On This Day: Sonny Liston Has His First Fight Back After Ali Rematch Disaster

Sonny Liston’s career carried on after the disastrous and hugely controversial return fight he had with Muhammad Ali in May of 1965.

Fans everywhere know all about that fight: how Ali dropped Liston, this with a seemingly innocuous punch (“The Anchor Punch/Phantom Punch”, the fight over with in a flash. With his reputation in tatters, Liston didn’t box again for well over a year, and when the former champ did fight again, he did so abroad.

Promoted for a while by fellow former heavyweight ruler Ingemar Johansson, Liston made his comeback in Stockholm, Sweden, when he fought German champ Gerhard Zech on July 1 of 1966. 12,000 fans showed up to watch the former king. Liston showed up in pretty good physical shape, weighing 221 (to Zech’s 226). Zech, a southpaw, had some success, able as he was to catch a somewhat rusty Liston with some decent shots to the head. Liston was made to miss the target some, his timing understandably a little off.

But Liston still carried dynamite in his enormous hands, and in round 7, the 36-year-old (officially) crashed home with a right hand/left hand combo that left Zech on his knees. Zech beat the count, just about, but the ref had seen enough. Liston had scored his first win since his repeat destruction of Floyd Patterson, this Sonny’s sole title retention, taking place in July of 1963.

Liston stayed in Sweden, having a further three fights with Ingo promoting him. Liston picked up three more KO wins. Then, in March of 1968, Liston fought again in the US, for the first time since the second Ali fight. Liston might have been around 50 years of age by this time and he was no longer the awesome fighting machine he had once been. Still, Sonny was able to go 14-0(13) post-Ali. Then, in December of 1969, Liston was sensationally knocked out hard by Leotis Martin, this in effect ending his career.

Liston did fight once more, picking up a bloody win over the cut-prone Chuck Wepner the following year, but six months later Charles Sonny Liston was dead. Murdered? The victim of a drug overdose? Death by natural causes? We will never know.

It was a sad end to a great fighting man’s life. All these years later and many millions of fans remain fascinated by Liston. Boy, how he could punch, even as an old man.

YouTube video