1960 - The Year The World Saw The Best Of Sonny Liston
07.06.06 - By James Slater: Charles ďSonnyĒ Liston had a superb year in 1960. He went through everyone in his path to secure the ranking of number one contender for the heavyweight title. Men named Cleveland Williams (in a rematch), Roy Harris, Zora Folley and Eddie Machen were the fighters unlucky enough to have faced this version of the fighter who is best known nowadays for twice losing to Muhammad Ali. And although his exact birth date is something of a mystery -meaning it is possible that, physically, Sonny may even have been slightly past his very peak by this time - there is no doubting the fact that this was the best he ever looked as a fighter. This was the best anyone ever saw of Liston - this was the year of 1960. But it is the Williams fight in particular that the article you are reading focuses on.
Article posted on 08.06.2006
In their first encounter, the year before, the crowd were treated to a quite magnificent and highly entertaining slugfest. There had been plenty of action in the three round fight. Williams hurt Sonny on a couple of occasions with his own shots before going down twice in the third round - the second knockdown bringing an end to the action. Now Cleveland had another chance against Liston.
A fairly even opening round went by, but the odds said a quick KO - one way or the other - was extremely likely. The audience watched the action like hawks. Both men threw hard and fast punches. In his heyday Liston really did have it all - he could both give and take a punch, and his speed and accuracy, along with his conditioning, were superb. Williams, a heavyweight in possession of a most magnificent build, could also punch with authority. He had proven this in the first encounter with Sonny. But try as he did, big Cleveland couldnít put Sonny away.
A great second round saw both men land with power punches, but Sonny would not be denied. He had to take a fierce left hook from Williams, however, along with a burst of hurtful follow up blows which had him stuck in a corner, before retaliating with blistering shots of his own. Both men were looking for that knockout!
Then, after three consecutive lefts from Cleveland, Sonny landed a cracking overhand right , followed by another right hand that landed flush, and then a perfect left hook to the jaw that dropped his man heavily. Showing great bravery, Cleveland got up at eight - only to be met by the ferocious Liston who was coming to finish him off. With the courageous Williams stuck in the same corner that he himself had just been forced into, Sonny teed off on his wounded target. Blow after blow landed on Cleveland, until he slid down the ropes to the floor. He was grimacing in pain as he did so. Somehow, he pulled himself upright once more. But the referee had seen enough and stopped the onrushing Liston in his tracks and put a stop to the brutal fight. Liston had looked absolutely awesome. As near to unbeatable as anyone could imagine a fighter to look.
With all due respect to The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, this is not the Sonny Liston he would face some four years later. After destroying the outgunned Floyd Patterson for the title two years on from the Williams fight, and then doing so again in defence of his championship, Sonny became complacent. He may even have been an old man in boxing terms by 1963/64. One can see, when viewing the Ali fights, that Listonís body is no way near as taught and well trained as it had been in the fights he had in 1960-62. Ali got to him at the right time, itís as simple as that. And no, the fights with Clay/Ali were not fixed. Sonny was some way past his best, thatís all.
This is to take nothing away from the standing - as the greatest heavyweight champion of all-time - of Ali. He may have beaten the 1960 version of Liston. God knows, he proved his brilliance many times over in his peerless career. But judging by what an awesome punching wrecking machine Liston was in the second fight with Cleveland Williams, I have to say, Iím nowhere near a hundred percent convinced that he would have been the victor, had they met four years earlier than they did.
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