Charles L. "Sonny" Liston (unknown
- December 30, 1970). Liston signed a contract in September 1953,
exclaiming: :Whatever you tell me to do, I'll do." The only ones who
had been willing to put up the necessary money for him to turn professional
were close to underworld figures, and Liston supplemented his income
by working for raceteers as an intimidator-enforcer. The connections
to organized crime were an advantage early in his career, but were
later used against him.
Liston made his professional debut on
September 2, 1953, knocking out Don Smith in the first round in St.
Louis, where he fought his first five bouts. Though not particularly
tall for a heavyweight at 6 ft 1 in, he had an exceptionally powerful
physique and disproportionate reach at 80.5 inches. Liston's fists
measured 14 inches around, the largest of any heavyweight champion.
Sports Illustrated writer Mort Sharnik said his hands "looked like
cannonballs when he made them into fists." Liston's noticeably more
muscular left arm, crushing left jab and powerful left hook lent credence
to the widely held belief that he was left'handed but utilized an
Early in his career, Liston faced capable opponents.
In his sixth bout, he faced John L. Summerlin (18-1-2) on national
television and won by an eight round decision. In his next fight,
he had a rematch with Summerlin and again won an eight round decision.
Both fights were in Summerlin's hometown of Detroit, Michigan.
September 7, 1954, Liston was boxing his eight fight when suffered
defeat for the first time, losing to Marty marshall, a journeyman
with an awkward style. In the third round, Marshall nailed Liston
- reportedly while he was laughing, and broke his jaw. A toic Liston
finished the fight but lost by an eight round split decision. On April
21, 1955, Liston defeated Marshall in a rematch, dropping him four
times en route to a sixth round knockout. They had a rubber match
on March 6, 1956, which Liston won by a lopsided ten round unanimous
Liston's criminal record, compounded by a personal
association with a notorious labor racketeer, led to the police stopping
him on sight, and he began to avoid main streets. On May 5, 1956,
a policeman confronted Liston and a friend about a cab parked near
Liston's home. Liston assaulted the officer, breaking his knee and
gashing his face. He also took his gun. Liston claimed the officer
used racial slurs. A widely publicized account of Liston resisting
arrest, even after nightsticks were allegedly broken over his skull,
added to the public perception of him as a nightmarish "monster" who
was impervious to punishment. He was paroled after serving six months
of a nine month sentence and prohibited from boxing during 1957. After
repeated overnight detention by the St. Louis police and a thinly
veiled threat to his life, Liston left for Philadelphia.
1958, Liston returned to boxing. He won eight fight that year, sic
by knockout. Liston also got a new manager in 1958: Joseph "Pep" Barone,
who was a front man for mibsters Frankie Carbo and Frank "Blinky"
Palermo. The year 1959 was a banner one for Liston: after knocking
out contender Mike deJohn in six rounds, e faced Cleveland williams,
a fast handed fighter wo was billed as the hardest hitting heavyweight
in the world. Against Williams, Liston showed durability, power and
skill, nullifying Williams' best work before stopping him in the third
round. This victory is regarded by some as Liston's most impressive
performance. He rounded out the year by stopping Nino Valdez and Willi