Happy Birthday Sonny Liston?

05/08/2023 - By James Slater - Comments

To put it one way, as one fight writer did – ‘the best available information we have is that Charles “Sonny” Liston was born on this day of May 8, in 1930.’

However, as all Liston fans know, there is precious little info out there when it comes to just when Sonny was born. And as for Liston’s death, well, there is even more mystery there. But that’s an entirely different story (one involving the possible involvement of shady mob figures; of Sonny being murdered, this perhaps by a ‘hot shot,’ and plenty more dark stuff).

But focusing on the positive, if we can when it comes to Liston – a born fighting man who was portrayed by the media as a dark malevolent force that terrorised the heavyweight division in the 1950s and 1960s; with Liston being, as one publication bluntly and unsympathetically put it at the time, ‘The champion nobody wanted’ – Sonny was (probably) born on this day back in 1930.

And whatever we do and we do not know about Liston, one fact can never, ever be denied: Liston in his prime was all but unbeatable. Blessed with fists that were enormous, Sonny’s hands almost as stat-shattering as his astonishing 84-inch reach, Liston also had savage punching power, fine speed, good timing, a rock for a chin, and desire. Hunger. Determination. Oh, and a scowl that was more than capable of sending the average fighter running to the bathroom in a state of utter fear.

Having refined his natural fighting skills whilst in jail, Liston was maybe as old as 23, 24, 25 – maybe even older – when he made his pro debut in September of 1953. Sonny went on to earn his shot, his chance, his one and only chance, at glory. At living a respected, even admired life. A broken jaw loss to the tricky and funny Marty Marshall came (Marshall being too funny for Sonny, who was laughing at Marty’s wild and crazy ring antics and was hit with a punch to his open mouth upon chortling), before another jail term also temporarily delayed Sonny’s progress, this in the spring of 1956; Liston not fighting again for some 22 months, his last fight at this time ironically being a revenge win over Marshall.

But the writing was on the wall – Liston would NOT be denied. He would reach the top and nothing and nobody would stop him.

Crushing wins came over Cleveland Williams (twice), Nino Valdes, Willie Besmanoff, Roy Harris and Zora Folley. While Sonny also decisioned the more than capable Eddie Machen.

Then, finally, in the late summer of 1962, Liston was afforded a shot at Floyd Patterson and the world heavyweight crown. Less than a round later, Sonny was the king. It proved to be a short-lived reign. A rematch KO came against the almost criminally over-matched Patterson, before Sonny took the ring walk to his most famous fight; indeed his career-defining fight. With Cassius Clay.

If Sonny’s DOB is a mystery along with the date, and cause of his death, then the two fights Liston had with Clay/Ali are even more the stuff of speculation; a conspiracy theorist’s best subject matter.

But to heck with that. Liston was a great fighter. He was born, maybe, 93 years ago today. Wherever he may be today, let’s all of us wish Charles L. Liston a very happy birthday.

Sonny was the heavyweight champion of the entire world for almost two years. Liston’s prime years came sometime before he was ever afforded a shot at the title.