battering ram.” That weapon ALONE sets him apart from ANY other heavyweight that I can think of—and we haven’t even started discussing his powerhouse right hand!! Check out some of the ESPN bios on Liston—this was a guy who broke sparring partners ribs with 22 OUNCE GLOVES!!

    George Foreman was quoted as saying: “The only fighter that ever made me back up was Sonny Liston.” And that was an over-the-hill Liston that was able to do that!! Bottom line: I agree with the author about Sonny’s talent and that we never saw Liston anywhere close to his best in either Ali fight.!!

  12. Dana Preis 04:33am, 05/12/2014

    Liston probably decided to stay on the canvas in the 2nd fight. That doesn’t mean he was not actually floored. As for fixing, Liston couldn’t have beaten Ali if his life depended on it (and basically, it did). As Conrad points out, there were styles that gave Liston trouble, and Ali had one of them.

  13. Ali fights were fixed 03:50am, 05/12/2014

    Look at 0:22 of this Sonny Liston Video , he take that big Punch from Williams like nothing but Ali with a push KO that iron chin Liston?

    No way , fight was a fix

  14. Dana Preis 05:04pm, 02/14/2014

    Liston’s age has been a matter of dispute but it seems pretty clear that he was not 45 in 1964. He does not even appear in the 1930 census. But he does appear in 1940 as being 11 or 12. If he was 12 in 1940, it would mean he was born in 1928 which is 4 years before his ‘official’ year of birth which was always listed as 1932. So, if we use the earlier date that makes him 36 when he fought Clay. Based on his physique, 36 seems reasonable. 45 year-olds don’t look like Liston did in 1964—unless they’re on steroids, and no one was using those back then.

  15. Conrad 08:52am, 11/15/2013

    And anyone who wants to research further on styles that could trouble and beat Sonny Liston should check the Sports Illustrated vault from a 1964 article.  Go to:
    and type in “The four who baffled Liston” to see the article
    The blueprints are there to see. Fighting him inside as Marciano and Frazier would have done is clearly a style that give Liston trouble.

  16. Conrad 08:09am, 11/15/2013

    Hi Paul, it’s been awhile and I have not been on your site.  Just noticed you finally did make a response but ignored the real context of my text!  I already said Marciano would be an underdog against Liston so you wasted time with that reply but your reply that Marciano would not have gotten out of the first round with Liston no matter how many times they fought just confirms your bias.  Bert Whitehurst, a nobody who couldn’t have carried Marciano’s jock strap TWICE (your book indicated it was only once) goes 10 rounds with Liston and goes the 10 round distance with Liston by crowding him and fighting inside exactly as Marciano would have fought him (only throwing a LOT more punches!  Its plain prejudice to make your statement in the light of just that information alone. And unlike Liston, Marciano was no quitter he would have taken his beating like a man if it came to that while throwing punches on the way down.  BUT SINCE YOU IGNORED MY KEY POINT.  Paul I will ask it again tell me honestly do you really think Ali, Marciano, Frazier or Holyfield would have quit in their corner because their arm hurt.  Tell me?  JUST GIVE ME A YES OR NO ONE WORD ANSWER. Its a simple question.  You did a great job in your book building up Sonny Liston but great champions don’t quit when the going gets tough especially with the championship on the line. I do respect Liston’s talent and your book helped me see that more.  But how can a quitter be the second greatest heavyweight of all time as you contend?  I measure greatness by more things than you measure it by. And while on this subject I contend that Frazier fought and beat better fighters than Liston did (of course thats a no brainer because he beat Ali and Liston wasn’t even close).  With the possible exception of Cleveland Williams who did Liston beat that Frazier would not have been favored to beat?  I would contend that Jerry Quarry would have beaten every fighter Liston beat Including Cleveland Williams (and the only exception here might have been Eddie Machen).

  17. Paul Gallender 08:47pm, 09/30/2013


    Please - you didn’t hurt my feelings. Marciano could not have hurt Liston. Nor could he have survived the first round no matter how many times they fought. He was just too little. Giving away 30 pounds and 17 inches in reach, and no jab? And, do you really think Rocky hit harder than Sonny? Of course this is an exercise in subjectivity, but would Marciano have been the toughest guy in prison (if he were unfortunate enough to be in one) like Liston was? Rocky was a good guy, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about talent and I believe I made a very good case in my book that Liston had more of it than any heavyweight in history, in spite of his advanced age. Oh, but that’s another story. And using Howard Cosell as a source about Sonny means little since Cosell hated Liston as much as any writer did. And he was scared to death of him.

  18. Conrad 09:01pm, 08/21/2013

    Hi Paul, thanks for the reply.  Very quickly on your comments.  First I do have a high respect for Marciano, who is on every top ten list I have ever seen so just about everyone else does to.  However I agree he was limited and perhaps more than anyone he knew that which is why he trained longer and harder for fights than any other champion.  When I said one punch could change everything I wasn’t just referring to Marciano as much as I was referring to any good punching heavyweight. Now you say he couldn’t really punch but he Ultimate book of Boxing Lists rated Marciano the 2nd best puncher of all time (and Liston was number 12).  And no I don’t agree with that I think Liston should have been higher.  I guess I have to hurt your feelings again but Marciano also made Ali’s top ten list and ..well…as I already told you Liston did not.  So ALI rated Marciano higher than Liston to. I guess some of that had to do with the experience Ali had with Marciano in the filming of their computer “fight” where Ali admited a 46 year old Marciano left welts all over his rib cage.  Now in my opinion Marciano is a big underdog against Liston, I guess some people don’t share my opinion.  But when it comes to guts Marciano, Frazier and Holyfield are the 3 greatest warriors of all time.  WAY above Sonny Liston.  I am sorry but the FACT is Liston quit in his corner because supposedly his arm hurt.  Forget the second fight for a second.  The first fight showed Liston doesn’t have the courage to belong in the top 5 of all time. He certainly had the talent but in the biggest moment of his life facing his biggest test the first time he was called upon to show a champions heart he spit out his mouthpiece and decided to quit.  You say his corner stopped the fight but according to Howard Cosell and many others Liston told his manager it was over.  Prior to your book I have never heard an account that says his manager stopped the fight.  And with the supposed mob connections they had I find it very hard to believe they would have stopped the fight and given up the title just like that.  Maybe I am wrong but I don’t think so. We don’t see Liston arguing in his corner like we saw Frazier before the 15th round in Manila.  i think Liston quit rather than take the beating he knew he had coming and to me as a boxing historian that is the ultimate disgrace.  One thing for sure he threw 26 left handed punches in round 6, his arm was NOT hanging down by his side.  All one has to do is watch round 6 to see this.  Liston trained for a 3 round fight a fatal flaw that a man like Marciano never did and when he knew he was going to get beat up more he copped out.  This is why I have far more respect for Marciano (and Frazier and Holyfield for that matter) than I do Liston and this does’t have anything to do with the fact Liston had more talent because I believe heart is what separates great champions from average champions.  I will ask it again tell me honestly do you really think Ali, Marciano, Frazier or Holyfield would have quit in their corner because their arm hurt.  Tell me?  You did a great job in your book building up Sonny Liston but great champions don’t quit when the going gets tough especially with the championship on the line. I do respect Liston’s talent and your book helped me see that more.  But how can a quitter be the second greatest heavyweight of all time as you contend?  I measure greatness by more things than you measure it by. And while on this subject I contend that Frazier fought and beat better fighters than Liston did (of course thats a no brainer because he beat Ali and Liston wasn’t even close).  With the possible exception of Cleveland Williams who did Liston beat that Frazier would not have been favored to beat?  I would contend that Jerry Quarry would have beaten every fighter Liston beat Including Cleveland Williams (and the only exception here might have been Eddie Machen).
      As for the death issue.  What I said puzzled me was you say Geraldine call Tocco to check on Liston.  Tocco gets the police over their and they find Liston dead.  Yet nobody (including Tocco who was called by Mrs. Liston) bothers to tell her.  This is the real thing I don’t understand and wonder if you had any opinions why not.  Take care Paul look forward to seeing you someday.

  19. Paul Gallender 06:20pm, 08/19/2013

    Hi Conrad,

    I’ve been meaning to respond to your earlier comment and I’m sorry for taking so long to do so. Obviously, you have a much higher opinion of Marciano than I do. I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but I am slightly amused when you say something like “one punch (from Rocky) could have changed all that.” Marciano simply did not have anywhere near the punching power of Liston, Foreman, Williams, Shavers and Tyson, just to name a few. I know he hit hard but that 67” reach of his would have been a problem against bigger guys. His options were very limited because of his size. He had to come right at his opponent and against a bigger and harder hitter, and that would not have been good for Rocky.
    As to the ‘inconsistencies’ you found in my writing, I think you’re mixing oranges with apples. I interviewed Truman Gibson in his home and he was in a position to know everything that went on with the IBC, even if he wasn’t a party to some of the shadier things the group did. He was an honorable and capable and well-respected man and I believed him. Now, I also happen to believe that Archie Moore was a far more talented fighter than Marciano was and hit almost as hard as Rocky. There is a long history of black boxers having to throw fights against white fighters as a condition to their getting the bout. We can agree to disagree here and I’m glad we can do it somewhat passionately, but without disrespect.
    You really can’t compare the things I wrote about Sonny’s death to anything else. I met Johnny Tocco once but I got the feeling he wouldn’t talk to me about Sonny because he figured I’d trash him like virtually every writer has done. That’s the same impression I got from Moore when I called him. I should have been more persuasive back then, but I wasn’t. Gosh, how I would have loved to have had a long conversation with the Mongoose. My loss, I can tell you that. So back to my chapter on Sonny’s death. I don’t know how he died, nor did I write my biography with the intention of solving that mystery. I put forth all the information I came up with and obviously, there was some info that contradicted other info. But, if Johnny Tocco said something about Liston’s death, he was a significant enough boxing person that I thought I should print it. That particular chapter is full of speculation, but gives a more comprehensive picture of what might have possibly happened, and why, than I’ve seen anywhere else. Perhaps, in a later printing, I should preface my discussion and reporting of that chapter with a disclaimer or two. As I said before, it doesn’t matter to me how Sonny Liston died. I hope it was a heart attack, because that would have been a dignified death. But, Conrad, I don’t think we’ll ever know how Sonny died.
    As far as nobody calling Geraldine to tell her that Sonny died, and the police perhaps cleaning up the house and not saying anything, it is more than a little perplexing to understand why. But I do know for a fact that a lot of law enforcement officials knew Sonny was dead days before Geraldine returned home. My take on that? Well, there always was a different set of rules when it came to Liston, in life and apparently in death. After a boxer retires and especially after he dies, the public’s perception of his life and career tends to improve a great deal, I believe without exception. Except for Sonny whose reputation is worse now than it was at any time when he was alive. You question his heart. I don’t. The story I told about what happened in Lewiston is true and certainly no one could fault him for doing what he did. At least no reasonable person could. As to the first fight with Ali, look, they stop fights because of bad cuts, right? Well, the damage Liston suffered to his left shoulder was far more debilitating than a severe cut would have been. He didn’t decide not to go out for round 7, his corner did. Of course, if you want to believe David Remnick’s little fantasy of what happened between the 6th and 7th rounds, that is your prerogative.
    I almost forgot that you questioned my reference to size mattering in the heavyweights. It does, to a point. Ali would have done well against anyone, no matter what that guy’s weight was. At 212 pounds, Sonny would have been the most powerful man in the ring against any heavyweight that ever lived. No one hit harder and no one was harder to hurt. And when we marvel at his skill in the ring, we can’t forget that he was a very old man at that point. I know I’ll take some flack for this last paragraph, but it’s what I believe, and I wrote a book in an attempt to back up that opinion.

  20. Conrad 08:08am, 08/19/2013

    Hey Paul there was one other thing that I can’t quite figure out.  According to your book Geraldine calls Tocco to check on Sonny on Jan. 1 (because she has not heard from him)  Tocco goes to Sonny’s house and when no one answers he gets the police. The police enter the house and find him dead.  Now what happens?  They do nothing??  Nor does Tocco call Geraldine Liston to tell her her husband is dead?  Geraldine returns 5 days later, Jan. 5 to find Sonny dead (and he has been dead for awhile.)  This whole thing doesn’t add up right.  Since when do the police find a body and do nothing?  And why didn’t Tocco at least call Geraldine?  It just doesn’t make sense?  What is your take on this.  You never really address it in your book.

  21. Conrad 11:31am, 08/01/2013

    :)  I will make this a shorter comment!  I think I have livened up this page some at the very least.  But I have cited reasons for all my positions.  As to Valdes vs Marciano, my point was it could have happened and its Valdes fault it didn’t.  If he couldn’t beat old Archie Moore who weighted right around what Marciano weighted he certainly couldn’t beat Marciano who took a better punch and hit a LOT harder.  I won’t argue the list you made above as to who could beat Marciano.  Most of your list had a legitimate chance to do it I agree but one punch could have changed all of that.  I will strongly dispute that Patterson could have beaten Marciano.  he wasn’t as good as Walcott or Charles who failed to do so and he had a chin made of china.  He would never have stood up to the punches from Marciano.  The happiest person alive, from what I have been told, when Marciano retired was Cus D’Amato.  Since you seem like a guy who studies boxing I suggest you read “Rocky Marciano, the Rock of his Times” a great autobiography by Russell Sullivan. You say ” I was told that by Truman Gibson” that Moore/Marciano was fixed??  This may be one of your problems.  Your not consistent.  Above you say “he had no reason to lie”.  While on page 239 of your book we have that quote from Johnny Tocco that 4 or 5 guys fought Liston tied him up and shot him with herion and thats how he died and then you quote Davi saying Tocco would not lie.  However you disagree because of the facts (good for you).  In that case watch the Moore/Marciano fight.  Fixes do NOT look like that.  Its obviously a real fight.  You just can’t close your eyes and beleive everything someone tells you (and I don’t say you always do). 
      As for Frazier you seemed to major on the fact he was small (as was Marciano).  Can’t argue that but as my dad once said.  “It isn’t the size of the dog, its the size of the heart in the dog”.  I never said Frazier of 71 beats Liston of 1960 BUT I don’t see it like the Foreman fight either (and to add to your list -George Foreman never fought the real Joe Frazier either - as George has often stated).  Looking at some style matchups Frazier could have given Liston more trouble than some people think. Liston had trouble hitting a bobbing and weaving style.  And I would content Frazier takes a better punch that Cleveland Williams, who I say was the Earner Shavers of his time (Shavers didn’t have the best chin either)  If size is what you what to keep thinking is so important then Jess Willard and Primo Carnera ought to be 2 of the greatest heavyweights on your list.  I will also dispute the quote you make “Frazier could be hurt fairly easily”.  Outside of Foreman, the hardest puncher in history, who hurt Frazier??  Yes Bonevena put him down in his 11th or 12th fight but he was not really hurt.  Quarry hit him with shots that should have torn his head off.  Ali (the second version of Ali was a much harder puncher than the pre-1967 version) hit him clean to and nothing happened.  When you look at the facts there isn’t much to back up that statement.  Frazier was a Philidelphia fighter and with his style he never would have gotten out of the gym wars there if he couldn’t take a punch. That style NEVER works unless the fighter has a good chin.  Lastly contrary to what some people think Foreman actually showed how well Frazier could take a punch.  Down 6 times, up 6 times at the count of 2.  Who else couldn’t Foreman keep down??  And I wince still watching replays of some of those shots and still wonder how could Frazier have gotten up so quickly from them.

  22. Paul Gallender 07:56pm, 07/30/2013

    Boy, you write long comments, Conrad. I print them out before I respond. It’s easier that way.
    As to Frazier and Liston, had they fought in ‘69 when Sonny was anywhere from 42-50 years old, I would have taken Frazier to win. (Emile Griffith told people he thought Sonny was way past 50 when he died, something I learned after I published my book.) Had they fought at their best - let’s say Sonny in ‘60 and Frazier in ‘71, I believe Liston wins inside of three rounds. Like Eddie Futch told me, Joe’s problem was that he was little. And he could be hurt fairly easily. You weren’t going to beat Liston if you came right at him. That’s what Sonny wanted an opponent to do. Sure Joe could have gotten inside on Liston. Whitehurst did it to survive, not to win. But if the Big Cat couldn’t hurt Sonny, Joe certainly wouldn’t have. I admire Joe and I have him in my top ten. I would have loved to see him vs. Tyson. At his best, I would have picked Tyson to win that fight, but the odds would have been close.

    You’re right about Nino. He wasn’t great but he did end ‘53 and ‘54 as Ring’s top rated contender. I don’t know if he deserved that ranking but based on the ratings alone, he qualified for a title shot. Ring’s ratings meant a lot back then. I think Nino probably would have been too big for Marciano and you’re right, I don’t think very highly of Rocky as a heavyweight. 5’10, 185 pounds with a 67 inch reach. He was a club fighter for half of his career. A good man and very well liked, but he couldn’t have given away 20 pounds to a good heavyweight and been successful very often. As to the claim that Moore threw his match with Marciano, I was told that by Truman Gibson. Gibson ran the IBC so he would be in a position to know that. He had no reason to lie to me, or to Nick Tosches. Gibson was a hell of a guy and a very capable one, as I detailed in my book. By the way, he didn’t care for Liston at all.

    I don’t see Marciano beating Ali, Liston, Foreman, a young Louis, Lennox Lewis, Tyson, Frazier, Holmes, either Klitschko, Holyfield, Patterson, etc. Great 185-pound fighter, that Floyd was.

  23. Conrad 09:40am, 07/29/2013

    Hi Nicolas thanks for jumping in.  In l953 Valdes had a record of 5-3, I don’t have Ring magazines records in front of me but doesn’t make sense to me that a fighter with that kind of record is a bonafide number one contender. This is clearly a ranking that can be disputed and I wonder how other rating organizations had Valdes ranked then.  In 1954 you MIGHT be able to make a case as Valdes when 5-0 but the caliber of his opponents had a combined 55 losses! Maybe Rocky could have fought him in l954 but money makes fights and, with Charles as an ex-champion, there was more money offered for the Charles fight.  My point was that Valdes could have gotten a shot, he was in line for it when he fought “old” Archie Moore.  That was a clearly advertised elimination fight.  Valdes blew the shot at Marciano by AGAIN losing to Moore.  My other point was that Valdes was NOT a great fighter his record proves that and he certainly was no Rocky Marciano.  Lastly I keep hearing the same old story how Marciano fought an old Walcott, Charles, and Louis (and throw in Moore who was a superior fighter to Valdes as he proved).  First of all Walcott and Charles (who are on many top ten lists), both fought the greatest fights of their careers against Marciano AND lost.  I will grant Louis was over the hill despite his 8 straight wins at the time but here is another interesting thing.  Paul makes much of the fact that Louis made a quote saying Ali beat the ‘greatest heavyweight in history’ in his commentary at the end of the Ali-Liston first fight.  While Louis also commented that he questioned if he ever could have beaten Marciano even when he was younger.  Louis recognized Marciano was a tough fight for anyone at any time period   I think Louis was being humble in his opinions of both Marciano and Liston when he commented on both of them.  And you can either dismiss what he said or take BOTH comments seriously.

  24. nicolas 06:37pm, 07/28/2013

    CONRAD: Have to disagree with you about your claim that Valdez never deserved a title shot. First of all, Ring Magazine at the end of 53 and 54 had Valdez as the Number one contender. Also, Valdez had beaten Ezzard Charles, and what happens, Marciano gives Charles a shot at the title not just once, but two times. After Valdez’s win over Charles, he would go on to win nine straight times. I will agree that Valdez lost that right for the title when he lost to Moore, but interestingly, that fight against Moore was for 15 rounds, and considered according to BOXREC for a Nevada version of the World Heavyweight title. I suspect that Nevada realized that Valdez, and perhaps Moore both were very deserving of a world title shot. True that Valdez had some inconsistencies, but many fighters back then did, and still got world title shots.  As world champ, Marciano often fought fighters who did not outweigh him by much. Certainly a fight with Valdez would have been more valid that his fight with Cockell, who Valdez would knockout after Cockell’s failed effort. I would say that Marciano would beat Valdez, but because of Valdez’s size, and his weight, I think that such a victory would put Marciano in far higher category in the history of the heavyweight division by many people.

  25. Conrad 05:19pm, 07/28/2013

    mmm… I was skimming through your book again yesterday Paul (just like it so much I pick it up and read parts again) :)  And interestingly you gave me more information to back my theory that Frazier could have beaten Liston (notice I said ‘could have”) I still would say Liston is the favorite but its not like the Foreman-Frazier fight.  Frazier has a better chance with Liston as even Paul’s book points out (he didn’t mean to of course).  Page 6 Bert Whitehurst “fared much better when he fought inside, NEGATING the power Liston could generate with his arms extended.”  Whitehurst when the distance with Liston fighting exactly how Frazier fights EXCEPT Frazier has better head movement and FAR more punching power.  There is no comparing Bert Whitehurst with Joe Frazier they are completely different classes of fighter. Whitehurst finishes his career with 32 wins and 26 loses!  If Bert Whitehurst can get inside Joe Frazier most certainly can and unlike Whitehurst he is going to throw punches that hurt. 
        I also like to correct some impressions you gave regarding Nino Valdes.  You made it sound like Rocky Marciano ducked Valdes.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I would have loved to see Marciano/Valdez and I think Marciano wanted it but Nino was inconsistent, he lost 4 in 1953 and most felt he lost the Havana fight with Archie McBride, in the meantime Archie Moore was on a 21 fight win streak, which included 2 wins over Nino Valdes and the second loss to Moore was a title elimination fight!!  Lets tell the truth here Paul or do some better research.  Valdes NEVER earned the right to fight Marciano and if he had at any point Marciano could have retired 50-0.  Valdes was nothing special as his 18 career loses showed.  Also he was no monster, while standing 6-3 his fighting weight was between 198-207 certainly nothing that Marciano couldn’t have deal with (you make him Valdes out to sound like George Foreman).  Marciano fought his # 1 contender 5 times and his # 2 once (after a split nose).  Doesn’t sound like he ducked qualified number 1 contenders to me.  Also you imply that Marciano/Moore was a fixed fight.  If it was it was better acting that Marciano and Ali put on.  No credible person I have read has provided any evidence of how this could have been a fix.  Moore knocks Marciano down in the second round with a punch that probably would have knocked out every other contender in the top ten at the time.  The fight turns into a war and Moore is dropped 3 times in the next 6 rounds before finally be battered down one last time in the ninth round after telling his corner not to stop the fight that he wanted to go out on his back like a champion (to bad Liston didn’t respect this tradition of great fighters-then we wouldn’t question his courage).  This is not the material of a fix!!  As you correctly point out a fix looks like Liston/Ali II.  Read respected boxing reporter’s A.J Liebling account of the Marciano-Moore fight in the New Yorker in 1955 (after the fight) or in the collection of boxing writers articles “AT THE FIGHTS” (another great boxing book by the way).  There was no way this style of fight can be a fix.  Someone can make any cockamania claim they want about anything then you go look at the fight itself and can easily dismiss that kind of nonsense.  There seems to be some reason why you want to disrespect Marciano, I am not sure why.  He beat the best of his time and retired because of an injured back.  He could no longer, as he said, go through the type of training he required of himself.  Could he have beaten your man Liston.  I tend to doubt it but i can guarantee you he would NEVER quit in his corner because his arm hurt.  Liston would have had to kill him their was never any quit in Marciano.

  26. Conrad 10:04am, 07/24/2013

    LOL… :)  sounds like you need to write another book Paul.  On Eddie Machen.  Sounds like he’s the third best behind Ali and Liston now.  Just joking with you (sort of).  I will say this styles make fights.  Ali would have always had trouble with Frazier because swarmers give boxers no time to be comfortable.  Ali forever gives fighters like Liston and Foreman fits because they give him enough time to utilize boxing skills and Frazier will always be the underdog to styles like Foreman and to a certain degree Liston.  I say certain degree because while I certainly would favor Liston over Frazier I do not consider Foreman and Liston mirror images.  While I think Foreman was the hardest puncher of all time I do not believe he process Sonny’s boxing abilities.  I have to say based on the Ron Lyle/Foreman fight I think Liston beats Foreman.  But then again any man if hit just right will go down and certainly Foreman could hurt anyone. However in a match up with Frazier, boxing skills may actually hurt Liston.  I believe Frazier could have backed up Liston (which he couldn’t do with Foreman), which would actually be a plus for Frazier. Liston would attempt to use his boxing skills that is the way he fought.  Second if you watch the Liston/Patterson fight in the words of Max Schmeling “I see something”.  Watch how many times Liston swung and missed against a bopping and weaving Patterson.  Of course when he did connect the fight was over but Patterson had a glass jaw, was petrified of Liston, and never punched back.  None of that would have been Joe Frazier’s issues.  Yes I believe Liston is a style problem always for Frazier but not the way Foreman was.  Nor was Liston as big as Foreman, there may have been about 10 pounds different between Frazier and Liston.  Also Foreman used what should have been an illegal tactic against Frazier.  He kept shoving him away and throwing him off balance not by punches (at first) but by flat out pushing.  In fact Foreman was given a warning in the second round for this when it was to late for Frazier( i have often wondered what may have happened if Foreman had been warned right after the first push and been penalized after the second-which some refs may have done).. Sonny was not a pusher like Foreman its a different matchup.  You are correct that Louis was easier to hurt than Liston but Louis processed faster hand speed than Liston and close to equal punching power.  Its a toss up fight .  I might tend to agree with you on Tunney.  His claim to fame is twice beating a washed up Dempsey BUT he did process boxing skills, was a thinking scientific fighter and lost one fight his entire career.  I can see why Ali would rate him in his top ten over Liston.  Clearly he fits your ‘master boxer” profile and a style Ali would appreciate.  I do believe Holmes processed all of the necessary skills to beat Liston.  And Larry did show things Liston never did, like the ability to come back from behind and win.  Perhaps it is unfair to say Liston had no heart.  Still he brought that on himself by being the only heavyweight champion to give up his title sitting on his stool while in possession of all his senses.  (Compared to Jess Willard who was battered to a pulp by Jack Dempsey before not coming out in that title fight).  No one could question Willard’s heart for not coming out like they can Liston. How bad was that left arm?  While watch round 6 again.  I counted 25 left hand punches and only 2 right handed punches by Liston in the round before he quit.  He certainly had no trouble lifting that arm.  It wasn’t hanging down by his side like I have read some others say.  I am not saying it wasn’t hurt what I am saying is LOTS of prior heavyweight champions would have fought on.  Where I disagree with you is the Ali fights did reveal somethings about Liston that his prior fights did not (because he was never put in those circumstances).  I will reach you sometime on our other email addresses.  Look forward to meeting you someday.  And I got to talk to Marlon on what he thought of Liston sometime.  We have talked about Tyson (who I also consider had a questionable heart) and others but never really asked about what he thought of Liston.  Take care

  27. Paul Gallender 05:47pm, 07/23/2013

    Yes, it has been a good dialogue we’ve been having. I think you’re not giving Eddie Machen enough credit. That man was a master boxer and master boxers can give anyone trouble. I believe he would have beaten a lot of heavyweight champions before him at his best, notwithstanding being knocked out by Ingemar. Ingo could hit with his right hand, though that’s all he could do, and anybody not sufficiently warmed up or too careless can get caught with a punch early. If a great boxer like Machen chooses not to get knocked out, he can easily do it, as he did with Liston. If his right hand had been healthy and he came to win, it could have been a great fight. By the time Eddie fought Frazier, he had suffered a mental breakdown and was way past his prime. As long as you brought up the other fighters, I think Machen - at his best - would have easily beaten Tunney and might well have beaten Louis and Holmes. After all, that’s why they call the sport boxing. I’ve never been enamored with Tunney. He was good for the time he fought, but…
    My starting point for rating Liston is that when he was champ, almost every fair-minded sports person, including Joe Louis, thought he was the best of all time. So, I maintain that wherever you put Louis on the list of top heavyweights, Joe would have understood if you put Liston in his place and move him down one peg. In fact, I think he would have approved of it. Compared to Sonny, Joe was little and everything Joe did well, Sonny did better and harder. As far as their ability to take a punch, they were worlds apart. Joe was pretty easy to hurt, don’t you think?
    Now, as to what Ali might have done if he knew about the kidnap plot, I don’t think he would or could have done anything. Ali was probably as afraid of the Muslims as Liston was and Sugar Ray Robinson bore witness to that fear in a story recounted by Mark Kram. I agree he would not have approved of it. Now, I also believe that Liston had little chance of winning in Lewiston. He was overtrained and he was very old. I do take offense to the notion that Liston had no heart in the ring. To me, Conrad, the most tragic thing to ever happen to Sonny was the hernia that Ali suffered three days before their originally scheduled rematch in November, 1964. He was in the best mental and physical shape of his life and had that fight taken place, I doubt that we’d be having this conversation now because it’s very likely the history of heavyweight boxing would have changed dramatically. I’ve heard that Muslims didn’t want that fight to take place because they knew what kind of shape Liston was in. There even is the rumor that the hernia was faked to get him out of the fight. I guess some people will believe anything, but I remember reading the accounts of all the physicians who were involved in operating on Ali and there’s no way in the world they would have or could have been coerced into lying about it. By the way, I think Sonny probably thought he could win in Lewiston until two, three or four days before the fight. But, like I said before, I don’t think he would have won.
    Thanks for giving me your email address. Mine is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and my website is
    All the best.
    P.S. I remember what a wonderful fighter Marlon Starling was. I was close to welterweight/jr. middleweight Babs McCarthy when I lived in Sacramento, Another tragic story there.

  28. Conrad 07:49am, 07/23/2013

    Hey Paul I forgot to ask something else that, in my mind, creates doubt about the kidnapping theory.  It would seem to me that if this actually happened and it was done by the Black Muslims Ali would have known about it.  In my opinion Ali would have never approved of this.  Its another reason the story just doesn’t seem to be that strong.  As your book also pointed out Joe Louis stated Liston was overtrained and had no chance in the rematch.  This was before any “kidnapping”  “muslim threats” etc excuses came into play. There was also (according to some accounts) some type of money argument going on behind the scenes (with Reddish?) that had Liston pissed off.  Its interesting that you quote Reddish as saying he knew Liston would not fight much BEFORE the fight and if there even was a “kidnapping” Reddish did not know this.  There seems to be plenty of “ammunition” that Liston wasn’t going to win this fight even if it was straight up and HE knew it.  And I can’t recall where the quote came from but someone said Liston had the heart of a pea and if he knew he couldn’t win then he take the quickest way out (which he surely did).

  29. Conrad 07:26am, 07/23/2013

    Thanks Paul its been a nice dialogue with you even though we don’t hold the same opinion on Liston’s place in history.  I think you have presented some good evidence for your position in your book, which again I found a fascinating read.  And I recommend this book to any boxing fan.  I think I have pointed out some things that support my position that its differcult to rank him top 5.  Yes he had some great physical attributes and skills but unlike great champions he did not show great heart.  Did Ali ever fight the real Sonny Liston?  Certainly not in the second fight and probably not in the first either but that not Ali’s fault.  He fought and beat the Liston that beat Patterson and that’s all we can go by.  And I have to say that if Eddie Machen can give Liston some trouble fighting with an injuried arm (the same Eddie Machen who got KOed in one round by Ingemar Johansson-one of the worst heavyweight champions of all time and lost just about every round to Joe Frazier before being KOed), then yes Ali could very well have beaten the best Sonny Liston as could have Holmes, Tunney, or Louis. Eddie Machen was no were near their level.  Stay in touch Paul you can reach me at:  .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  Hope to hear from you and meet sometime.  Let me know when you might come to this area, I like to get my friend Marlon Starling in on this meeting.  Take care

  30. Paul Gallender 06:21pm, 07/22/2013

    Hey Conrad - I know I’ll be back east sometime in the next year so hopefully we’ll be able to meet and talk about the heavyweights. As to the Lewiston fight, there’s no doubt that both Liston and Ali believed there could be an assassination attempt on Muhammad. You might want to reread the chapter in my book on the rematch. My source for the kidnapping story was very close to both the Listons and the Louises. When she told me the story, she had no idea of it’s importance but she remembered it as clearly as if it had happened the day before. And, the fact that Sonny didn’t want to tell anybody about what happened shows you the kind of person he was. Heck, he wouldn’t even tell his sister, Alcora, and she was his closest sibling. Griping publicly about what had happened to him is just not something he would do. He was more concerned about his relatives than he was for his own well-being. Would Ali have screamed bloody murder if that had happened to him? I don’t know. But I do know that punch he landed in Lewiston wasn’t enough to knock Liston down. Remember two things: Ali is screaming at Sonny to get up and says “nobody will believe this!” Then he went back to his corner and said “he laid down.” Fighters know when they’ve landed a solid punch and Ali knew he didn’t. He simply was not capable of knocking down a lot lesser fighters with one six-inch, off-balance punch. And I never said that Liston was Ali’s toughest fight, nor do I believe that. But for Ali to say what he did to Matt Lauer indicates how much respect Ali had for Liston and that he knows he never fought the real Sonny Liston. And he didn’t. And I think I backed up that assertion pretty well in my book.
    Seriously, Conrad, do you think either Dempsey or Louis could have beaten Sonny? Remember what Louis said about Sonny, too. “I’m glad he wasn’t around when I was fighting” and, in 1964, “Sonny was the greatest heavyweight champion in history.”
    I know it sounds like I was being inconsistent with regards to Tocco but I felt all I could do in discussing Sonny’s death, and how it might have gone down, was to provide as much information as I could. Maybe there had been a struggle like Tocco said and the police, for whatever reason, erased all signs of it. I do know that the police knew Liston was lying dead in his house several days before Geraldine returned home. Frankly, Sonny’s death is the thing about him that interests me the least but I couldn’t write his biography without exploring it.
    I thought I was clear on the comparison between Ali’s last two fights. Yes, Ali was an old spent fighter then, but he wasn’t as old as Liston was when Liston fought Ali. But a lot of people base their opinions of Liston based almost solely on the two Ali fights while nobody bases their opinions of Ali based solely on the Holmes and Berbick fights.
    As for Jack Johnson, do you know why I believe Jack threw his fight to Willard? Three reasons. First, Johnson said he did. Two, looking at the fight and reading his explanation in his autobiography, backs up his claim that he threw the fight. Three, Willard couldn’t fight a lick.
    It really is good chatting with you. I’m sure all the boxers and trainers you’ve met feel the same way. They all like to talk to people who know something about their sport.

  31. Conrad 04:36pm, 07/22/2013

    Hi Paul thanks for your response.  Again it was a great book.  We can debate all night and I would love to meet you sometime if your ever in my area or I in yours. I have to respectfully disagree you have refuted anything I said.  The real question that can never be answered entirely is why did Liston quit in his fights with Ali. Sure there is plenty to speculate with.  Skipping over the first fight for a second (i do believe his arm hurt) and looking at the rematch I have my theory and that was Liston bought into the possibility that there would be a possible attempt on Ali’s life and being in the same ring wasn’t to smart a thing to do.  I believe the knockdown may have been a legitimate FLASH knockdown but certainly not enough to keep Liston down.  As someone said when Liston when down he decided he liked it there.  After that Walcott completely blew the fight, it never should have been stopped and should have been allowed to continue (how can he stop it with no count and no Ali in the neutral corner?).  It would have been interesting to see what Sonny would have had to do next if he wanted out.  The problem with your “kidnapped theory” is this.  Geraldine Liston goes to her grave never mentioning it.  To the best of my knowledge Liston’s son Bobby never mentions it.  And Liston in both conversations with Mark Kram admits he threw the fight BUT never mentions it (he blames fear of the Muslims killing HIM-not his family).  On page 214 of your book your best evidence is Johnny Tocco who quoted as having heard this story from Liston and to add support to it you quote Gary Bates that coming from Johnny that was the ‘gospel”. You take it as such then but just a short while later your star witness gives the story that Liston’s death (page 239 - no one can argue I haven’t read the book :)  ) was caused by 4 or 5 guys fighting with Liston tying him down and shooting him up with enough heroin to kill a horse.  Here you REJECT the gospel of Johnny Tocco and rightfully so as the evidence doesn’t support it.  The problem in a court of law is that your best witness (the only time Liston supposedly said this happened) obviously can’t be trusted not to enhance a story!.  Its very hard for me to believe that Joe Louis (being a friend of Liston) never verifies this story either and your quoting his wife in support of it.  The ‘kidnapped theory” in my honest legal opinion doesn’t hold much water.  You said Ali would have laid down to IF this happened to his family.  Maybe, but you can bet your ass Ali once his family was safely back with him would have let the world know (and not just Ali but just about any champion from the past would have told the world what happened).  Liston of course never does this.  Now let me address a few of your other comments.  Your say your not trying to make Liston greater than he is.  You say he was the number 2 heavyweight of all time.  The proof that you are trying to make him greater than he was is that no respectable boxing historian agrees with you and has Liston at number two on his list!  Not Bert Sugar, not Nat Fleischer, not Teddy Atlas.  Fact is no one has him there but you. So yes your trying.  Second I never disagreed with you that Ali may have felt that beating Liston was his most significant accomplishment because he overcame the odds and pulled off a big upset to become champion.  What I did present clear evidence for was that DID NOT mean Liston was the greatest fighter he ever fought.  Your reading into what he means by the world “significant” and ignoring what Ali has stated elsewhere.  Go to page 18 of the Ultimate book of Boxing Lists where Ali rates his top ten heavyweights of all time.  You asked me if I really believe Ali thinks they would have beaten Liston.  Well all I can give you Paul is the facts.  And the fact is Liston is not on his list.  Your wishing it was but its not.  Again its not just Ali’s list Liston if off from, its a lot of top ten lists.  (However he is on mine). I am just pointing these facts out to you. FACT Ali tells Mark Kram in the “Ghosts of Manila” that the third fight with Frazer was his greatest fight.  In his autobiography with Thomas Hauser Ali clearly says the toughest fighter he ever fought was Joe Frazier not Sonny Liston.  These are just indisputable facts so why argue them?  Compared to Frazier, Liston was a walk in the park for Ali.  Next you claim I take the two Ali-Liston fights at face value.  Not so I told you he quit in both fights. I clearly explain that above regarding fight 2.  BUT those are the only two fights we have to go by.  You want to change history and you can’t.  Your position is Liston lost because he was to old,or he was hurt, or he wasn’t in peak condition or he had to take a dive, in the end, they are what they are, excuses. Whose fault is all this?  You can make a case for every champion being greater if you cart this basket out.  Your book seems to disagree with many other accounts of what went on in Liston’s corner after the sixth round.  You say Reddish and Nilon made the decision to stop the fight. Other accounts say Liston decided to stop the fight.  Now maybe you have the best research on this subject, you have obviously written an impressive book but I have some trouble believing that men like Reddish and Nilon with their questionable tough guy backgrounds would have decided to throw in the towel after 6 rounds and give up the title so easily.  I tend to agree with Howard Cosell’s opinion that Liston trained for a 3 round fight and when he realized his beating was only going to get worse he decided to quit rather than honor the tradition of the great champions to go out on their back (see what Braddock told his corner when they wanted to stop the fight with Joe Louis-see what Archie Moore said when his corner wanted to stop the fight with Rocky Marciano!)  I guess you could say Liston was smart but I will ask you this can you honestly imagine Joe Frazier, Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey and Muhammad Ali quitting because they hurt their arm??  I keep picturing a blind and battered Joe Frazier arguing with Eddie Futch to come out for the 15th round in Manila and I picture the ‘invincible” Sonny Liston staying in his corner after the 6th round with Ali.  I remember Ali paying Frazier the highest tribute you can when he once said no man would have counted 10 over Frazier while he still had blood in his body and I see Liston quitting twice and what can i say thats the way it was.  Just can’t put Sonny in my top 5.  Its always speculation comparing fighters of different eras, its a guessing game matching up skills but you can’t miss heart and determination, hopefully you will understand why then names like Ali, Marciano, Dempsey, Louis and Frazier appear on most top ten lists ahead of Liston.  And your book is a good book but it can’t change history.  I am also glad you stopped trying to compare Ali’s last two losses to Liston’s two losses to Ali (there was no rebuttal) so I assume you realized that not a fair comparison. And by the way your comment that Jack Johnson threw the fight to Jess Willard is something you ought to reinvestigate.  Old fight films clearly show a tired Jack Johnson getting hit cleanly and going down (with a much better punch that what hit Liston in Maine). The famous picture with Johnson holding his hand above his head that Johnson claims shows he was shielding his eyes from the sun was but a passing still frame second his hand dropped down right after that like most knocked out fighters.  Have a good day Paul if you’re ever in the Hartford, Ct/Springfield Mass area let me know it be fun to have lunch and brainstorm boxing with you.

  32. Paul Gallender 09:39am, 07/22/2013

    Conrad - I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my book and I’m glad you read it.  There are some things I need to rebut, however. First, I don’t want to make Liston greater than he was. In saying that, you’re implying that I’m trying to rewrite boxing history, which I’m not. I’m simply respecting boxing history and I’ve provided a lot of documentation to back up any of the positions I’ve taken with respect to Liston’s talent.
    You write that I “used a supposed comment by Ali that beating Liston was his most significant accomplishment out of context.” I wrote where I learned of that in my book. I was watching the Today Show when Matt Lauer asked Ali what he considered to be his greatest accomplishment in or out of the ring. Ali, with no hesitation, said “beating Sonny Liston.” Lauer was so surprised by the response that he asked the question a second time and stressed all of the stuff and good works that Ali had done outside of the ring. Again, with no hesitation, Ali responded by saying “beating Sonny Liston.”  Are you saying Ali was lying when he told Lauer that? I don’t believe he was. Do you really think Ali believes that Marciano, Dempsey, Tunney, Walcott Frazier and Holmes could withstand Liston in the ring? Needless to say, I don’t, and I devoted half my book to the only thorough discussion ever of the two Ali-Liston bouts. After all these years a great many people take those results on face value. I believe you probably are in that camp, too.
    I take it that you don’t agree with my premises about what happened in their rematch and about Liston’s age. Do you really think he was born in 1932? Liston was a very old man when he fought Ali and had 6 minutes and 14 seconds of ring time in the three years leading up to his first fight with Ali. He was older for that fight that Ali was for his fights with Holmes and Berbick and neither of those two opponents had anywhere near the talent that Ali did in 1964.
    I never said that I thought the Liston of ‘68 or ‘69 would have beaten Frazier or Ellis. What’s in my book is that Nat Fleischer and others said that the younger crop of heavyweights back then wanted nothing to do with Sonny. I spoke with Frazier about three years before he died and he told me he didn’t even want to spar with him. Look, age takes away everyone’s skills in every sport and Sonny’s decline was because of that, not because of his lifestyle. He didn’t start destroying his body until a couple of years before his death, and it’s highly likely he was pushing 50 at that time. By the way, my book does mention the sparring session with Mac Foster.
    I admire Joe Frazier. How could one not? You know what Eddie Futch told me? He said Joe’s problem was that he was little, which, of course, he was when compared to bigger, heavier fighters with longer reaches like Liston, Ali and Foreman. Put Joe at his very best in with the Liston of 1960 (or 1959, 61, 62 and 63) - and Frazier never sees the third round.
    Finally, you repeat the conventional wisdom that Liston quit both times against Ali. In the first fight, his left shoulder was severely injured, an indisputable fact that people choose to ignore. Why, I don’t know, but I have a lot of information about that injury in my book. In the second fight, Liston had to take a dive and everyone in boxing in 1965 knew he did when he went to the canvas. Until my book, nobody knew why he took the dive. Ali would have done the same thing Sonny did, if the lives of his wife and child depended on it. My guess is that you don’t believe what I wrote about that second fight and you probably also dispute most of what I wrote about the first fight.
    Hope I haven’t sounded preachy. That was not my intention. Just wanted to set the record straight.

  33. nicolas 06:54pm, 07/21/2013

    Conrad: I have not read the book, but I think it might be the 1958-59 Liston that he is talking about, not the 68-69. Emanuel Steward just before he died commented that Ali would have found that 58-59 version of Liston much tougher. Liston was very much avoided, and it is said that Patterson only fought Liston because President Kennedy asked him “when are you going to fight Liston?” Also, before the first Ali fight, I think Liston fought three times in three years, all by first round knockout, which did not keep him very active, I even think the fight before those first round knockouts went only two rounds. Sometimes too easy fights don’t prepare you for the tough ones. Also yes, I remember that Martin fight, but it cost Martin’s career because he suffered a detached retina, and I remember he had to go through hell to win that fight.

  34. Conrad 06:38pm, 07/21/2013

    I have read Paul’s book and found it a fascinating read.  Having been a Boxing fan since the 60’s I do remember the Liston’s seemingly invincible reputation.  However Paul WANTS Liston to be greater than he really was.  And he ignores some facts to built his case.  First he uses a supposed comment by Ali that beating Liston was his most significant accomplishment out of context.  Ali was making note of the fact that winning the title for the first time stood out for him above many other things as well it should.  HE WAS NOT saying it because he thought Liston was one of the greatest of all time.  FACT in “The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists”  Ali gives his top ten heavyweights of all time.  Liston was not in the top ten!  Gallender doesn’t tell us this why?  Ali has always said “the Thrilla in Manila” was his greatest fight and he has always stated that the ‘roughest and toughness” fighter he ever fought was Joe Frazier, certainly not Sonny Liston.  Its interesting that Ali rates Frazier, Dempsey, Marciano, Walcott, Tunney, Holmes (among others) AHEAD of Sonny Liston.  Perhaps if there is a second edition the book he can update it with this information.  Second as has been pointed out, Liston was several months out from winning the title against Patterson when he fought Ali.  There is no comparing this at all to when Ali fought Holmes and Berbick, this shows bias to even make this comparison.  Ali was FAR past his prime and coming out of retirement when he fought those fights, Liston was at his seeming invincible peak when he fought Ali.  Third, the book seems to indicate (correct me if I am wrong) that the 1968-69 version of Liston could have beaten Jimmy Ellis or Joe Frazier. While I would concede its was possible it would have been highly unlikely if you look at the evidence and not the myth.  Liston was a deteriorating fighter, more because of his lifestyle than his age.  If Leotis Martin could knock Liston out cold and Martin had already been stopped by Ellis before this then Ellis and most certainly Frazier would have been difficult fights for Liston.  If Scrap Iron Johnson can last 7 rounds with Liston and backing him up through much of the fight then its certainly would make an objective viewer think Joe Frazier with his far better head movement and punching power would have worn out this version of Sonny Liston.  Liston was to old and out of shape to have handled the pace Frazier would have put him through.  Gallender also ignores the fact that Liston avoided Quarry who wanted to fight him (see Quarry’s book & a good thing for Sonny) and he doesn’t tell us the pretty well known story that Mac Foster as a sparring partner for Liston knocked him out in sparring.  Which was why Liston bet on Foster to beat Quarry and lost the bet as Gallender does tell us about.  Don’t get me wrong I rate Liston on the lower end of my top ten.  But he quit against Ali twice.  A quitter can’t be considered the second greatest heavyweight of all time.

  35. Paul Gallender 09:00pm, 07/17/2013

    By all means, Lou, tell me all the inaccurate comments in my book. You assert my book is full of “inaccurate comments and subjective opinions with no truths to back them up.” First off, have you read my book? There’s nothing in your rant to say or even suggest that you have. Been seething, have you, since our last exchange? First off, you can choose not to believe my account of the Lewiston kidnap episode, but you’re telling everyone that “there is no data or tangible proof” of it is preposterous. Again, did you read my account of it in my book?

    Where did I say Liston didn’t hate police? Where did I say his criminal record is due only to police harassment? Are you basing this entire rant of yours on Marcus’ review of my book? Because you couldn’t have possibly drawn the conclusions you’re making if you read my book.

    “This book is not full of any actual facts but rather one man’s skewed and very short sighted opinions.” These are your words. I have more than 1,000 footnotes in by far the most prolifically researched Liston biography, and you make a statement like that?

    I don’t know where you’re coming from, Louis, and if people who know you or respect your opinions choose not to read my book because of it, I can live with that. I just don’t believe you’ve made a very good case for what you just wrote. I’ve received absolutely great reviews about my book from boxing people and longtime fans, but you paint a far different picture than anyone else. Why? Because you made your response a personal one directed at me. 

    “Gallender does not have the capability to even understand why Ali did most of the things he did,” you wrote. Like I said, if anyone, anyone at all, wants to put any stock in this angry, misguided rant of yours, I’ll just have to hope that that group of people is not a big part of my target audience.

    One favor: when you tell people what a crappy book I wrote, have the professional courtesy to admit to them that you never actually read it.

  36. Louis Joshua Eisen 08:06pm, 07/17/2013

    Sonny Liston was a great fighter and much better than he was ever given credit for being. Mr. Gallender’s book book is filled with a lot of inaccurate comments and subjective opinions with no truths to back them up. Liston did in fact hate the cops and with good reason. The press called him a cop hater because he had a reason to hate them. Liston committed a lot of assaults because he was in the employ of the mob as a leg breaker. Liston was openly rude to most people he met.  He acted like a boor to LBJ and his staff when he met him at the White House. There is no data or tangible proof that the Nation of Islam ever kidnapped Liston’s family. That is simply untrue. Liston regularly and deliberately played head games with all of his opponents yet when Ali did it he has a problem with it. Liston was trying to terrify Ali during their press appearances and Ali gave it right back to him. He did it also to build up his own confidence but Mr. Gallender is too myopic to see it. To say that Liston’s criminal record is due only to police harassment is really being disingenuous. Liston was a leg breaker for the mob. Gallender does not have the capability to even understand why Ali did most of the things he did. In Viet Nam well over 90% of the front line shock troops were Black. Ali was offered an easy army job in the U.S and he turned it down. Patterson purposely disrespected his religion. Who is Mr. Gallender to say Ali should have knocked him out earlier? Mr. Gallender is not a rite or a boxing historian and therefore is wholly unable to look at Liston in a much wider context. Liston was managed by Jack Nilon. Nilon was an associate of Pep Barrone. Barrone workded directly under Blinky Palermo who answered to Frankie Carbo. This book is not full of any actual facts but rather one man’s skewed and very short sighted opinions. There are many good boxing books out today. This is NOT one of them!!!!

  37. jaye 06:47pm, 03/27/2013

    i don’t really agree with you on some of these issues… but i’ve got to commend you on your manner…. your character comes through in your every post… and i’ll get the book…. differences of opinions aside… you seem like one of the good guys… :-)

    as to liston… how he and his memory was treated by america was criminal… he deserves far more respect than he receives… and anyone that knows anything at all about boxing knows that…

    while ali didn’t fight a prime liston.. the one he did fight was just 7 months gone from the liston that destroyed patterson… and after ali… liston ko’d 12 of 13 guys… so he was hardly on a walker… liston advocates and those that dislike ali try to make it sound as if liston was on his last legs… when in truth… liston would have had his hands full with ali at any time in his career… styles… and he simply had never fought anyone like ali before… i remember the gasps from the crowd when they disrobed and stood together and the crowd saw that ali was actually a little larger than liston…. ali was so well proportioned that looking at pictures of him it was hard to really tell just how big he was…

    anyway… as i said… you really seem like one of the good guys… and even tho i don’t think that obvectivity will be a part of that read… i’m glad to support your work…

  38. lynel Gardner 11:59am, 03/19/2013

    Hi Paul and congratulations on your book but my question to you is Why weren’t they at Sonny’s funeral? I will call you later about this.

  39. Paul Gallender 11:14am, 03/19/2013

    Hello Lynel,

    I’d love to talk to you. My phone number is 831 224-0012.  Actually, Sonny fathered several children, though none by Geraldine. Please call me at your convenience.

    Paul Gallender

  40. lynel gardner 11:08am, 03/19/2013

    And who is the fat dude claiming to be Sonny’s son? Sonny never had any children.

  41. lynel gardner 11:06am, 03/19/2013

    What? My grandmother Geraldine was never kidnapped nor is the boy in the picture name is Bobby. Nobody could have kidnapped her under Franky Carbo’s watch.

  42. nicolas 03:52am, 02/02/2013

    I think the comment that the British guy on the video made to Ali above is one of the most classiest responses to Ali. “I think that is a philosophy of despair” he says to him.

  43. nicolas 03:33am, 02/02/2013

    Paul, interesting comment about Louis saying he was glad that Liston wasn’t around when he was fighting. I have read somewhere else that Dempsey was glad that Louis wasn’t around when he was fighting. I have read that Emanuel Steward said that Ali was lucky that he didn’t have to fight the Sonny LIston of 1959.

  44. Paul Gallender 08:13pm, 01/01/2013

    I don’t denigrate Ali at all in my book. You’re responding to the reviewer’s comments, not mine. All I did was tell the truth about the two Liston-Ali fights and I backed it up with far more research than anyone else ever took the time to do. You need to read my book before you make the kind of statements you just did. No basis in fact? Read the book. Don’t buy it—borrow it from someone who already has it. I don’t want you to think I’m responding to you just to make a sale.

  45. jaye 08:04pm, 01/01/2013

    you don’t have to denigrate one person in order to praise another…. to make liston a good guy… it’s not necessary to make clay a bad guy…. and as others have pointed out… clay was hardly beloved… the majority of america wanted liston to beat clay senseless…. many of your points are biased and have little basis in fact…. or exaggerated… while i crave more info on liston… one of my favorite fighters… i don’t think i’d enjoy a book written from such a one-sided perspective…. thanks anyway….

  46. Paul Gallender 02:06pm, 10/02/2012

    Good luck with that, Jim.

  47. JIm 12:23pm, 10/02/2012

    Liston quit in the first Clay fight because he was horribly out of condition.  He got hit with a solid shot sufficient to deck him in the 2nd championship match, because it was thrown extremely fast (force = mass x acceleration) and because he was stretching far forward and so was not adequately centered.  The blow, however, was certainly not sufficient to keep him on the deck;  he chose to stay down.  When Liston’s age in 1964 is said to have been around 40-45, that makes it clear that the so-called impeccable, thorough research by this author is not all that reliable.  We know that Liston was born in 1930.

  48. Tex Hassler 10:54am, 09/29/2012

    The Liston vs George Foreman sparring session took place in 1969 if my memory is right. George of course was a beginning pro and was working with Liston to try and learn something. More than once Liston had Foreman completely open for a punch but chose to pull the punch in order not to hurt the young Foreman.  Foreman on that day was outclassed completely by Liston. In my opinion a prime Liston would have taken a prime Foreman or just about any heavyweight alive now. Liston was in his prime from 58-63. When he fought Ali he was already past his prime. The Klitschko brothers would just have been target practise for a prime Liston. The K Brothers are good men, just not in Liston’s class of fighter.

  49. Paul Gallender 07:03pm, 09/28/2012

    Tex - I’d love to hear your story of that workout in greater detail. Stories like that are little gold nuggets to me.

  50. Tex Hassler 04:32pm, 09/28/2012

    I have real doubts that Liston was 45 when he fought Ali. Interesting research to say the least.

  51. Paul Gallender 11:48am, 09/27/2012

    OK, I’m back. I was in Philadelphia commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sonny winning the heavyweight title. Great fight city. The City Council adopted a resolution (they call it a Citation) declaring Sept. 25, 2012 to be Sonny Liston Day. Liston’s son, William, Willie Reddish Jr., and I celebrated over lunch with three of the biggest pieces of prime rib any of us had ever seen. Got enough local coverage of the event to make the trip worthwhile.

    Now, as to Sonny’s age (pages 154-156 in my book). So, the census says that Sonny might have been born in 1930, Brian. And Jameschico, you insist you know that Sonny was born in May, 1932, because a Mr. Dorris in Chicago told you so. (I’m not sure what you were trying to convey in the second part of your comment, Mr. Fields.) Of course, at most, only one of those two assertions can be right. Or, it’s possible that neither of those two statements are right. I have about two full pages on the matter and while I can’t say for sure that my conclusion is correct, I think my research carries a certain amount of depth and credibility. Of course, you or anybody else would have to read my book to see what I’m talking about and you may choose not to do so.

    One other thing, Brian. While the reviewer was referring to the second Ali-Patterson match in terms of Muhammad “carrying” Patterson, for the record, in my book I was referring to their first match in 1965.

  52. Minerva 03:05am, 09/27/2012

    There is definitely a great deal to know about this subject.

    I really like all of the points you’ve made.

  53. Jameschico L Fields 04:15pm, 09/25/2012

    Sonny Liston was born in the South and raised in St Louis by his oldest sister who was not only old enough to be his mother but had a son born 5 months after Sonny in October, 1932.  This man later moved to Chicago and presently lives at his home with his wife, Dorothy and his name is Robert Dorris.  He has confirmed that his mother knew that her baby brother Charles Liston was born in May of 1932.  When a tremendous devastating champion is repeatedly hit over and over and is receiving more damage than they are able to dish out their psych is damaged and ultimately they become convinced of the inevitable…they cannot win.  This happened dramatically after Buster Douglas got off the canvass to win the title and continue his assault on Tyson and with Liston late in the 1st fight signing the rematch for the $$$$ as he felt perhaps ‘it’s a payday!?!?

  54. Brian Daley 11:32am, 09/24/2012

    Paul: I look foward to reading your book, but I must take issue to a few points from the article. First, the idea of Ali carrying Patterson should have been from their 1965 bout…by their 1972 rematch, there was little animosity between the two. Second, recent findings from the 1930 and 1940 U.S. Census shows Sonny not yet born in 1930, and listed as “about 10” in the 1940 Census. He was probably born in late 1930, not 1919. Geraldine kidnapped? Why hasn’t Geraldine ever talked?  Is there still fear of reprisal at this late date? Anyway, boxing history is filled with behind the scenes stories and rumors, and I’m sure a few of them might be true. As a Liston fanatic, I can’t wait to read your writings.

  55. Paul Gallender 07:13pm, 09/22/2012

    You’re fight, LC. Two fighters who were truly, paralyzingly scared were Patterson, before the first Liston fight, and Michael Spinks, before he faced Tyson. Floyd was so scared that the ringside physician had to enlist the help of Cus D’Amato so he could measure Floyd’s vital signs in the dressing room. Sonny always said the first Williams fight was his toughest. My favorite one of Liston’s rounds is round 2 of the 2nd Williams bout. Everyone should watch that on YouTube. Cleve lands 8 or 10 solid shots to Sonny’s head and the Bear’s legs never wobble. However, Liston knew he couldn’t allow that to go on. Less than a minute later, as I recall, the fight was over.

  56. Lonesome Coyote 03:38pm, 09/22/2012

    What truly impressed me was what Liston did to Cleveland Williams - twice. Williams wasn’t just an Ernie Shavers. He could box, could bang like a whore-house door and had very quick hands. And, for the time, he was a pretty big bastard. Splattered twice.

  57. Lonesome Coyote 03:29pm, 09/22/2012

    Paul, my apologies. Instead of “wasn’t afraid” I should have said: “Wasn’t shitting their pants” because, you’re right, Ali was “afraid” of Liston but certainly wasn’t shitting his pants. But any fighter who goes in the ring not afraid is, sometimes, guaranteed of a beating. Being afraid is not a bad thing but there are fighters who are truly scared and those, like Ali and others,  who use that fear as a power source of their own. Machen knew how to wind up Liston, as, of course, did Ali (in spades), and did Martin. That sort of fighter would always beat or give Liston the fits. That doesn’t make Liston a nobody. Ali had his Norton and his Frazier. Frazier, his Foreman. Holmes also his Norton. Louis his Conn, Lewis his McCall and Rahman, Tyson his Douglas, Dempsey his Tunney. No disgrace.

  58. Paul Gallender 03:18pm, 09/22/2012

    Point well taken!

  59. Lonesome Coyote 03:13pm, 09/22/2012

    My final frigging point: Neither Klit would have gone 5 rounds with Liston. Neither, never, ever.

  60. Paul Gallender 02:52pm, 09/22/2012

    LC - There is a reason that this sport is called boxing. Machen was a master boxer as was Ali. And Ali was afraid of Liston, something he admitted on more than one occasion. No shame in that. Sonny was a monster and, as you know, that’s a big compliment in boxing. I have to disagree with you when you say that the facts regarding Liston have been gone into in great length before. They really haven’t and my book (not self-promoting here) makes that abundantly clear. A lot of “facts” about him seem factual only because they’ve been repeated so many times. Norman Mailer coined the phrase ‘factoid’ to describe that. Over the years, I’ve asked the same question to everybody I’ve interviewed - including Jimmy Jacobs, Eddie Futch, George Gainford, Ash Resnick, George Foreman, Don Chargin, Henry Winston, Willie Reddish Jr. and Floyd Patterson, among others - Apart from Ali, if Sonny was at or near his best, who could have beaten him? Almost all of these people responded by saying “that’s a good question” or they said nothing at all. I say no one, and I wrote this book to make that case.

  61. Lonesome Coyote 02:24pm, 09/22/2012

    The other point, Paul, that I’d like to add is that for every fight that I’ve seen of Liston tells me so much about Liston as a fighter. He was truly awesome, well before the Patterson debacles. Our own Henry Copper- who wasn’t a bad fighter - admitted that he would never have faced off against Liston: too big, hit too hard, etc. With the results against Ali and ultimately against Leotis Martin, Liston has been easy to side-track in HW history. But also consider the fight against Eddie Machen - an elusive boxer who nullified all of Liston’s aggression bar the alleged lintament blinding - which demonstrated for all to see that Liston had a problem with intelligent boxers unafraid of him. Check the Machen fight, the Ali fights and the Martin fight. Enough said, I have to say.

  62. Lonesome Coyote 02:11pm, 09/22/2012

    Well, that’s nice of you to say. I neither subscribe to the view which has grown that Liston was simply ‘bad’ (and therefore ultimately fated) or that he was over/under-rated in HW history, nor that he simply gave away both Ali fights.

    The facts regarding Liston have been gone into in great length before. The result is “case unproven”. I’m afraid I have to say that I go along with that. What I do know is that an ultra-self-belief in Ali then is what proved to be Liston’s weakness: “Ali was was a nut”, and who knows what a nut would do? Liston’s weakness was what proved so traumatic to Foreman and, theoretically, to Tyson. I’ve said it many times before: Ali would beat Tyson before the weighing. The Brothers (!!!) wouldn’t even have signed for the fight. Am I giving away too much?

  63. Paul Gallender 07:30am, 09/22/2012

    LC - It’s a pleasure to converse with someone who’s as knowledgeable about boxing history as you are. I’ve found that boxers and trainers feel the same way. Had Charles stayed as a LH, he may have been the best ever. Same goes for Patterson, who I think is given too little credit. I have not revised or rewritten boxing history in relation to Sonny. I’m merely respecting it, and the fact that Moore, Louis and Ali had such a high opinion of Sonny’s Liston’s talent is important. You should read my book.

  64. Lonesome Coyote 07:12am, 09/22/2012

    It’s a matter of debate whether Archie Moore was the greatest LH of the century. The case for Ezzard Charles, amongst others, has been put many times in many forums. But what, precisely, has it to do with Moore’s judgement on Liston? There also were many others at the time who expressed their belief, just as they did later with George Foreman, that Liston was unbeatable, would reign as champ as long as he chose, AND would kill Ali in the ring. But he didn’t and he couldn’t. And that’s what revisionist histories can’t accept.. Liston was a great fighter, I have no doubt at all. Sadly he met his nemesis in Ali.
    Liston chose to “hang out” with some very unsavoury characters and if that fact has affected history’s judgement of him as a fighter it’s unfortunate for him but inevitable.

  65. Paul Gallender 06:44am, 09/22/2012

    From my introduction, here is what three of the greatest fighters of all-time said about Sonny Liston: Archie Moore was voted the best Light Heavyweight of the 20th century and he described Sonny as “something extraordinary with a pair of Everlast gloves.” Moore told that to Sport Magazine a few months after Liston lost his title to Muhammad Ali. Moments after Sonny lost his title, the great Joe Louis matter-of-factly said Cassius Clay had “just beaten the greatest heavyweight champion in history.” The Triple Crown of Compliments was completed when Today’s Matt Lauer twice asked Muhammad Ali to name his most significant accomplishment in or out of the ring. Both times, the man known as the Greatest responded by saying, “beating Sonny Liston,” and did so with no hesitation whatsoever.

  66. Lonesome Coyote 06:21am, 09/22/2012

    What exactly is this “case” for Sonny Liston? That he was the feared heavyweight through the late 50s? We know. That he twice twatted Floyd Patterson - and Cleveland Williams for that matter? We know. That he spent longer trying to get a shot at the title than he should have? Ditto. That he was once outboxed by Ali and knocked down in the return? Done, in spite of this book. To suggest, also, that the Liston of the two Ali fights equates in terms of being a shot fighter to the Ali who was beaten by Holmes and Berbick is, unfortunately, a stretch too far. Nice try - it will sell the book though.

  67. Lee J 05:12am, 09/22/2012

    I am probably in the minority here of being an equal fan of both Ali and ‘The Champ that Nobody wanted’ .I do have to say however that to suggest Ali had a ‘dark side’ is no great revelation. It is well known that he ‘carried’ several opponents-the first Patterson fight was even more blatant in my opinion, not to mention the Terrell fight, i can even live with the idea that he was scared of going to Vietnam. But this should not detract from his genuine social and religious principles and his prominent place within the zeitgeist and near the forefront of the civil rights movement. And in any case heroes are often built on myths ,boxing heroes more so. Print the myth every time!
    On a side note, to suggest that Bob Mee has a shaky grasp on Heavyweight history is somewhat unfair to a widely revered and knowledgable scribe.

    Mind you, that interview footage of Liston is absolutely golden!

  68. John Gerard 04:17pm, 09/21/2012

    To call Liston a “gentle giant” may well have been one of the stupidest thngs ever written. Revisionism taken to the retarded level.

  69. Patricia Hamilton 02:35pm, 09/21/2012

    This book contains incredible inside information and is a boxing must-read! You can get it today at, or an autographed copy from Paul Gallender. His appearances are on the website as well.

  70. Paul Gallender 10:23am, 09/21/2012

    Liston can be seen quaking? Liston was afraid of Cassius Clay? I’m not rewriting history, I’m merely respecting it. Have you read the Archie Moore interview where he says (about the November rematch) that if Sonny pushed himself in training, Ali wouldn’t see the 6th round? Moore also said: “This man (Liston) has a depth of fighting potential that is astounding. I would say here and now that Liston has much more to work with than Clay, despite the fact that he lost to Clay. And despite the fact that he is older. You see, Liston has an amazing amount of energy, and Clay has an unusual amazing amount of energy. But Liston is, we’ll say, five times more durable than Clay when it comes to absorbing punishment when it is meted out.” It was also Moore who said that Liston “was something extraordinary with a pair of Everlast gloves,” which is probably the finest compliment ever paid by one great fighter to another. Look, I know I won’t convince everyone to accept my assessment of Sonny’s ability and character. And based on what has been written about Sonny in the past, I understand why. If you don’t read my book - and I know this sounds self-serving - you don’t know who Sonny Liston was.

  71. Jethro's Flute 08:52am, 09/21/2012

    If Liston really was 45 when he first fought Ali then he was 43 when he flattened Floyd Patterson in one round.

    I think we can safely say that this was a low point in boxing when a man that age can win the heavyweight title with the greatest of ease.

    I may add that he was a huge favourite to beat a young Ali and beat him by massacre. Saying that Ali didn’t meet the real Liston is revisionism.

    I’ve got Archie Moore, George Benton and Don Dunphy, among others, on tape, noting that Liston couldn’t cut off the ring on a slick boxer to save his life and they were commenting on round 5 where Ali literally couldn’t see.

    Before the fight, Liston can be seen quaking as he realizes how big a man Ali was. The idea that he would somehow be a threat to George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe or the K brothers who all had the power to hurt him is some of the greatest revisionism I’ve seen and that’s saying something.

    I also add that David Haye would enter the ring at about Liston’s weight, even when fighting at cruiserweight and he was, like Liston, devastating against cruiserweights.

  72. Paul Gallender 08:32am, 09/21/2012

    Sonny Liston was a cruiserweight? A rock-hard 212-pound cruiserweight? Interesting notion.

    As to comparing Louis and Liston - everything that Joe did well, Sonny did better. Next to Liston, Louis would have looked little. Plus, Joe was easy to hurt. And, immediately after Sonny lost the title, Louis said Clay had “just beaten the greatest heavyweight champion in history.” He also said, “I’m glad he (Liston) wasn’t around when I was fighting” and when asked how he would have fought Sonny, Joe said, “well, I wouldn’t have jabbed with him.”

  73. 04:43am, 09/21/2012

    Stop living in a dream world.

    Cruisers like Liston (started at 198, average KO victim 200 lbs) or Ali (started at 177 lbs) would have not much chance against the brothers.

    Here some objective info:

    One has to doubt whether the brothers have EVER fought anyone slower than Liston or featherfistier than Ali/Clay.

    Wake up. Stop worshiping B-level fights from 50 years ago.

  74. NYIrish 01:11pm, 09/20/2012

    What a banger! What a left ! Ask anybody that was in with him.

    Will read the book.

  75. Don from Prov 12:30pm, 09/20/2012

    Well, I certainly look forward to the book—

    But am not shocked by an off-balance Liston caught by that short right.
    Nor am I shocked by the outcome of same.  I’m not sure that stories being passed among friends = hard evidence to me, but again, I haven’t read your book and don’t have the entire context.  I do love that you are going to present Sonny Liston to your readers, and do agree that Ali did not fight the real Liston.  I think that the book sounds like a “must-read”—for me anyway.  Congratulations for seeing your hard work out in print!

  76. Matt McGrain 10:49am, 09/20/2012

    I can’t see a large gap between Louis and Liston personally, but I am a longtime advocate for Liston as one of the best HW’s there’s been.  A true technician and a real puncher, things that rarely go together in the biggest division.

  77. Jethro's Flute 10:06am, 09/20/2012

    “A couple of other things: NO ONE ever hit harder than Sonny Liston and NO ONE was harder to hurt.”


    “And, in my humble opinion, Ali and Liston stand head and shoulders above any heavyweights who ever lived. The gap between them and everyone else is huge.”

    Ha! Ha! Ha!

    I’m done here.

  78. Paul Gallender 10:02am, 09/20/2012

    For those of you in and around Philadelphia, my book launch is scheduled for Monday, September 24th from 5-8 pm at the African American Museum located at 701 Arch St. It will be a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Sonny winning the heavyweight title. Among the notables who will be in attendance are Sonny’s son William, Hall of Fame promoter Russell Peltz, Willie Reddish Jr., trainer Mitch Allen, Liston’s good friend Tommy Manning and boxing scribe George Headley Hanson Jr. As far as getting my book, soft covers are available on Amazon for $15.95 and I have hardcovers which I will sign or inscribe for $25.95. Go to for contact info. A couple of other things: NO ONE ever hit harder than Sonny Liston and NO ONE was harder to hurt. And, in my humble opinion, Ali and Liston stand head and shoulders above any heavyweights who ever lived. The gap between them and everyone else is huge.

  79. Jethro's Flute 09:50am, 09/20/2012

    Liston destroy men of known punching power against heavyweights, as opposed to cruiserweights like Floyd Patterson and heavyweights with zero power like Chuck Wepner?

    Fair enough.

  80. mike schmidt 09:46am, 09/20/2012

    Look forward to the book Paul—hell all these posts can only serve up some sales publicity—keep stickin’ and movin’—dime a dozen opinion Schmidty here—I think Liston would have absolutely destroyed Tyson, Lennox and the twin tower brothers.

  81. norm marcus 09:01am, 09/20/2012

    Well Paul: Seems our readers are giving you somewhat of a hard time here?They don’t mean any harm and it is not personal. They are just ardent fight fans that have opinions. I found the story to be highly interesting and I’m sure they will too. You are just getting a baptism by fire here. Just keep your hands up and jab back. You’ll last out this round!

  82. Jethro's Flute 08:52am, 09/20/2012

    I’ve actually got some Sonny Liston fights on tape vs Cleveland Williams, Eddie Machen and Roy Harris.

    The writers Monte Cox and Frank Lotierzo are big fans of Sonny Liston with the latter reckoning that Liston would defeat Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and the Klitschko brothers.

    Don’t know if you have heard of those men but perhaps you’d enjoy their writings on him.

  83. Paul Gallender 08:49am, 09/20/2012

    I chose the title of my book to increase it’s marketability and because the real story behind those two fights has never been told. You’ll see what I mean if you read the book. That’s about 40% of the book. The rest is devoted to introducing Sonny on a personal level and it is the only book that has ever done so. I don’t believe I told Norm Marcus that “I own” Sonny Liston, because obviously I don’t. What I do tell people is that “I got Sonny Liston,” and by that I mean that in a debate about the history of boxing’s heavyweight division and the relative greatness of its fighters, I’m the only one advocating on his behalf and the only person who knows his story. Admittedly, there’s a lot I don’t know about Sonny, but the only place you can learn about the kind of man he really was, and just how great of a fighter he truly was, is in my book. Comparing fighters from different eras is, of course, subjective. Opinions are basically a dime a dozen and if you want yours to have any kind of credibility, you need to be able to make a damn good case for it. My book IS the case for Sonny Liston and it’s the only one out there. Think about this before you react: Muhammad Ali never fought the real Sonny Liston, just as Holmes and Berbick never fought the real Ali, Marciano never fought the real Louis and Willard never fought the real Jack Johnson. There has always been a different set of rules when it came to Sonny Liston and it’s unfair and dishonest.

  84. Jethro's Flute 08:12am, 09/20/2012

    “Consider this - Liston is remembered almost entirely on the basis of the two Ali fights?”

    Liston won the title by flattening a man who would not have been a heavyweight after 1979 in Floyd Patterson. Liston would still have been considered a decent-sized heavyweight in the 80’s, weighing about the same as Larry Holmes.

    His losses to Ali still have an aura of mystery about them to this day, the second one being utterly woeful.

    “Why isn’t Ali remembered almost entirely on the basis of his dismal performances against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick?”

    Ali was ill when fighting Holmes. He was in such a terrible state, Alan Minter would have beaten him.

    As for Berbick, he was nearly 40 and could be clearly heard slurring his words before the fight.

  85. mike schmidt 07:31am, 09/20/2012

    Sorry for the typos- in one hell of a hurry to get out the door!!!!!!

  86. Matt McGrain 07:29am, 09/20/2012

    Liston is remembered mainly for his Ali fights because Ali is the most famous boxer in history.  Almost everyone he fought from Jones to Foreman is most famous for their brush with Ali.  That’s the way fame works.  Ali isn’t famous for his late-career losses mainly due to the extreme circumstances surrounding them, and the fact that he was involved in much, much bigger fights, many of them.  From a historical perspective, Liston was not.

    As for Mee’s book and whether or not the comparison is insulting, perhaps.  I found him illuminating on the fight that never happened and that made it worth the read for me.  It sounds like you take us deeper. Regardless, you’d have to admit that the synopsis of his book, and your book, are identical?

  87. Mike Schmidt 07:29am, 09/20/2012

    First off—this “Phantom Punch” business has taken on boxing urban legeng mythical proportions—say it enough times and off we go—Clearly in slow motion—Liston was off balance, in the wrong spot and got hit clearly across the chops-the whole side of his face bulges out. Did he allow himself to take such a shot? That is another question all together. I look forward to this book—looks like it will be one hell of a good read—in terms of Liston vs Ali 1—perhaps our author can fill us in- I have heard umpteen times that Liston was not in even half the shape he was for previous fights- -e certainly does not look like the same ripped machine that chewed up the big cat—where does Liston belong in the Heavy History—wayyyyyyyyy up there—the guy that chewed up the Big Cat and Patterson-hard pressed to put him anywhere other than below Ali, Johnson (because of Johnsons size and defence ability) and maybe, just maybe Foreman-power vs power—certainly Liston was just too big, too hard hitting, and too long punching for most of the earlier heavies who today would be no more than cruisers—my humble opinion—big Liston fan here so look forward to the read.

  88. Paul Gallender 06:53am, 09/20/2012

    I devoted a couple of pages to Sonny’s age, Jethro. And, Matt, you sure know how to insult a guy. Like almost everyone who has written a book about Liston or referenced him substantially in a book about Ali, Bob Mee was dismissive of Sonny’s incredible talent and contemptuous of him as a human being. I don’t remember him saying anything original and for that I was grateful. I never got the impression that Mee, Tosches, Steen or Remnick really had a firm grasp on the history of boxing’s heavyweight division. Consider this - Liston is remembered almost entirely on the basis of the two Ali fights? Why isn’t Ali remembered almost entirely on the basis of his dismal performances against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick?

  89. Matt McGrain 05:50am, 09/20/2012

    Bob Mee released basically the same book (by the sounds) two years ago.

    Also - I can’t agree that Clay enjoyed a “friendly press”.  To many he was a loudmouth who couldn’t fight.  Ali was famously tickled upon hearing a white ringsider yell for Liston to “kill that n*gger!” in Maine.  Ali thought this was brilliant, that he had become so villified that the white press’s previous boogeyman had become the “white man” for the intents and purposes of his first defence of the heavyweight title.  Strange, strange times.

    Still, could be an interesting read, though it’s clearly more along the lines of a hrd perspective like Night Train rather than the objective point of view adopted by The Phantom Punch.  Liston polarises though, so that is fine.  I’ll be picking up a copy.

  90. Jethro's Flute 05:26am, 09/20/2012

    Was Liston really 45?

    That’s far older than he was ever claimed to be.

  91. Paul Gallender 09:34pm, 09/19/2012

    Sonny Liston being knocked down by Muhammad Ali is a BIG stretch. My source and her husband were dear friends of Joe and Martha Louis and Sonny and Geraldine Liston. She was in Lewiston on the day of the fight and was told the story by Martha Malone Louis, who learned of it from Joe, and Joe was told about it by Sonny. Ali did not know about it, nor would he have approved of it if he did. Muhammad actually felt cheated by the outcome of the Lewiston fight.

  92. Don from Prov 12:14pm, 09/19/2012

    “Elijah’s Black Muslims kidnapped Geraldine Liston and Liston’s son Bobby. Sonny was told to lose the fight to Ali or he would never see his family again!”

    I have to say that sounds like a stretch, a BIG one—

    But I haven’t read his book and seen all his sources.
    Anyway, I was a Liston fan who became a reluctant but strong Ali fan.