The New York Times sports section ran a long article today about the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston rematch, on its 50th anniversary. Their focus was on the town of Lewiston, Maine, where it took place. But at the time of the fight, most of the focus was on the fight's controversial ending.
Ali hit Liston in the first round with what many ringside observers thought was a glancing blow, the famous "phantom punch," and Liston collapsed to the canvas. Liston was known to be mobbed up, and many thought he threw the fight.
There have also been many who have claimed that Ali legitimately knocked Liston out, that he was so fast that many of the observers couldn't appreciate how hard he had hit Liston.
I often got the impression that those who argued that it was a legitimate knockout were doing so mostly because they liked Ali, and all that he represented.
In any case, most of the arguments would end with people saying something to the effect of, well, only Ali and Liston know how hard that punch was, so we'll never know for sure.
That is exactly right, and therein lies the answer to the question.
The most famous picture of the fight is this one:
When this photograph was snapped, Ali was famously yelling at Liston, "Get up and fight, sucker!"
If Ali had felt that his punch had truly connected, why in the world would he do that? Ali never had another fight in his entire career in which he yelled at a fighter lying on the canvas to get back up.
Yet he did this to Liston, and he seemed angry when he did it, too. In all of the arguments I've heard over the years about whether the punch really connected, Ali's own spontaneous reaction is, strangely, never mentioned.
That is the proof that Liston threw the fight.