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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The phantom punch

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.

14 comments:

Shaun F said...

John - That is an astute assessment. At some point in my searches - I had found an article where Liston or someone admitted the fight was thrown. A pretty sad ending for the man anyway.

John Craig said...

Shaun --
Thank you. I hadn't realized until I looked him up tho scorning that he had kept fighting right up until 1970, the year of his death. He compiled a pretty good record, too. After losing to Ali he was something like 15-1 between 1965 and 1970.

Steven said...

I used to have that picture on my wall in black and white.

It certainly doesn't look like Ali loaded up on that punch. He wasn't known for his one punch power, nor was Liston for a bad chin. I always thought Liston just didn't fancy the fight but maybe he threw it for mob related betting reasons. I guess its possible but it just doesn't really look like a plausible knock out.

Liston was quite child like and he was psyched out by Ali in the first fight, believing him to be crazy and unpredictable.

Its well documented and I'm sure you know that in the first fight, Ali was blinded in the 5th round with a chemical solution that came from Liston's gloves. (This was almost certainly done on purpose.) Liston still couldn't knock him out when he was half blinded and was well beaten.

Perhaps the mob figured Liston just couldn't win so decided the make money by predicting the round. You get pretty good odds for a 1st round KO.

I guess Liston was the second best heavyweight of the sixties.

Steven said...

Also, when Liston goes down, his acting is good but its not great. When he is on his back he moves too much and looks too in control of his body. imo

Everybody is that arena got robbed.

John Craig said...

Steven --
My brother used to have that picture on his wall when he was in high school as well. I think it was originally a black and white photo, and was colorized later on, though I'm not sure.

Yes, I'm familiar with that story of Ali being blinded.

And yes, I wasn't convinced by Liston's acting either. One thing, that posture of having both of his hands above his head always struck me as a bit stagey. I've never seen another fighter who was knocked out land with both hands above his head like that.

It's occurred to me in the past that the fact that Liston would go down from such a non-punch was Liston's way of letting Ali know that he hadn't really beaten him.

Anonymous said...

After reading your posts about Obama, I was curious if you thought Ali was gay because he fought someone who had darker colored skin than he had.

John Craig said...

Anon --
That's the kind of brilliant analogy I expect from a liberal -- which I guess you are. In fact, your question reminds me strongly of someone I used to know.

In fact I strongly suggest you read this post:

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2014/10/why-i-feel-free-to-be-honest-about-race.html

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post. I read up about Liston. He had a rough childhood. Anyway, I don't follow boxing because it's just too gory - watching people punch each other out literally turns my stomach.

-birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
Thank you. Yes, Liston's father was a sharecropper who had 25 children between his two wives. Liston was the second youngest. I doubt he got much attention from his father.

Anonymous said...

Yes, his bio "father" was a brute. When I read about how many children Listor's "father" had, I thought to myself, why does anyone have THAT many children, especially if you can't AFFORD them. Just a man thinking with his...

-birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
It is unfortunate those two wives didn't practice birth control.

Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that all of the "adults" (the two wives and the hubby) didn't practice birth control. However, back "in the olden days," our ancestors definitely didn't have all the nifty birth control devices that are available in today's world. When I see families with a ton of kids (e.g., Duggars), I always wonder - where is the stop off point? What is the point (for a woman) of spending her adult life, being a baby machine?

-birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
The Duggars seem to be doing it on purpose, my guess is with both Liston families, the kids were more sort of an accidental byproduct of the sex.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment.

-birdie