How scary was Sonny Liston – the peak version? It’s a tough question, one on more than one level. Firstly, nobody knows when Liston was at his peak, his DOB a mystery never to be solved. Also, no fighter is ever scared of another fighter, that’s not how the game (that is never, and never has been, a game) works.
But the officially 30-year-old Liston who, on this day in 1962, absolutely wrecked proud, defending heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson in a matter of minutes, you could say seconds, was plenty scary. And, as it turned out, Liston was at his peak, his best.
Having pretty much cleaned out the division as far as rival worthy contenders were concerned – Liston taking care of Cleveland Williams (X2), Nino Valdes, Roy Harris, Eddie Machen – the baddest man on the planet before the phrase had even been coined, was ready. I mean, READY. Starving. Sonny was aching for his chance. And, to his credit, champ Patterson gave it to him. But, boy, how Floyd would be on the receiving end in doing so.
The two future Hall of Famers met at Comiskey Park in Chicago on September 25, 1962. America was in a good place at the time, with jobs available, with the economy in good shape, with the US having a great president, John Kennedy, in command of things. TV was still in its relative infancy compared to today’s mega-satellite stuff, but fights were pulling in big viewing figures.
Not that fans had much to see when Liston tore clean through Patterson. With his heavy hands, his timing, and his accuracy proving way too much for the smaller man, Liston destroyed Patterson in less than three minutes. The new heavyweight king was not afforded a hero’s welcome, this bothering Sonny for the rest of his days, but it seemed his was to be a long reign, whether fans liked it or not.
And the equally destructive win Liston scored over Patterson in their needless but rematch-claused rematch did nothing to persuade fans Liston was a champ for a while.
Who could possibly defeat Sonny? Maybe no man. But a guy named Cassius Clay managed to pull off the impossible in ’64. But as you know, that’s a whole different story.
On this day back in 1962, Sonny Liston looked like the greatest heavyweight champion ever. Maybe he could have been.