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Liston in 1963
|Real name||Charles L. Liston|
|Nickname(s)||The Big Bear|
|Height||6 ft 1 in (185 cm)|
|Reach||84 in (213 cm)[nb 1]|
|Wins by KO||39|
Charles L. "Sonny" Liston (unknown – December 30, 1970) was an American
Although Liston was widely regarded as unbeatable, he lost the title in 1964 to Cassius Clay (later known as
Charles "Sonny" Liston was born into a
There is no official record of Liston's birth. His family's home state of Arkansas did not make birth certificates mandatory until 1965. His family, but not one Sonny Liston, can be found in the 1930 census, and in the 1940 census he was listed as 10 years old. It has been suggested Liston himself may not have known what year he was born, as he was not precise on the matter. Liston believed his date of birth to be May 8, 1932 and used this for official purposes but by the time he won the world title an aged appearance added credence to rumors that he was actually several years older. One writer concluded that Liston's most plausible date of birth was July 22, 1930, citing census records and statements from his mother during her lifetime.
Tobe Liston inflicted whippings so severe on Sonny that the scars were still visible decades later. "The only thing my old man ever gave me was a beating," Liston said. Helen Baskin moved to
Liston turned to crime and led a gang of thugs who committed muggings and armed robberies. Because of the shirt he wore during robberies, the St. Louis police called Liston the "Yellow Shirt Bandit." When caught in January 1950, Liston gave his age as 20, while the
Liston never complained about prison, saying he was guaranteed three meals every day. The athletic director at Missouri State Penitentiary, Rev. Alois Stevens, suggested to Liston that he try boxing, and his obvious aptitude, along with an endorsement from Stevens, who was also a priest, aided Liston in getting an early parole. Stevens organized a sparring session with a professional heavyweight named Thurman Wilson to showcase Liston's potential. After two rounds, Wilson had taken enough. "Better get me out of this ring," exclaimed Wilson, "he is going to kill me!"