May 25, 1965: Ali vs Liston II — Phantom Punch Or Fix?


Simply how controversial was this specific conflict for the heavyweight championship of the world? Allow us to rely the methods. First, there was the truth that its prelude, Clay vs Liston I, had impressed greater than its share of controversy all by itself because the defending champ, an awesome betting favourite, stop on his stool on the finish of spherical six, this after his nook seemingly tried to sabotage the bout by placing liniment on Sonny’s gloves which received into Clay’s eyes and rendered the challenger blind for a lot of spherical 5.

Controversy the primary time round: Sonny quits.

Then there was the truth that the boxer who defeated the seemingly unbeatable Liston in February of ’64 had since change into one of the vital maligned, divisive and, sure, controversial figures in all of America. After profitable the heavyweight title, Cassius Clay introduced his allegiance to the Black Muslim cult and its chief, Elijah Muhammad, earlier than altering his title to Muhammad Ali.

After a lot contractual wrangling stemming from the truth that an instantaneous rematch solely added to the suspicions swirling across the first bout, a return was ultimately set for November in Boston. However simply days earlier than the match, Ali suffered a hernia which necessitated surgical procedure. Within the meantime, a bitter and public quarrel was unfolding between the chief of the Black Muslims and outstanding former follower Malcolm X, one which pressured the brand new champion to decide on sides. Ali remained loyal to chief Elijah and on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. Hypothesis ensued that Ali could be the goal of retaliation, a menace taken significantly sufficient that the FBI elected to protect Ali across the clock with a squad of armed officers.

Organizers of the rematch settled on the unlikely locale of Lewiston, Maine, however the struggle itself solely led to extra controversy. The ambiance of pressure and violence surrounding the occasion was blamed for a paltry crowd of some 2500 followers at Maine’s first (and final) heavyweight championship match, and when Liston collapsed halfway by spherical one, nearly nobody noticed the blow that put him there; the clout that determined the competition would quickly come to be often called “The Phantom Punch.”

With Liston on the canvas, Ali shouted at him to rise earlier than circling the ring in a manic victory dance. Referee Jersey Joe Walcott, preoccupied with attempting to corral Ali, failed to speak with the timekeeper and thus by no means administered a rely. A seemingly disoriented Liston climbed to his knees however then collapsed once more, earlier than ultimately attending to his ft and making an attempt to renew the struggle. Walcott was then knowledgeable that Liston had certainly been on the canvas for greater than ten seconds and he lastly halted the match and declared Ali the winner.

Ali vs Liston

Ever since theories have abounded as to what precisely transpired. Movies present that Ali did join with a chopping counter proper hand to the facet of Liston’s head — he later dubbed it his “Anchor Punch” — and the challenger then toppled ahead earlier than rolling onto his again. However whereas a punch did land and appeared to precipitate a flash knockdown, the blow hardly appeared highly effective sufficient to incapacitate the sturdy Liston. Certainly, Sonny later said to a couple of author that the rationale he didn’t get to his ft was as a result of 1. Ali was hovering over him, and a couple of. he didn’t hear a rely. However his swooning after attending to his knees means that both he was legitimately dazed and confused, or he determined “To hell with it” and stop.

Ali vs Liston

Some speculated Liston needed an early exit for worry of being killed by an errant bullet if a follower of Malcolm X tried to assassinate Ali. Others concluded the struggle needed to be fastened, although it’s troublesome to think about a extra clumsy option to execute a dive. And if that was Liston’s intention, why would he stand up after which attempt to resume preventing? To this present day some imagine Liston, an ex-con and former mob enforcer, threw each fights with Ali, although laborious proof to bolster that concept has by no means surfaced. The underside line is the mysterious and weird Ali vs Liston rematch has by no means not been controversial in all of the years since, and it’ll eternally stand as a surreal episode of infinite weirdness, certainly, probably the most controversial match within the lengthy historical past of the prize ring.

controversy in boxing

Referee Walcott tries in useless to regulate Ali.

The underside line is we’ll by no means know for sure the true story of Ali vs Liston II. But when many really feel they’re on strong floor once they assert that there’s no approach that the seemingly innocuous “Phantom Punch” may have upset the powerful Liston’s equilibrium, I really feel equally assured in stating that this weird struggle will not be a lot a few boxer executing a dive, as it’s about an growing old pugilist, intimidated by the daunting job of going through an opponent who had already inflicted a humbling and painful defeat, discovering himself on the canvas and deciding he was achieved for the night time.               — Robert Portis  


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