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BLAST FROM THE PAST, ‘THE MAN’ SONNY LISTON

[PHOTO COURTESY ]

BY LEEROY WUONE

Beyond his legendary fist that has no equal, and has survived the test of time, its marveling how he survived the test of life, to beat the world.

When the current crop of boxing fans in Kenya are randomly asked to name the greatest boxers of all time, most fans would mention names like Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Marcellus Clay, Mike Tyson and George Foreman. You would hear little or no mention of the name Charles Sonny Liston, ‘THE MAN’ crop up.

Liston weighed 200 pounds, had an amazing reach of 84, was very tall and had a fifteen-and-a-half-inch fist, which was the longest of any heavyweight champ. Sports illustrated once wrote that his hands “looked like cannonballs when he made them into fists.’’

Floyd Patterson, a former world heavyweight champion and the youngest to have won it at 22 years was destroyed by Liston in the first round on September 25, 1962, in Chicago. It lasted only two minutes and six seconds.

A July 22, 1963 bout rematch between the two happened and Liston again knocked out Patterson in the first round. Liston’s second defense was not a walk in the park as he hardly trained for the February 25, 1964 bout.

The boxing world was stunned when Liston was thrashed by a man whom Liston, was convinced was just a brash kid. Cassius Clay Marcellus, was the man who thwarted Liston on that bout. Liston failed to come out for round 7 and while there were cries that Liston threw the fight, the former boxing champ cited a shoulder injury as the reason he could not continue.

Their rematch took place on May 25 1965, in Lewiston Maine (USA), and most people felt that the fight was fixed. Muhammad Ali, who had already changed his name, floored Charles Sonny Liston with a short chopping right to the head in the first round. Liston fell, rolled over, climbed to his knees and then fell again.

Sadly, Liston grew up as a physically and mentally abused child living in Sand Slough Ark. In rural Arkansas Liston was the twelfth of thirteen children born to Tobe and Hellen Liston and the twenty fourth of twenty-five children from two wives.

Surprisingly, Liston also never had a birth certificate as they were no legal requirements at the time. Probably, he was born in 1929, but no one really knows for sure. Even his mother, who was called Big Hela did not know, though she believed him to be born in the month of January. Liston would later claim his birth date to be May 8 1932.

By all accounts Liston had a dark childhood. His father was mean to him. The father to Liston was a labourer to his tenant and as years past by when Charles Sonny Liston was old enough, his father sent him to the fields to be ‘useful’.

This made Liston never learn how to read nor write, he rarely attended school, a fact that haunted him as an adult and fed a lifelong problem with insecurity.

He was very temperamental, as it was a defense mechanism that helped to keep people from getting too close. He was often beaten at home and often struggled back at school. `We grew up like heathens, ’remarked Liston one time in the past. This made him turn to the life of crime.

The police were forever chasing him and had his photograph stapled to the inside of the visor in their cars. He was in trouble with the police quite often. Liston’s first serious conviction was for armed robbery when he was about 22 years.

He was sent to Missouri State Penitentiary where his natural athleticism and talent for fighting were spotted by Father Alois Stevens, a Catholic priest who also ran the prison gym. `He was the most perfect specimen of manhood I had ever seen, ’His hands were so large! I couldn’t believe it, ’said the Catholic priest. Sadly, the mob, according to boxing historians, managed his every fight and controlled his every earned dollar due to his state of illiteracy.

Despite Liston’s shortcomings in life, he tried his best to demonstrate that in life, it is not all about where one is born, that hierarchy in life all depends on the work smart aspect or value in a person. For sure, the society failed Mr. Charles Sonny Liston.

His grave, a message simple and clear is engraved: CHARLES SONNY LISTON, A MAN 1932-1970, A MAN.

 

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