Sonny Liston

Sonny Liston
Charles Sonny Liston.jpg
Liston in 1963
Real nameCharles L. Liston
Nickname(s)The Big Bear
Height6 ft 1 in (185 cm)
Reach84 in (213 cm)[1][nb 1]
Bornc. 1930, exact date unknown
Sand Slough, Arkansas, U.S.
Diedc.December 30, 1970(1970-12-30) (aged 39–40)
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Boxing record
Total fights54
Wins by KO39

Charles L. "Sonny" Liston (c. 1930 – c. December 30, 1970) was an American professional boxer who competed from 1953 to 1970. A dominant contender of his era, he became the world heavyweight champion in 1962 after knocking out Floyd Patterson in the first round, repeating the knockout the following year in defense of the title; in the latter fight he also became the inaugural WBC heavyweight champion. Liston was particularly known for his toughness, formidable punching power, long reach, and intimidating appearance.

Although Liston was widely regarded as unbeatable, he lost the title in 1964 to Muhammad Ali, who entered as a 7–1 underdog. Liston retired in his corner due to an inflamed shoulder. Controversy followed with claims that Liston had been drinking heavily the night before the fight and had entered the bout with a lame shoulder. In his 1965 rematch with Ali, Liston suffered an unexpected first-round knockout that led to unresolved suspicions of a fix. He was still a world-ranked boxer when he died under mysterious circumstances in 1970. Underworld connections and his unrecorded dates of birth and death added to the enigma.

The Ring magazine ranks Liston as the tenth greatest heavyweight of all time,[3] while boxing writer Herb Goldman ranked him second and Richard O'Brien, Senior Editor of Sports Illustrated, placed him third.[4][5] Alfie Potts Harmer in The Sportster ranked him the sixth greatest ever boxer at any weight.[6] In his book, The Gods of War, Springs Toledo argued that Liston, when at his peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s, could be favored to beat just about every heavyweight champion in the modern era with the possible exception of Muhammad Ali.[7] This view is shared by boxing writer Frank Lotierzo who ranks Liston as one of the top 5 heavyweights of all time and possibly the best ever.[8] Liston was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

Early life


Charles "Sonny" Liston was born circa 1930 into a sharecropping family who farmed the poor land of Morledge Plantation near Johnson Township, St. Francis County, Arkansas. His father, Tobe Liston, was in his mid-40s when he and his wife, Helen Baskin, who was almost 30 years younger than Tobe, moved to Arkansas from Mississippi in 1916. Helen had one child before she married Tobe, and Tobe had 13 children with his first wife. Tobe and Helen had 12 children together. Sonny was the second youngest child.[9][10]

Date of birth

There is no official record of Liston's birth. His family's home state of Arkansas did not make birth certificates mandatory until 1965.[11] 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.[11][12] 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[12] but by the time he won the world title an aged appearance added credence to rumors that he was actually several years older.[12][13][11][14][15] 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.[15]

Youth in St. Louis

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.[16] In 1946, Helen Baskin, along with some of her children, moved to St. Louis, Missouri to seek factory work.[17] Liston—aged around 13, according to his later reckonings—remained in Arkansas with his father. The following year, Sonny - determined to reunite with his mother and siblings - thrashed the pecans from his brother-in-law's tree and sold them in Forrest City, Arkansas. With the proceeds, he traveled to St. Louis to live with his mother. Liston tried going to school but quickly left after jeers about his illiteracy; the only employment he could obtain was sporadic and exploitive.[9]

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 St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported that he was 22.[9] Convicted and sentenced to five years in Missouri State Penitentiary, Liston started his prison time on June 1, 1950.[13]

Liston never complained about prison, saying he was guaranteed three meals every day.[18] 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!"[19]

Other Languages
العربية: سوني ليستون
български: Сони Листън
Deutsch: Sonny Liston
español: Sonny Liston
euskara: Sonny Liston
français: Sonny Liston
Gaeilge: Sonny Liston
한국어: 소니 리스턴
hrvatski: Sonny Liston
Bahasa Indonesia: Sonny Liston
italiano: Sonny Liston
latviešu: Sonijs Listons
magyar: Sonny Liston
Nederlands: Sonny Liston
polski: Sonny Liston
português: Sonny Liston
română: Sonny Liston
русский: Листон, Сонни
Simple English: Sonny Liston
slovenščina: Sonny Liston
српски / srpski: Сони Листон
svenska: Sonny Liston
українська: Соні Лістон