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Sonny Liston: Boxing's Original Bad Boy

Updated on August 29, 2016

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Troubled Youth

Charles "Sonny" Liston had a strange life because number one it is a mystery when he was even born. As a child he took bad beat downs from his dad and his back showed the large welts years later when he boxed as a professional. Liston, who dropped out of school, became an armed robber and finally was caught holding up a gas station with a pistol and sent to prison for five years. It was in the pen that Liston learned to box. Aside from this prison stint Liston was also jailed for punching a cop, breaking his knee and running off with his gun. Trouble seemed to follow Charles Liston and he just could not shake it. While incarcerated Liston was known to fight so a prison Priest suggested he give boxing a try. Ironically, Jail gave Sonny his start in the sport that made him famous. 19 total times Liston was arrested for various crimes.

Sonny Liston Hits the Speed Bag

Sonny Liston is the former heavyweight champion of the world. He won his championship by knocking out Floyd Patterson in 1962.
Sonny Liston is the former heavyweight champion of the world. He won his championship by knocking out Floyd Patterson in 1962. | Source

Sonny Liston's Greatest Victories

Floyd Patterson (Twice)
Eddie Machen
Zora Folley
Clevland Williams
Willi Besmanoff
Nino Valdes
 
 
 
 
 
 
Six boxers who felt the wrath of Mr. Liston.

Amateur Career and Heavyweight Contender

Sonny Liston had a brief amateur career but he excelled by winning the Chicago and Intercity Golden Gloves competitions. Sonny Liston turned professional in 1953 and although he began to destroy opponents he also worked with the mafia as a supposed enforcer or leg breaker if you will. More on that later. Liston retired from boxing sporting a record of 50-4 with 39 knockouts to his credit. Liston was a devastating puncher with both of his hands and his jab is ranked as one of the top few in heavyweight history. Liston climbed the rankings quickly by dispatching top contenders such as Zora Folley, Cleveland Williams (Twice), Eddie Machen and Willie Besmanoff. Liston was considered the uncrowned champion when he was a contender and when he finally got his title shot he was a solid favorite to win it all.

During his rise to the top Mr. Liston was suspended from fighting in Pennsylvania by that state's commission because he was arrested for impersonating a cop and also for resisting arrest.

Sonny Liston vs. Floyd Patterson 1

Sonny Liston won the heavyweight crown by knocking Floyd Patterson out in the first round.
Sonny Liston won the heavyweight crown by knocking Floyd Patterson out in the first round. | Source

Heavyweight Champion of the World

Sonny took a record of 34-1 into the squared circle when he took on Heavyweight King Floyd Patterson. Patterson was a proven champion with skills but he also had a weak chin which of course spelled the end of him considering Liston's concrete power shots. Halfway through round one Liston laid Patterson out for the count. The two battled again and Liston floored him thrice for another first round blowout. Liston intimidated many of his opponents with his criminal reputation and his deadly stare down at weigh ins and pre-fight instructions.

Sonny Liston

Heavyweight Champion

Liston in Trouble with the Law

Sonny Liston has been in jail on several occasions from a youth to an adult. He took that anger into the sport of boxing and exploded on the scene.
Sonny Liston has been in jail on several occasions from a youth to an adult. He took that anger into the sport of boxing and exploded on the scene. | Source

The Mafia Life

Liston had ties to the mob and was seen with underworld figures on a constant basis including his gangster management team. The word was that Liston was an enforcer, bodyguard, leg breaker and do whatever it takes man for the mob.

Liston's reputation was so horrible that while he was champion of the world the New York State Athletic Commission refused to grant him a license to defend his crown because of his known ties to the Cosa Nostra. Sonny Liston was originally linked to Mob figure Johnny Vitale who was a mob head in St. Louis and later his managers were known mobsters Blinky Palermo andFrankie Carbo. Just a side note but these two guys had mafia names. They were begging for trouble.

Sonny Liston vs. Muhammad Ali 1

Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) beat Sonny Liston in 1964 to become king of the heavyweights.
Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) beat Sonny Liston in 1964 to become king of the heavyweights.

Sonny Liston's Birthplace, Maybe (Arkansas)

Sonny's Downfall

Sonny Liston made the second defense of his title against Muhammad Ali (Then Cassius Clay). Liston was an 8-1 favorite to destroy the young contender. Ali was fast but he was supposed o be knocked out. Things did not go as planned as Ali won by 7th round T.K.O.

Liston or his cornermen put a substance on his gloves during the bout which blinded Ali for a round and a half. Sonny Liston was a gangster if their ever was one in sports.

Sonny Liston vs. Floyd Patterson 1 (Video)

Comeback and Confusing Death

Liston began a ring comeback starting in 1966 and it lasted until his untimely death in '70. Among his comeback victims were contenders Chuck Wepner (Final bout), Amos Lincoln and Gerhard Zech.

Liston died in his home but it is confusing whether he died of a drug overdose or if he was murdered. Also, no definitive time and date of his death has ever been determined. When was this enigma born? When did the former champ die? How did he pass?

Sonny @ the Casino in Las Vegas

Sonny Liston was known to gamble and of course he had ties to the Mafia.
Sonny Liston was known to gamble and of course he had ties to the Mafia. | Source

Sonny Liston's Greatest Hits (Video)

Sonny Liston's Legacy

Most boxing historians, experts and fans, including myself, would rank Sonny Liston as a top 20 maybe top 15 best heavyweight of all time. His jab rates as one of the top few best in heavyweight history, right up their with Larry Holmes, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. Also, Liston's power is considered one of the best in the history of boxing's big boys. Sonny Liston is often overlooked because Muhammad Ali beat him twice but that is Ali we are talking about. Ali is almost universally accepted as the best heavyweight in boxing history. Liston accomplished plenty by not only destroying Floyd Patterson twice but clearing out most of the top contenders with ease until The Greatest" arrived. Sonny Liston was not The Greatest but he is a great fighter.

Charles "Sonny" Liston was inducted, rightfully so, into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York in June 1991.

Sonny Liston vs. Cleveland Williams 1

As a heavyweight contender Sonny Liston brutally knocked out Cleveland Williams twice.
As a heavyweight contender Sonny Liston brutally knocked out Cleveland Williams twice. | Source

Mr. Liston Rest in Peace

Sonny Liston had a fitting two words engraved on his plot which reads " A Man".
Sonny Liston had a fitting two words engraved on his plot which reads " A Man". | Source

© 2015 Buster Johnson

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