Sonny Liston

Sonny Liston


5/8/1932, St. Francis County Arkansas



Birth Name

Charles Liston


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Heavyweight boxing champion in the early 1960's whom ring observers rank as one of the hardest punchers in the history of the sport. Liston's reputation has been forever tarnished by his two controversial losses to Muhammed Ali in title fights in 1964 and 1965. He is alleged by…more

Trivia and Quotes

  • Trivia

    • Tom Petty's 1999 song Swingin' mentions Liston in its lyrics.

    • Mark Knopfler's 2004 album, Shangri-La, contains a song entitled Song for Sonny Liston.

    • Liston's second fight with Floyd Patterson lasted only four seconds longer than their first fight.

    • Ring Magazine named Liston #15 all-time among boxing's best punchers in 2003.

    • The writers of The Munsters used to frequently insert Sonny Liston jokes into their scripts.

    • Sonny had a cameo in the 1968 movie Head starring The Monkees.

    • Sonny had 15 inch fists and an 84 inch reach.

    • Sonny reputedly had as many as 25 brothers and sisters. Only one attended his funeral.

    • Sonny once guest starred on an episode of Love, American Style entitled Love and the Champ.

    • Sonny once appeared on the cover of Esquire magazine wearing a Santa Claus outfit.

    • After his second loss to Ali, Sonny took a year off from boxing then made a comeback winning 10 fights in a row. This streak was stopped when former sparring partner Leotis Martin knocked him out in the tenth round.

    • After he became well known as a boxer, Sonny never refused a request to visit sick children in hospitals.

    • In 2000, Nick Tosches wrote a biography of Sonny entitled The Devil and Sonny Liston.

    • Sonny claimed he took a dive in his second fight against Muhammed Ali because shortly before the fight began members of the Nation of Islam threatened to kill him and his wife.

    • Sonny had eight first round knockouts over the course of his boxing career including two over Floyd Patterson

    • Sonny was portrayed by boxer Michael Bent in the 2001 whitewash biopic Ali.

    • Sonny's life was the subject of an episode of Biography on the A&E Network.

    • Sonny appears as a character in James Ellroy's novel The Cold Six Thousand. His portrayal in the novel pretty much falls in line with the stereotype put out for years by Ali disciples.

    • Sonny's trademark was his menacing stare which used to put the fear of God into his opponents.

    • Sonny was banned from fighting in New York State because of his alleged underworld ties. This ban continued even after he won the heavyweight title.

    • Sonny was the favorite boxer of The Beatles and his face appears on the cover of their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

    • Sonny was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

    • Sonny's favorite song was Night Train.

    • Sonny stood 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighed 217 lbs. in his prime.

    • Sonny once served 7 months in prison for beating up a policeman in a dispute about a parking ticket.

    • Muhammed Ali nicknamed Sonny "the Bear."

    • Muhammed Ali alleged that Liston put some foreign substance on his gloves in their first fight which caused him to go partially blind in the ring. Today, very few believe this actually happened except die hard fans of Ali who believe everything about his legend.

    • Sonny's ring record was 50 wins against 4 losses. 39 of those wins were by knockout.

    • Sonny is buried in a cemetary which adjoins McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas. His headstone reads: Sonny Liston--A Man.

    • Sonny punched so hard in the ring that he frequently knocked opponents through the ropes.

    • Sonny's managers had ties to the Mob. This was one reason why he had a hard time getting a title fight against Floyd Patterson.

    • Sonny reportedly once worked as an enforcer for the St. Louis mob.

    • Sonny was one of 17 children born to Tobe Liston and Helen Baskin.

    • Sonny's last fight was a 10 round KO victory over Chuck Wepner.

    • Sonny and Andy Warhol once appeared in a commercial together for Braniff Airlines.

    • Liston won the heavyweight title in 1962 with a first round KO of Floyd Patterson. The fight took place in Comiskey Park in Chicago.

    • Sonny began boxing while serving a term of incarceration in a reform school.

    • Sonny left his father's home in Arkansas at age 13 to go to live in St. Louis with his mother who had escaped from his father's abusiveness a few years earlier.

    • Liston's father used to beat him unmercifully when he was a child.

    • Sonny's second fight with Ali was held in a high school gym in Lewiston, Maine in front of approximately 1,200 people which was the fewest to ever watch a heavyweight championship fight.

    • In his first fight with Muhammed Ali, Sonny quit between rounds six and seven claiming an injured shoulder. Many Ali fans claim that there was no injury and Liston quit because he was losing badly and didn't want to be knocked out and embarassed. However, an X-ray proved Liston's shoulder was dislocated and two of the three fight judges had the fight dead even and the third had Sonny slightly ahead.

    • Sonny had no formal schooling and was illiterate for much of his life but wife Geraldine diligently taught him how to read and write.

    • Sonny's wife's name was Geraldine. They had one adopted son.

  • Quotes