Son of a Champion

By Paul Gallender on December 5, 2014
Son of a Champion
When Joe Frazier met Bill Wingate and went to shake his hand he said, “Yep, that’s him.”

Slowly but surely, the man we knew as Charles “Sonny” Liston is being demystified and Bill Wingate, I believe, will play a big part in that process…

As Sonny Liston waited in his dressing room before challenging Floyd Patterson on September 25, 1962, chances are he was thinking more about his five-day-old son, William, than he was about his opponent. Beating Floyd was just something he had to do. Children were what mattered most to Sonny.

In Philadelphia, Sonny was friends with Bill’s Uncle Kenneth and their driveways faced each other. They’d hang out together and shoot pool and drink. When Bill’s mother, Delores, came to visit her brother, Sonny was smitten. “They were very close,” said Bill. “My mother never married him, but we never wanted for anything, ever.”

At first, Bill didn’t know that Sonny was his dad. He thought of the huge, smiling man simply as “the guy with all the money in his pocket.” After awhile, Bill’s mother stopped hiding the fact that he was born out of wedlock. “When she explained it to me, it just went over my head,” said Bill.

Uncle Kenneth used to tell Bill that his daddy was the baddest man on the planet, which of course, was a major compliment. Young Bill thought it meant that Sonny was a bad man and that didn’t square with how he felt about him. Uncle Kenneth got a kick out of that and they constantly went round and round about it.

Bill had a fantastic childhood and he never wanted for anything, thanks in large part to his father. During one of Sonny’s visits to his former hometown, Bill fell through a window and cut his face. Sonny asked him what he wanted. At that moment an ice cream truck rolled down the street and Bill asked him to get everybody ice cream. “He bought all my friends on the street ice cream. There must have been 30 of them.” After that, lots of kids on Bill’s block looked forward to the next visit of “the guy with all the money in his pocket.”

When Sonny died, it wasn’t hurtful to him because he didn’t feel like he had lost somebody. Bill was only eight years old when his mother had to tell him Sonny wouldn’t be coming around anymore. “He won’t be coming around anymore?” he asked her. She said no and he said, “Well, I’m gonna go play”

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Bill Wingate is his father’s son in a lot of ways. For one thing, he has his father’s legendary fists. Bill’s ring size is 13 and though his hands aren’t quite as large as Sonny’s were, his forearms could pass for biceps. When Joe Frazier met Bill and went to shake his hand he said, “Yep, that’s him.”

Like his dad, Bill carries himself with respect and dignity. He has a soft spot in his heart for the underdog, and he loves children. “My dad loved kids like a fat kid loves cake,” say Bill. “I have my father’s heart.”

Bill also has his dad’s sense of humor. When Sonny was around people he liked, and people who liked him, he left them laughing. British promoter Mickey Duff was one of many people who said Liston was the funniest guy he ever hung around with. Bill may be even funnier than his dad and unlike Sonny, he’s comfortable on stage. My guess is that in a couple of years, he’ll be a big-time comedian.

Bill’s not a braggart or a boaster, nor was his father. But like his father, his strength used to get him into a lot of trouble. The Philadelphia Inquirer once named Bill Wingate as one of the city’s most feared bodyguards and bouncers. He was the leader of the city’s second largest gang at the time.

Bill once got charged with attempted murder when a guy he hit fell into a coma. After the guy came out of the coma he told the police he declined to press charges. “I was a complete knockout artist,” said Bill. He once hit former heavyweight contender Bert Cooper so hard with his right hand that the EMTs had to break three ammonia capsules under his nose before they could revive him. For the record, Cooper was shaking down people on the street and he made the mistake of throwing the first punch. Bill’s friend, Bobby Sweets, told him he had to stop hitting people. “You know who your father is,” said Sweets. “People can’t take this!”

It seems Bill was a much better all-around athlete than his father was, though in fairness to Sonny, he wasn’t into playing sports. Bill, on the other hand was Number One in the city in gymnastics in junior high, was an all-city basketball player, and the city’s second best swimmer.

A lot of old-timers would call Bill “Little Sonny.” He used to sit on a corner with a bunch of these guys and shoot the breeze. Many of them had been by Sonny’s side and they’d verify each others stories. “They lived the life with him,” said Bill. “I really didn’t toot my dad’s horn too much and I still don’t. I knew who I was. I just never walked in his shoes like Joe Frazier’s sons did. But I thank him for the life that he gave me.”
There was a moment in the mid-1990s when Bill felt an overwhelming connection to his father. He and his family were watching an HBO special on Sonny at the time. “Right at the end of the program, my dad turned to the camera and it felt like he was looking straight through me,” said Bill. “My daughter said, ‘Daddy, did you feel that?’ Silence came over the room and there was a smirk on my father’s face like he was telling me that everything is gonna be all right.”

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In August, Sonny Liston was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame. I was given the opportunity to introduce Bill and to say some kind words about his father. At that moment, I don’t know if Bill felt any prouder than I did.

“The award was well overdue and it was a privilege to be there for my father and to let people know that he just got a bad rap,” said Bill. “Oh my god, Roberto Duran almost broke my ribs, he squeezed me so tight. All the people just showed me love.” Those people included Tyson, Holyfield and Sugar Ray Leonard, just to name a few.

Hall of Fame Board Member, Tony Triem, told me Bill’s appearance made quite an impact on the attendees. Tony said people were still talking about him days after the event. Slowly but surely, the man we knew as Charles “Sonny” Liston is being demystified and Bill Wingate, I believe, will play a big part in that process.

A few hours before the induction ceremony, I took Bill to visit his father’s grave. It was a very emotional experience for my friend. “I never had a chance to say goodbye to him,” said Bill. “I told him I was doing things, that he had grandchildren and great grandchildren. I said I love you and I miss you, and I’ll see you on the other side when my number gets pulled. As I was walking away, it was like something was being pulled away from me, out of my spirit.” For the second time in his life, Bill felt an overwhelming connection to his father. 

Bill Wingate is Sonny Liston’s son, and he’s damn proud of it.

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

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  1. mark 09:52pm, 05/02/2016

    Being this late to the party probably means I won’t be heard. Nonetheless,......I want to address a few issues with Mr. Gallender.
      I know he is fond of Sonny Liston and spent years researching for and writing a book about who he believed Sonny Liston was. Given that,.......I’m lost for an explanation regarding some of the ‘facts’ he presents. He claims that Sonny was in his prime and established his boxing legacy in the period between 1959 to 1963. Then he claims that sonny was in his 40’s during that time. From a limited amount of research I’ve found that to be wrong,..........not even close to accurate.
      If sonny was roughly 40 in the period from 1959 to 1963,. he would have been in his 50’s when he fought his last fight against chuck wepner. he would have been about mid 50’s when he died. the basis for that assertion is not given,.................and frankly, there is none.
      Could Liston have been in his mid forties when he fought clay/ali? Absolutely not, not even close to that age. Watch Sonny Liston preparing to fight Patterson in a video in 1962. Sonny jumps rope as nimbly as a young girl could. He’s clearly in his late twenties, close to thirty. The fact is, Liston was born in 1933, making him 26 when he knocked out Cleveland Williams. He was 27 when he knocked Williams out again in the rematch.  Those fights were in 1959 and 1960, when Mr. Gallender claims Liston was past 40. Watch those fights and see if you believe Sonny was past 40.
      After the fixed fights with Ali, Sonny fought 5 more years and about 17 fights. He knocked out/ beat up every guy during that time, including the one guy that finally beat him in 1969. Could liston have knocked out or beaten up all those guys if he was almost 50 or past 50? That’s what Mr Gallender’ would have us believe was Liston’s age for the last few years of his career. Nobody has ever claimed Liston was that old, though I’ve heard a few say he was 5 to 10 years older than he actually was.
        The only legitimate discrepancy in Sonny’s real age is a variation of one year at most, a few months in other instances. The national census records list all of Sonny’s siblings up to Sonny himself,....... in the 1930 census, but Sonny is not included. That gives credence to the D.O.B. given by Sonny’s mother; she stated that Sonny was born in the spring of 1933. Sonny’s wife agrees with that; some others have said 1932 was the year of his birth. Within his family, the month of his birth varies between April and May. That’s the only detail that is disputed among those closest to Sonny.
        The idea that Sonny could be as much as 15 years older ( Mr. Gallender’s assertion ) is absurd. The siblings born before and after Sonny would be only a year or so younger or older than Sonny; that can be used to estimate Sonny’s age,......... if nothing else. Any of his siblings born near to the date of his birth could be used as a guide to determine his age. I’m sure some of his siblings know their age, or very close to their actual age.
      The other issue that Mr. Gallender doesn’t address,........ therefore doesn’t believe,.....is the fact that the first fight between liston/clay was fixed. How he could have done extensive research without concluding that reality is hard for me to understand. Most pundits, experts and fans alike believe that Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston in a legitimate fight in Miami, in 1964. I’m here to tell everyone,........ it’s not true.
      I watched the fight for the first time about 2 years ago, after retiring and having the time to watch old fights. Within a few minutes I knew the fight was fixed. I’m shocked that others don’t see it. It’s very easily discovered, if you watch closely and carefully. You must forget what you think you know, and Ali fans must rid themselves of bias. Also, viewing the fight with a bit of suspicion helps reveal the truth. Watching with preconceived bias hides the truth, as is obvious by the fact that very few see the fix.
      One more thing; if you really seek the truth,........watch only Liston during the fight. Completely ignore Clay/Ali. That helps simplify things and removes divided attention to what Liston does. By the way,...Ali isn’t aware of the fix; he’s actually fighting. That’s always the case;... if both guys were involved in the fix and therefore pulling and intentionally missing punches, it would be too obvious and too easy to detect the fix. With one guy unaware, there’s 50% real fighting going on, enough to mask the other guy’s acting performance.
      If you block out Ali and everything he does, you’ll clearly see Liston pull, guide, and intentionally miss punches. It’s so very obvious to me that it’s comical. Many responses I’ve gotten indicate that fans of Ali have such feeling for, and dedication to him, they’ll find or invent excuses for any anomaly pointed out. That’s why it takes the ability to let go of bias and resist watching what Ali does in the fight.
        One more crucial detail; you must turn off the sound. The announcers have no choice but to believe the fight is real. Even if they suspect something they are obliged to ignore it. I’ve seen announcers invent things to report to cover for the obvious farce they’re watching in other fixed fights. Listening to the announcers will convince you that the fight is real,.........even though it clearly is not real.
      I’m so certain of this, I would bet my house against a pickle. It’s not plausible that the first Liston/Clay fight was real,....as far as I’m concerned.
        There’s some evidence to back it up. One of Liston’s corner men that night, has recently made a statement. He admits that Liston had no shoulder injury, that they lied. That was one of many issues I tried to convince people of, now I had corroboration. Another fact, the F.B.I. released a report 50 years after the fact. It’s publicly available. In it, they say that they were investigating the mob and fight fixing in 1964. They were watching Liston,........ they knew he had mob ties. Their report concluded that they couldn’t bring indictments because they lacked enough hard evidence. They stated, however, that all the agents that worked on this investigation, unanimously agreed that Clay/Liston fight(#1)that took place in Miami,.........was a fixed fight.
        The F.B.I. included that sentiment in the report. They risked being proven wrong, or worse, by doing so. They included that information anyway. They had 50 years to change their mind, they could have removed that from the report,.............but they didn’t.
      The mob guy involved in this fix was named Resko. Look him up, there’s a lot of information regarding his available…........

  2. mark 08:15pm, 05/02/2016

    I’ll elaborate, now that I know my comment will be accepted. ......I don’t pretend to know as much about Sonny as the other posters here, certainly Mr. Gallender spent a lot of time researching. In a way, i fall between his view and that of one detractor here,.........Joe Masterleo.
      Sometimes a bridge can be built between opposing views rather easily, only held back by stubborn refusal to concede to subtleties and to compromise regarding things that each would otherwise admit to agreeing with. Personal feelings and/or pride , a known human weakness, the culprit.
      My theory goes like this; when evaluating a man and the person that he was, it needs to be done carefully, starting from scratch( so to speak ). Compare Sonny’s earliest days to those that you compare him with later in life. That seems to be fair and logical. He was born into a family of 25 children, a family that was extremely poor, a family that had circumstances whereby Sonny received no education. Through no fault of his own, he was routinely beaten by his father. He was worked very hard, even being considered the replacement for the horse/mule that died.
        It’s likely that his mother couldn’t show him the love she otherwise would have, there were too many children and too much difficulty in the family for that to be expected. He felt only negative feelings and beatings from his father. At about 13, he left the family, traveling a long distance to St Louis, seeking to rejoin his mother. She abandoned the family some time earlier, likely due to the terrible life that was made worse by abuse from her husband.
        Sonny was rejected by his mother soon after showing up at her doorstep. Now,..... there’s a teenage boy, unwanted and having never felt love, alone on the streets of St Louis. From this beginning, would anyone expect a kind, well disciplined child to emerge? Would it be unusual if Sonny became a thief if he needed food to eat? Would it be only the result of being a bad person that he mixed with others in the same situation that he found himself in? Wouldn’t anyone expect a group of like young men to turn to crime for survival and because they lacked education, guidance and love? I think to believe that Sonny was a bad person and fully responsible for his behavior,.......... until he finally met with the priests that provided some of these things to sonny,.... is naive, absurd and very unfair.
        Sonny committed various crimes as a teenager. there’s no dispute about that fact. He deserved punishment and was punished. He emerged from prison no different than he was when he began his imprisonment. There are no good examples nor teachers in prison to change a man. The opposite is true; the place if full of criminals that can only enhance criminal knowledge and behavior in an individual while captive in that environment.
        After other crimes and a return to prison, Sonny finally got a break. He learned that his size could be parlayed into becoming a boxer. He proved to be very good, and that got the attention of others that resulted in a chance for Sonny to change. Catholic priests took responsibility for Sonny upon his release from prison;..... they led him into boxing outside of prison.
      In those days, the mob controlled many fighters; it was virtually a given that Sonny would be under their control eventually. Despite that, the real Sonny Liston began to slowly emerge. He still had problems with the police, due mainly to his past crimes and reputation. From this time forward however, the issue was primarily instigated by the police;  it got so bad that Sonny was arrested north of 100 times for the likes of driving too slow or vagrancy. Twice Sonny fled cities, seeking neutrality with officials. It never happened, and his reputation and legacy was cemented during these years, mostly based on the childhood crimes from long ago, discrimination, police corruption and the fact that Sonny had nobody defending him against whatever abuse officials dealt him.
          Those that defend Sonny Liston do so because of what Sonny became in the ‘2nd half’ of his life. The Sonny Liston that had some guidance, that felt love from his wife and others,.......the Sonny Liston that became a man. The man that Sonny Liston was always going to be, given a fair start in life and any resources or opportunities at all, emerged because it was always there.
        A man doesn’t become kind, gentle, generous and a man that loves children by being taught those things. Those are traits that Sonny Liston was born with, buried during the ignorance of his deprived youth and because he felt no love nor nurturing. Nobody,...not even a giant individual, a tough guy like Sonny Liston, can overcome a lack of love and education, to become a decent, civilized contributor to society, until these things are addressed.
        Not all men that survived a terrible beginning in life turn to crime, but those that do aren’t to be held responsible,.......not fully responsible certainly.  Many men can’t change criminal, uncivil behavior resulting from deprived beginnings; those that do, such as Sonny Liston, should be credited for doing so, not demonized and abused based on past issues.
      Do we, as a society prefer than a man changes for the better,............and should we respond in a positive manner towards those that make that transition? Or should we hold on to the faults and sins of a man, perhaps to feel better about ourselves or to serve and soothe hatred within ourselves?
        If you doubt that Sonny was a kind man at heart,..........take a look at how his face lights up in the presence of children. Children posed no threat to Sonny, and they reminded him of the fact that they are completely innocent, and need,....... and deserve,.............love.
      Watch Sonny when he’s holding a young girl that resembles Shirley Temple; the brilliant smile displayed by Sonny is the reflection of love and the brilliant spirit that resides within Sonny Liston. Shouldn’t we include that when considering who Sonny Liston was?
        I never knew Sonny, I have no connection to him whatsoever,.......except for one. I’m a human being like Sonny was a human being. I sense that Sonny Liston was a good man. I believe he was forgiven by God for any sins he may have committed,.......I hope for the same for myself and for all others…..........

  3. mark 06:40pm, 05/02/2016

    I fall on the side of believing that Sonny Liston was misunderstood.

  4. Paul Gallender 10:09am, 12/10/2014

    Great story. Thank you.

  5. NYIrish 08:12am, 12/10/2014

    Hugh Benbow was a high energy guy. When I came up the stairs and entered the gym for the first time I saw an old gent waving a metal folding chair over his head, threatening a guy in street clothes to “Get the hell outta here you crazy sonovabitch.”
    I boxed a heavyweight he had two days in a row. The second day I kept him on the end of my left hand and banged him around a little. I looked good. Benbow took me into his office and gave me the talk. He was selling himself as a manager and spoke of Cleveland Williams. He said he “had Sonny Liston down here.” He said Sonny wanted him to manage him but “I’m not gonna pimp for Frankie Carbo. I bought him a pair of alligator shoes and sent him on his way.” That had to be around 1975. Benbow told me he was 72 and had had a stroke as he flicked left jabs into a leather heavy bag. Hugh Benbow was a high volume speaker. I don’t recall asking any questions.

  6. Paul Gallender 08:11pm, 12/09/2014

    NYIrish, what else do you remember that Benbow told you about Sonny?

  7. NYIrish 07:57pm, 12/09/2014

    @ Tex;
    That had to be Hugh Benbows’ gym on Congress St. He told me about Liston coming down there. I first came through there in 74. That was a lively place, full of characters. The Pink Pussycat was across the street.

  8. Eric 04:30pm, 12/07/2014

    Irish…Doing the jobs that Americans won’t do? Yeah right. Growing up back in the ‘70’s, many high schoolers and young adults I knew, worked in restaurants as dishwashers, bused tables, waited on tables, cooked, etc.  Lot of working moms worked in the restaurant bidness. Not just the restaurant biz either, you go to any meat packing plant, chicken processing plant, construction site, textile mill, and chances are you could find quite a few illegals working there. This is the social engineer’s coup de grace to replace traditional America. The 1965 Immigration Reform Act, which your pal, Teddy Kennedy, stated wouldn’t change the current demographics of America, wasn’t working fast enough. Regarding the man being shot with a .45 pistol. I’m always amazed at what people survive and what sometimes kills people.

  9. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:44pm, 12/07/2014

    Eric-Which reminds me….saw an article where a guy survived 8 gunshot wounds from a .45 caliber pistol….goes to show how important shot placement is!

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:40pm, 12/07/2014

    Eric-The National Restaurant Association is in favor of Obama’s illegal amnesty for illegal aliens…..go figure!....which reminds me…..where the heck is Clarence George when we need him?

  11. Eric 10:44am, 12/07/2014

    Irish…Rourke looks like he’s never been in the ring in his life. Looks like a fish out of water, even in his younger days, weird style, if you could even call it a style of boxing. The funny thing was I believe Rourke was alluding to a match with Hopkins after his “victory” over the 1-9, homeless guy. Rourke mentioned wanting fight an older ex-champ in his weight class. When someone suggested the fight, Rourke said to, “bring it.” bwaaaaaaaaaaaa. Who is that guy kidding.

  12. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:11am, 12/07/2014

    Anyone down for Masterleo vs Gallender at a catchweight? I am….and I want to be on the undercard with Mickey Rourke….I’m 75 with a bum ticker but if he brings that same slow motion shit he did in Russia…..he’s getting KTFO!

  13. Eric 03:51pm, 12/06/2014

    @Steve…Had never heard about the Deloris Ellis incident. Tanks for the 411. I’ll have to drop Liston to Monzon status with that little piece of information. I’m sure that Sonny and his pal weren’t stopping Ms. Ellis for directions. His long rap sheet is disturbing but fighters and rap sheets aren’t that unheard of, Dwight Qawi, Bill Sharkey, Ron Lyle, etc., and even Sonny’s pal, Chuck Wepner would do time after retiring. You have to wonder if Sonny and his pal had ever pulled the Deloris Ellis caper prior to that incident, and had they actually gotten away with rape or worse.

  14. Steve 03:36pm, 12/06/2014

    Uhh Let see Here is only part of his St. Louis arrest record alone:

    Liston, Charles:

    June 1, 1950 Armed Robbery (plead guilty) Paroled Oct. 30, 1952
    January 28, 1953
    May 5, 1956 Assault w/ intent to Kill (plead guilty) This is the one where he broke a police offers knee cap, cut his face, stole his gun, etc.
    June 21, 1956 (while on bail)
    October 4, 1956 (theft while on bail)
    January 28, 1957 strong arming (had just been released from prison for the May 5 arrest)
    August 12, 1959 gambling

    other charges in various locales:

    May 18, 1961 loitering and resisting arrest
    June 12, 1961 impersonating an officer (Sonny and a friend stopped delores ellis as she drove through a lonely section of fairmount park in Philly and told her they police officers they ordered her out of the car. As she exited the vehicle a park guard drove by and Liston and Cooper jumped into their car and sped away. They were caught after short chase.)

    In 1963 he was sued by Pearl Grayson for assault and battery

    In Denver on March 10, 1964 he was arrested for speeding (going 76 miles an hour in a 30 mph zone) and found carrying a concealed weapon. The arresting officer had to call for backup when Liston began to get belligerent and “pretty rough.”

    Upon entering boxing he had a long well documented association with gangsters so numerous it would take a while to list them all including John Vitale, Pep Barone, Blinky Palermo, Frankie Carbo,

    We’ve seen testimony here of Liston intimidating women and their boyfriends so he could grope the women’s breasts.

    He died of a drug overdose either by his own hand or murder because of his involvement in a drug ring, loan sharking ring or some other murky underworld dealings depending on which story you choose to believe.

    Hell, if Bill Wingate was Liston’s son then he was born out of wedlock while Liston was married to Geraldine who was actually a devoted wife.

    Yeah, Liston was a choir boy who was set upon by the establishment, whatever. He may have been a great boxer but a kindhearted misunderstood teddy bear he was not.

  15. Paul Gallender 02:35pm, 12/06/2014

    Bonasera. Bonasera. What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?  So, I’m nothing more than a hero-worshipping adolescent who needs to organize a fan club to satisfy my insatiable need to hear good things about poor, old Sonny Liston. Oh, I shouldn’t have made the mistake of inferring that you thought Sonny was just a piece of garbage. Gee whiz, I wonder where I got that idea. I know you fancy yourself an intellectual but you give intellectuals a bad name. The “mistake” I made was asking you to tell me what you KNOW about Sonny Liston. You ignored that completely and chose to attack my personality instead. And I’m the one with the thin-skin? I offer facts and you offer your unsubstantiated, pre-conceived notions. Good luck with that. You can never be wrong, can you Joey? You take your position and then work backwards to justify it. (Yes, I know you think that’s exactly what I’m doing. You have to think that way!) Your default emotion is anger. You can dish it out but you can’t take it. I’m sure that attitude had gotten you pretty far in life. Oh yeah, what woman doesn’t like that trait in a man? Oh, sorry, I may have hit a nerve with that last remark, eh Joey?
    I don’t have any desire to take this conversation with you any further, either. And I’ll gladly give you the last word, should you choose to take it. But there is one thing I would ask you: Are you a better man than Sonny Liston was, and if you think you are, what makes you think that way? Hopefully, you’re better at writing fiction than you are at writing non-fiction.

  16. Joe Masterleo 12:44pm, 12/06/2014

    My purpose isn’t to change your mind, I’m not that ambitious or dumb.  I just disagree with you, and can be agreeable about that, not offended about same.  But as for your error filled redundancies, I’m afraid your pro-Liston passion and thin-skinned sympathizing of the man simply translates as so much maudlin violin-playing.  You’d think the guy was your own father, or brother.  No, wait By way of bias, I think he is.  As a collective, maybe we should add a few weeping steel guitars and pass the Kleenex.  Maybe that will satisfy you.  No?  Or perhaps we should have a posthumous perspective-correcting party for the man.  Saying that you “know” Liston entitles you to what—applause, accolades, the title of Liston’s long-awaited Deliverer or Redeemer?  Hey, whatever floats your hero-worshipping boat.  Not everyone wants to join your party.  And by the way, there you go ascribing your own thoughts to your readers, and again with presumption.  I never said that Liston was “a piece of garbage” or “evil,” simply that he bears responsibility for his image and reputation, more than you’d like to believe.  But a man convinced again his will is of the same opinion still.  Therefore, I see no reason to further respond to your passion as a Liston-o-philic and Liston-o-centric writer.  By the way, ever think of starting a Sonny Liston fan club?  Really, I think you should begin one.  The only qualifier would be to war an ugly, grimacing stare to meetings.  And please, let me know if you enlist more than, say, 5 or 6 members.  Beside yourself, that is.

  17. Paul Gallender 11:07am, 12/06/2014

    Mr. Masterleo - I believe that we own what we do. We own it forever, whether those deeds are good or bad. That’s how I live my life. Deeds are based in fact, but people’s opinions of us are often not. Norman Mailer coined the term factoid - when something is repeated often enough and long enough, it tends to become accepted as fact, whether it’s true or not.  A lot of what people think they know about Sonny Liston falls into this category.
    You focus mostly on Liston’s image and reputation, rather than his behavior. Let’s bring Muhammad Ali into this. Ali intentionally set out to cultivate an image and he did it masterfully. It doesn’t matter nearly as much that he stole his act from others, as it does that he pulled it off so beautifully. HE was definitely largely responsible for creating his own image. Sonny’s case was different. Here was a guy with one of the worst possible upbringings who, like many a boxer before him, did things worthy of incarceration. Here was a guy who did not like to talk and who said more in five or six words than many people said in a paragraph. He tried to better himself and he worked hard at his profession. He served his time. So, he enters the world of boxing with a criminal past and a disinclination to talk. He tells reporters he has paid his debt to society and he wants to put that part of his life behind him. He tells them he’s not much of a talker. The press could look at him as a gentle, quiet giant who never lost his dignity and tried to better himself. Instead, they call him an inferior negro, less than human and a savage, glaring-eyed gorilla.
    Sonny tries to mind his own business in the cities where he lives. Organized crime gets hold of his management and the police take that to mean that he is as bad as they are. Organized crime never did Sonny any good but there was nothing he could do about it. Now you say, “reputation wise, Liston made his own bed, and now forever sleeps in it, as far as this world goes.” I disagree with that statement. His boxing bed was largely made for him. Your statement leaves no room for setting the record straight, no room for correcting false statements and vicious innuendo with fact. And, of course, you’re not alone in adopting that attitude. Eric writes: Boxing is full of Sonny Listons and even worse and it seems he’s actually paying Sonny a compliment with that wording.
    What matters most is the truth. Informed opinions are based on facts, not reputations. People often cultivate their own reputations simply to hide the truth about themselves. Pillars of the community give generously to charities that benefit children while they sexually abuse their own children. Their secrets may never come out and their reputations remain intact. Images and reputations are often not worth the paper they’re printed on. They’re often false. Yet, you tell me that “if you decide to conclude that Liston was ‘a man of substance and worth knowing’ fine, but don’t expect many clear thinking others to join you.” So, I’m not a clear thinker.  But tell me Mr. Masterleo, (and anybody else who cares to chime in) what you do you KNOW about Sonny Liston? I know what you’ve heard about him, but what do you KNOW that has convinced you that he was just a piece of garbage? What “evil” things did he do?

  18. Joe Masterleo 05:58am, 12/06/2014

    Mr. Gallender:  It’s obvious that the subject of Liston is personal to you, which is your prerogative.  And I’m sure its illuminating to readers that your research and writing on him fill in some blanks, rounding-out a more complete portrait of the man.  (In penning “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson was likewise fascinated by the twin paradoxes of light and darkness co-mingled within a soul, including his own).  However, one’s personal investment in a subject can be a double-edged sword, and therein lies the issue which my comments serve to underscore.  To reiterate; (a) a writer can be so identified with his/her subject in such a way that it hinders their seeing the forest for the trees.  The forest here?  Indisputably, Liston did not have a good rep, largely by his own hand; (b) as such, your conclusions about Liston follow a foregone conclusion in your mind (reflected in your writing) that despite the image and impressions that HE was largely responsible for creating, the impetus for changing that image and reputation lies with the rest of us, once we’re enlightened by your so-called “facts.”  Lest you forget, narrative is not truth or fact.  You like Liston.  Fine.  Your narrative reflects same, but it’s also clear your mind is made up about him, how he ought be seen, and who (other than Liston) is responsible for contrary views of him.  I ludicrously invoked the names of bin Laden and Hitler as absurd exaggerations to make my point—which is, just because tinctures of light exist in a man whose prevailing character and image betoken darkness, proves nothing.  Again, no flawed character bats 1000 in the misconduct department.  If you decide to conclude that Liston was “a man of substance and worth knowing” fine, but don’t expect many clear thinking others to join you.  Reputation wise, Liston made his own bed, and now forever sleeps in it, as far as this world goes.  And its not a savory image.  To your last point that Liston “deserves another chance never given when he was alive,”—I ask, given a chance by whom?  I’m not his judge, his attorney, his advocate or his adversary, nor am I inclined to take on those roles.  Again, that’s for his Maker to decide.  In this world, Liston wrote his own script and played it out, as we all do, reaping the consequences of same—sympathizers notwithstanding.  You’d do well to heed Shakespeare on this one, a beacon of warning to us all; “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”  You seem to have a nose for the good in people, Mr. Gallender, a notably commendable virtue.  By the same token, any virtue makes a good servant but a poor master.

  19. Eric 06:57pm, 12/05/2014

    Boxing is full of Sonny Listons and even worse. Oscar Bonavena used to take pleasure in smacking weaker men around for the fun of it. Carlos Monzon was a woman beater and convicted murder, and yet Monzon is still admired by boxing fans. IMO, Monzon has no business in any boxing hall of fame. If Pete Rose can’t get into the baseball HOF, then no way in hell, Monzon or O.J. belong in any hall of fame. Getting back to boxing misfits, Jake LaMotta nearly killed a man with lead pipe ( or something like that) and was another man who liked to beat up women. I’ve already mentioned hoodlums like Camacho & Tyson. Have to do a search but wasn’t Freddie Mills a suspect in a series of murders before committing suicide? Boxing is a shady bidness and full of shady characters, Liston is just one of many, and while he wasn’t a boy scout, he isn’t any more repugnant than a woman beater and murderer like Monzon. I haven’t heard any stories about Sonny beating up women either, so he already rates above LaMotta & Monzon for that alone.

  20. Paul Gallender 06:51pm, 12/05/2014

    Joe, you write well. Let me just put it this way. I think Sonny Liston deserves the second chance that he was never given when he was alive. I believe he was a man of substance, and a man worth knowing. I never met the man but I know a great deal about him. Obviously, this is very personal to me and I’m sure it comes across in almost everything I say or write about Sonny. I’m glad we’re talking about him.

  21. Paul Gallender 06:29pm, 12/05/2014

    The disrespect of Liston never ends. To make your case about him, you actually reference child molesters, bin Laden and Hitler. Congratulations, you’ve actually taken Liston-contempt to a new low. Apparently, you think he was just plain stupid, too. Well, at least I’ve heard that one many times before. But it’s not true.

  22. Joe Masterleo 06:05pm, 12/05/2014

    Again, specious reasoning on the part of the author whose premises are false from the start; “the press, public officials, politicians and police wouldn’t let him.  .  .(change his public image).  Uh huh.  And Jesse James was negatively portrayed by railroad barons.  If that isn’t victimization and blameshifting mentality, nothing is.  If that premise was true, and was such an impossible uphill task, how did ‘bad guy’ George Foreman manage to change his image?  Like Liston, he wasn’t the brightest bulb on the tree (mentally) either.  Answer?  He changed his MO facing the public—he worked at it—while Liston never did—likely falling into grousing, blameshifting and self-pity like most “victims.”  The second false premise implies that because Liston was given to being kind to children, such proves his benign character.  That one’s easy to dismantle; happens with child molesters all the time, who typically work in vocations that have direct contact with children, and who are otherwise winsome and attentive to same as teachers, coaches, etc.  Fact is, no one errs perfectly, or is warped 100% of the time.  Even a clock that stops working gives the right time twice daily, which says nothing about its inner works.  Liston had a direct hand in creating that negative image, profited from it and took satisfaction from so doing.  Period.  That it came back to bite him in the butt goes with the territory.  You can’t have it both ways.  If the author’s point is that even characterologically flawed individuals, like Liston, have a measure of good in them, all well and good.  Problem is, such is not a profound notion, at least not to the thinking reader.  I could write a tome about same regarding bin Laden or Hitler, citing narratives from their intimates.  But toward what end?  Whether Liston had sufficient ‘good’ in him, enough for redemption, is best left to his Maker, not a pro-Liston author.

  23. Tex Hassler 05:39pm, 12/05/2014

    I got to spend some time with Sonny at a boxing gym in Houston, TX. He was very nice and friendly. I will never forget Sonny or that time spent with him. He was very approachable and easy to talk with.

  24. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:38pm, 12/05/2014

    He was a paragon of virtue when compared to that Liberal Patron Saint Ted Kennedy who some years after cowardly abandoning Mary Jo Kopechne to her watery grave and while in a drunken stupor at a party exposed his stubby little Irish dick to Paul Anka’s wife.

  25. Paul Gallender 03:52pm, 12/05/2014

    Thank you. I have to tell you that your phrase “a silent, fleeting shadow” is pure poetry.

  26. peter 03:47pm, 12/05/2014

    Of course. I’d be honored.

  27. Paul Gallender 03:43pm, 12/05/2014

    Thanks for responding with those two stories, Peter. They’re like gold nuggets to me. Would it be alright if I quoted you on those stories sometime in the future?

  28. peter 03:28pm, 12/05/2014

    I have two Liston stories: Liston trained at Bufano’s Gym in Jersey City for his bout with Chuck Wepner. It was the same gym I trained at. Liston came into town feeling confident—so he only trained one or two days. He was sure he was going to kick Wepner’s butt—which he did very convincingly. After the bout, Liston simply left town. Back in the gym, there were no interesting stories, personal reflections, juicy gossip or comments about this great ex-champion. He simply came into Jersey City like a silent, fleeting shadow, and left the same way….Story number two: My boxing friend, Jeff Bianchi, ran into Liston in a bar one evening. Liston was pretty well lit and having a good time—especially with the ladies. I’m told a smiling, jocular Liston would surprise women by looming over them and playfully drape his massive arm around their slight shoulders in order to grope their breasts. All this fun and hijinks would occur while shocked boyfriends and helpless husbands stood by watching.

  29. Eric 02:58pm, 12/05/2014

    teehee. Good one, Irish. Racial solidarity is present in all races except for white Gentiles. We are blessed and/or cursed with being altruisitc to a fault, and yet somehow we have been vilified as evil “wayciss.” No one ever questions why all those Black voters dumped Hillary like a sack of garbage in 2008, and voted for Obama instead. All the arse kissing and genuflecting that Slick Willie had performed for the African American community over the years didn’t count for squat when it came down to voting for a black man over Hillary. Even Colon Bowel jumped parties when it came down to voting for his “own.”

  30. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:33pm, 12/05/2014

    Lone Ranger:” Well, my faithful companion, it looks like they got us surrounded.” Tonto: “What you mean we, you white devil?”

  31. Magoon 02:28pm, 12/05/2014

    Sonny Liston never interested me much and I don’t claim to be an expert on him, but my guess is that the truth is to be found somewhere between Mr. Gallender’s and Mr. Masterleo’s assessments. On the one hand, there’s no smoke without fire and there must be good reason for Liston’s unsavory reputation. On the other hand, his infamous glower might have been an understandable reaction to always and not with complete fairness or accuracy being portrayed as the last person you’d want to meet on a dark and deserted street. But for all I know Mr. Gallender is right - maybe Liston would have been the FIRST person you’d want to meet.

    One thing: Mr. Gallender says that Mr. Wingate thanks God that he survived his past, but it’s the guy Mr. Wingate put into a coma who must be thanking God for having survived Mr. Wingate.

  32. Eric 02:07pm, 12/05/2014

    Exactly what did Sonny Liston do outside of the ring that was so bad? Sure, he beat up a couple of cops, and might have been some sort of leg breaker goon for the mob, but it isn’t as if he was a serial rapist. Liston was probably no worse than someone like a Tyson or a Hector Camacho. Not all cops are saints either, and a FEW are no better than the criminals they arrest, so unless we were there, who are we to say that Sonny was in the wrong. Regarding the “gentle giant,” Michael Brown was a bully/thug who had probably intimidated people for awhile. He was so delusional with his own perceived invincibility, that he thought even a police officer was too much of a p*ssy to shoot him. Brown received instant karma, and in all probability his death probably saved a lot of future victims. However, the Eric Garner case was just a tragic accident. You would think with all the crime in a major city like NYC, the cops would have more important matters to keep them busy than harass a guy selling “loosies.” No way did the cops mean to kill Garner, but his health, weight, and his refusal to comply contributed to his tragic death. I feel sorry for Garner, but Brown received a well deserved comeupance.

  33. Paul Gallender 01:42pm, 12/05/2014

    I’m continually amazed at the reluctance or flat-out unwillingness of some people to question their assumptions about Sonny. Liston didn’t create his public image but after awhile, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to change it. The press wouldn’t let him, nor would an assortment of public officials, politicians and the police. Did he exude an aura of menace? You bet he did, and in a sport like boxing, that’s very helpful, but only if you can back it up which, of course, Sonny could do. Liston wasn’t a saint, but he was a very likable guy, so long as you didn’t disrespect him or try to BS him. He wasn’t a villain, but he was treated as such and that’s how the public came to view him and continue to view him to this day. Just ask any kid who ever met him and they’ll tell you that he was anything but a villain to them. He was a criminal, but he overcame that, just like a lot of boxers over the years have done. Do I lionize Sonny? No, I don’t. I’ve always respected and been impressed by his talent in the ring. And based on what I’ve learned from people who knew him, I’m convinced I would have liked the man. All I ever wanted to do was to learn the truth about Sonny and to tell people about it. Whether people choose to believe it, or simply hold on to their preconceived notions about him is something I have no control over. There’s no hero worship here. My case for Sonny is based solely on fairness and justice for a man who, for the most part, was given neither by his society.
    Now, as far as Bill Wingate in concerned, he’s a fine man. I liked him from the moment I first met him. He’s one of the most popular people in Philadelphia because he’s honest, funny, and he has a huge heart. He doesn’t sugarcoat his past and he thanks God that he survived it. I would trust Bill Wingate with my life, and there are a whole bunch of people in Philadelphia who would too.

  34. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:27pm, 12/05/2014

    It’s a variation on the “Stockholm Syndrome” where there’s always at least one kid on the playground that the bully doesn’t torment…...so this kid is forever grateful that he’s not the target and is confirmed in the belief that the bully is not so bad after all, although he persists in victimizing the other kids…... because as long as I keep kissing his ass at least he’s not kicking my ass….it’s a tried and true survival technique much valued by Liberals of all stripes.

  35. Joe Masterleo 11:34am, 12/05/2014

    Let’s see.  We have two men, father and son, both of whom have histories of being feared, intimidating, menacing and lacking self-control when it comes to violence—and that’s regarding behavior OUTSIDE the ring.  Because they’re human, as even the most hardened and antisocial of characters are, and do demonstrate that warmth and/or sense of humor to a few trusted others, we’re to hold them in the same sacred regard, say, as the Charitable Sisters of the Poor.  Uh huh.  Spare me.  Sounds like the same reasoning manufactured by folks who are prepared to canonize the late Michael Brown for being the victim of a circumstance that he largely orchestrated, playing the race card, blaming everyone but him.  Sonny Liston and only Sonny Liston is responsible for the public image that he created, his so-called private tender side notwithstanding.  While this narrative may sound good on the surface, it is far from good and sound, failing to pass the cogency smell test.  Sounds like a campaign to lionize a villain.  Perhaps it would do well for this author needs to further examine his fascination and identification with such a character.

  36. peter 10:45am, 12/05/2014

    Interesting article. Anything about Liston is bound to be intriguing. I will pick up the Liston book, but I fear the author might white-wash and justify Liston’s past and “gloss over”, as Magoon puts it, Liston’s criminality.

  37. Eric 09:43am, 12/05/2014

    You have to wonder how Bill would have done in the ring. If he’s knocking out Bert Cooper in the streets, he definitely isn’t someone to be taken lightly. He certainly was blessed with good genetics and apparently a powerful punch like his dad. Bill would be blessed with Sonny’s size and strength but cursed with his father’s reputation. If a guy that size had the athleticism and ability to exceed at sports like swimming and gymnastics, and combine that with his size and power, could’ve been an exceptional heavyweight. If he’s knocking out guys like Cooper in the streets, he apparently has a “mean streak” and wasn’t easily intimidated either. Who knows?

  38. Eric 08:33am, 12/05/2014

    It might have been a “mutual combat” situation. People die all the time from street fights and even a single punch. The guy sure looks like his dad. His shoulders look wide enough to set a table for four. If this hulk was #1 in the city in gymnastics, he must have hit a growth spurt afterwards because he sure wasn’t built for the horizontal bar. And swimmers are tall, but they are usually long and lean, not built like a grizzly bear. A black man being the second best swimmer in a city the size of Philly? teehee. Come on. We all know that white men can’t jump, and black men can’t swim. This was obviously restricted to the city limits of Philly and didn’t include the metro area. Never knew Liston had a son, but he sure does look like Sonny, and almost as intimidating. Scary looking dude.

  39. Magoon 05:53am, 12/05/2014

    I don’t expect boxers - or even their sons - to be Boy Scouts, but this guy comes across as a real thug. Hitting a guy so hard he winds up in a coma is pretty ugly. I’m glad Mr. Wingate has apparently reformed himself, but there’s too much of a tendency to gloss over past violence.

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