Charles “Sonny” Liston - How Would “Old Stone Face” Have Done Against Today’s Heavyweights?

Sonny ListonBy James Slater - Heavyweight legend, enigma, immortal, bully, bad guy, or whatever else you may wish to call Sonny Liston, officially died 40 years ago today. Discovered in his Las Vegas apartment days later when rigour mortis had been set in for some time, the former heavyweight champion was destined to be remembered as a mystery figure - a man whose date of birth was as unknown as his date of death.

But as much as we do not know about Liston, we do know he was a tremendous fighter in his prime. A man with freakish natural strength and power, the son of Tobe Liston made a habit of terrifying his opponents to the point where they were all but frozen with fear. Liston could fight hard when he had to, though, as his refusing to quit with a broken jaw against pre-championship foe Marty Marshall proved..

But how would the man with the mean face and the even meaner left jab have done with the best big men of today? Would Sonny have sufficiently intimidated guys named Klitschko and Haye to the extent that he would then have been able to put them out of their misery by way of a sledgehammer blow to the chin or body? Or would today’s supremely conditioned heavyweights have had too much for him? And would giants like the Klitschko brothers have been way too big for Liston?

Liston stood a fraction above 6.0” and he weighed around 215-pounds in his prime. Sonny had a formidable reach at 84” but it has to be agreed that he would be a relatively small heavyweight by today’s standards. WBA champ Haye wouldn’t have in any way dwarfed Sonny, but the two Klitschkos would have.

I think most fans, particularly those who read this web site, will agree when I suggest that Liston would have gone through Haye like a knife through butter. But how will it sit with fans when I suggest that the man who had lethal power in both fists would have also destroyed one of the Klitschkos?

Haye, in my opinion, would have lasted no more than three-rounds with the 1958-1962 version of Liston. Sonny’s sheer presence would have unnerved Haye, and his jab, left hook and right hand would have taken him out in style. As for Wladimir: imagine how much panic-induced adrenalin would have been pulsating through the veins of “Dr. Steel Hammer” if he was looking across the ring at the surly Liston? Would the younger Klitschko have been able to avoid “freezing” and being taken out in swift fashion? I don’t think so. Liston, in my opinion, would have half scared Wladimir to death and then beaten him to the floor. Klitschko would not have been able to take the bombs guys like Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams were unable to take.

But how would the rock-chinned, never-stopped Vitali Klitschko have done against Liston? This is a tough one. Sonny was guilty of growing discouraged in certain fights, and the tough but relatively ordinary Bert Whitehurst (who was barely 6.0” and way under 200-pounds when he faced Liston) twice took him the distance. And of course Marshall, in a three fight series, was able to beat and also go the limit with Sonny.

It would take a brave historian to write how Liston would have torn through the approx 6’7,” 250-pound “Dr. Iron Fist” - especially as he does have that strong jaw and equally strong nerve. Vitali has never shown the mental frailties his younger brother has in the past (and would have done against Liston in my view), and he has shown he can take bombs and keep coming.

Is it a stretch to say Vitali would have been too big, too strong (both mentally and physically) for Liston, and that he would have at the least hung tough with him for the full 12-rounds of today? No. But would the elder Klitschko’s hard left jabs and even harder right hands have been enough to have beaten the rampaging Liston? The fight would have been a really hard slog for both guys. Vitali, whenever he felt he needed to, would use his immense strength to tie Liston up; at which point Liston would attempt to destroy his rival’s ribs. Klitschko likes to wear a guy down and then go in for the kill; but would Liston have worn down? I do not believe Vitali would have done enough work to clinch the points verdict. Would either guy be able to truly hurt the other though; to score the KO?

Liston, had he been around today, would have made short work of two of the current heavyweight champions, and he would have at the very least given the third ruler his hardest, most pain-filled fight ever.

Liston KO 1, 2 or 3 Haye

Liston KO 1 or 2 Wladimir

Liston WS12 Vitali.

Article posted on 30.12.2010

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