It was one of the most controversial fights in boxing history: Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston, for the 1965 title of WBC Heavyweight Champion. It was a hotly anticipated rematch, one made all the more fervent by recent history. Just a year earlier, Cassius Clay beat Liston and taken the title with a technical knockout. Two days later, Clay publicly announced he was a member of the Nation of Islam and adopted the name Cassius X before taking the name that would make him one of the most famous men on earth on March 6, 1964.
When the rematch came along, it was more than a boxing match. It was an epic vision of self-liberation. By aligning himself with the practices and politics of the NOI, Ali was vilified. Perhaps that’s why the only thing they could do was deny the facts. Two minutes and twelve seconds. That’s all it took. Midway through the first round, Liston through a left and Ali countered with a right, an “anchor punch” he learned from actor Stepin Fechit, of all folks. Liston went down on his back, rolled over, tried to rise, and fell back again. It was a wrap for Sonny. But you couldn’t tell his fans nothin’. They called it “Phantom Punch Fight” and yelled, “Fix!” sounding like a 1960’s version of Donald Trump.
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Photo: Photo: Neil Leifer (United States, b. 1942). Muhammad Ali reacts after his first round knockout of Sonny Liston during the 1965 World Heavyweight Title fight at St. Dominic’s Arena in Lewiston, Maine, May 25, 1965.