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The Life and Times of Sonny Liston



The Life and Times of Sonny Liston

Sonny Liston aka The Big Bear

During its heyday, Carthage was one of the most important kingdoms in the Mediterranean world. Not only was he economically powerful and heavily involved in commerce, but his military prowess was legendary.

The famous general Hannibal Barca came from the kingdom of Carthage. Unfortunately, most high school students remember Carthage because it lost the Punic Wars and eventually merged with the Roman Empire. “The winner gets the loot …”

It’s the story of the great Sonny Liston. While he should be remembered as a towering figure in the sport of boxing, his story has been reduced to subplots.

The loss of him in 1964 to Cassius Clay, who later became Muhammad Ali, is what he is best known for. His interest in the boxing tradition has been traced to a champion who unexpectedly lost his belt to a cheeky 22-year-old who knew how to use the media to his advantage to get a title most believe they don’t deserve.

Sonny Liston was the overwhelming favorite in Miami that night; when he lost the fight, he apparently lost his place among the greatest heavyweights of all time.

Liston was born at a time when black birth records in the southeastern United States were inaccurate at best. He also competed in an era when it was common in sport to lie about one’s age to finish.


Baseball player Satchel Paige is said to be much older than fans had been told. Having been kept out of the major leagues at the height of his career, he would never have been successful if managers knew how old he really was. It is entirely possible that Liston was more than ten years older than his most famous opponent.

The thing is, Liston was favored against “The Louisville Lip” just because of his reputation. An unbiased observer looking at the history of the band would rightly expect Clay to win that night.

Difficult youth

Louis so that his father could find work in the factory. He was not a good student and was generally not interested in school. He started running around the city with young people doing robberies. The men were captured in 1950 and Liston was sentenced to five years in prison.

Hagler v Hearns – 7 minutes and 52 seconds the war that spawned an 80s fight and an all-time boxing classic

There, a prison chaplain met Liston and advised him to indulge in boxing. Several training sessions took place and it was so impressive that he was recommended for probation.

Of course, no one cared about his development as a person and whether he walked away from his criminal life. There was a consensus that Liston had the raw talent to become a boxer. With proper guidance, anyone could get a piece of the pie.


The life of a boxer

Sonny Liston served only two years of his five-year sentence for burglary and armed robberyDuring this time, he won the Golden Gloves heavyweight championship in Chicago.

The sport of boxing is similar to almost all other professions in that it is just a meritocracy in name. For decades, boxing has been blessed with beautiful and charismatic characters with compelling stories. Men like Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Marciano looked like Hollywood stars. Fighters like Jack Dempsey and James J. Braddock had personal stories that were interesting enough to become the subject of a Hollywood script. And then there was Liston.

Most fans didn’t want to look for a man they feared he was coming to dinner. Not only did Liston have a criminal history, but the mainstream media also found it terrifying.

For these reasons, he could not receive the same legitimate financial support from most of the fighters of his time. Wealthy businessmen have always enjoyed the hands of boxers. Before Bob Baffert regularly had the best horse in the Kentucky Derby, wealthy men from various industries bragged about their financial stake in the best boxers in the world.

While the story may be an invention, it illustrates an important point. No one thought Patterson would beat Liston. It was believed that if they entered the ring together, Liston would emerge victorious.


Because of Liston’s reputation and undeniable connection to organized crime, this had to be avoided at all costs.

Liston was named the world’s top contender in 1960 by the US Ring Magazine and the British Boxing News. Eventually, Patterson grew tired of dodging the world’s top heavyweight. His avoidance of Liston had become so apparent that members of the media now openly questioned Patterson’s courage.

On September 25, 1962, Big Bear finally stepped into the ring with Floyd Patterson at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

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The result was predictable; he quickly put the champion away with a first-round knockout.

Liston’s Legacy

It would be pointless to revisit Big Bear’s fights with the most famous boxer of all time. Many excellent articles have been written about Liston’s loss of the belt in 1964. When he got a rematch, Ali’s “ghost punch” and subsequent demeanor became folklore and a topic of conversation in barbershops and restaurants for the rest of the era. Liston is known for his loss to Cassius Clay, but there is much to learn from his life.


One of the most important lessons in looking at Sonny Liston’s life is “never judge a book by its cover”. Liston was seen as a menacing and menacing man with no kindness. However, his wife Geraldine described him as kind and gentle.

Liston was also known to be illiterate, but most of the journalists who spoke to him marveled at his intelligence. Big Bear originated at a time when black people were considered tenant farmers or entertainers.

There really was no middle ground. Investing in the training of a strong black bull was seen as a waste of resources. His illiteracy was a reflection of the time he had grown up in, not his intelligence.

Hagler v Hearns – 7 minutes and 52 seconds of warfare that produced the fights of the 1980s and an all-time boxing classic

Another important aspect of Sonny Liston’s life is that everyone is to some degree a product of their environment. Martin Luther King Jr. was born around the same year as Liston. King, however, came from a middle-class family with far more resources than Liston. King’s father was a well-known clergyman with a college degree.


It could reasonably be argued that his family was financially better off than most whites of his day. As a child, his family traveled to Germany and his father was so impressed with Martin Luther’s teachings that he changed his and his son’s name from Michael King to Martin Luther King. In the 1940s, most American families could not afford to study in Europe.

The royal family could and did. With this financial backing and educational foundation, Martin King graduated from high school at age 15, received his bachelor’s degree at age 19, and completed his doctoral studies at Boston University at age 26. The man was born into poverty and resorted to a life of crime; the other was born in education and followed the path that was presented to him. Neither is responsible for the circumstances.

The Death of Sonny Liston

In January 1971, Liston’s wife returned from vacation and found him in the bedroom. The results of the autopsy were inconclusive, and Liston’s death certificate lists the date of death as December 30, 1970. When asked about this, the Las Vegas police chief said everyone knew he was addicted to heroin, but no one intervened because of his celebrity status. Since then, conspiracy theories have surrounded Liston’s death.

While Liston’s death will forever remain a mystery, the brilliance of his life should no longer be forgotten. He was a man who overcame unfortunate circumstances to achieve the prestigious position of Heavyweight Champion of the World. Nobody leads a perfect life and nobody makes the right decisions. He made enough right decisions to make something of himself when the rest of the world told him he couldn’t. If nothing else, this alone is enough to celebrate his legacy.


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