On This Day In ’63: Liston Repeats His Destruction Job In Needless Return With Patterson

Talk about a pointless return fight, a strong case against rematch clauses. The time in heavyweight history when Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson fought twice could easily be pointed at as a time when so much time was wasted due to the now so common clause. Liston tore right through Patterson in September of 1962, in doing so ripping away the world title. The fight lasted a little over two-minutes.

Liston, who had earned his shot – wins over Cleveland Williams (twice), Nino Valdes, Zora Folley, Eddie Machen – had been the No1 contender since 1960. Liston terrified many Americans, his time in jail a known story, his mob ties equally common knowledge. But Liston was now the heavyweight king, and he should have moved on to make a number of title defences. Instead, in one of the most needless rematches in heavyweight history, Liston had to fight Patterson a second time.

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It was just shy of six decades ago today, when Liston, seemingly at the peak of his powers (no one knew how old he was at this time, or ever, and Sonny could have been as old 40 or more at the time of his wins over Floyd), destroyed Patterson all over again. It had been ten months since Liston had won the title. A knee injury on the part of the new champ caused the rematch nobody wanted to see to be postponed twice, and then a minor hand op required by the former two-time champ forced a third postponement.

When the rematch finally came, fans got just what they felt, and feared, would be the case. Liston’s massive fists, operating like pistons, blasted into Floyd’s tender chin and the massacre was all over with in a repeat flash. The rematch lasted a mere four seconds longer than the first “fight.” According to reports from the day, just before the fight began, a vendor, selling either beer or hot dogs inside The Convention Centre in Las Vegas, yelled out “Last round, folks!” He was right.

Patterson was so ashamed he is said to have donned a fake beard and moustache and boarded a flight to Madrid. Liston seemed set to reign for years, or, as one publication put it, “for as long as he likes.”

Indeed, Liston seemed invincible. Immensely powerful, possessing one of the finest, most punishing left jabs in the history of the division, and as mean as anything, Liston had also shown a rock of a chin in some of his previous fights (the short but damaging wars with “Big Cat” Williams two duels to point to if you wish to make a strong case about the strength of Sonny’s chin).

But waiting in the wings was a young, fast and ultra-confident young fighter named Cassius Clay. The rest is history, even if you may feel (as so many fight fans do) that the officially written version of history, which says Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali) twice defeated Liston in fair and above-board fights, is dead-wrong. The conspiracy theories were everywhere as soon as the first fight had ended, with Liston quitting on his stool against Clay. And as for the second fight, well, almost no one believes Sonny was truly and honestly KO’d by Ali during that crazy first round.

The conspiracy theories are still here today, seemingly with no place to go. We will never know for sure what happened in the two Ali-Liston fights.

What we do know is this: Charles “Sonny” Liston was an utterly devastating force of nature in the years 1958 to 1963. Poor Floyd Patterson would attest to that.