Sonny Liston At 90, Still Snarling

When was the great, the terrifying, the mysterious Charles “Sonny” Liston born? We will never know for sure but the opinions, the theories, abound. Some people say Sonny, to use his name of choice, was born as early as 1919. Again, we will never know for sure, even if almost everyone who has studied Liston or who has an interest in him agrees he was older than the stats would have us believe he was when he was having his big fights.

Officially, Sonny would have been celebrating his 90th birthday today. Of course, whatever his actual date of birth, Sonny was never going to make it to 90 – not with the life he either chose or was forced to lead. The tales surrounding Liston have been and always will be plentiful. Was Sonny a mob-controlled fighter and if so, did they kill him or have him killed? Was Sonny heavily into drugs and did his use of the hard stuff ensure his demise? Or did Sonny, his arteries hardening, merely suffer a heart attack some time over the course of that sad Christmas period in 1970, early 1971? Again, we will never know.

But imagine if you will, Sonny today; alive, old and bitter, looking back on his career as well as on the current heavyweight division he once terrorised. What tales Sonny would be able to tell; not that he may have been willing to do so. It’s so easy to imagine Liston, snarling, stooped and bitter, telling anyone who would listen what he would have done to today’s prominent heavies.

Imagine, if you will, the interview.

Interviewer: Sonny, it’s an honour to be able to speak with you…..

Liston: “If you say so.”

Q: It is. How are you feeling at age 90!

“I’m tired and you’re annoying me already. Ask me some good questions.”

Q: Okay, what was your best win?

“When I destroyed Patterson to win the crown. But even then, you guys wouldn’t give me my just due.”

Q: Meaning what?

“You know f*****g hell what! Why couldn’t I get no welcome at the damn airport when I came back with the title? Couldn’t a few fans and some good reporters have showed up? You guys made me the bad guy and I wore the black hat. But I guess I liked it some.”

Q: What happened in the two fights with Ali?

“With Clay? First time, my shoulder was messed up and the kid wouldn’t stand and fight me. I had to chase him and I wasn’t willing to run no track meet. Second time, he was full-on crazy by now and the damn referee messed things up and didn’t hit ten when I was down. I wasn’t gonna get up and risk getting shot by those Muslim fools! Clay was hanging with the wrong crowd, worse than anyone I hung with. Anyways, I should have fought him when I was ready, in shape. But his big mouth, he gave himself a hernia and that was it.”

Q: What do you think of today’s heavyweights?

“Not much. They’re big but dumb. That muthaf***a who runs his mouth, that big mutha, I’d have snapped him in half with body shots. I’d have put my evil stare on him the way I did all the others and he’d have been scared to death. Then I’d have hammered his body with my bombs. Easy fight for me, he should be locked up for impersonating a real fighter. I thought Clay had him a big mouth! I wasn’t no big talker but I was a good listener, the way it should be with a fighter. The sport ain’t the same today anyway. How can you have more than one world champion when there’s but one world!”

Q: Where do you think you rank amongst the all-time greats?

“Not for me to say. What do you think?”

Q: I’d have you in the Top-10.

“I had to wait so long to get my shot at the title. I was at my best against Cleveland Williams.”

Q: When you look back, what regrets do you have?

“I never made me enough money. You guys ran me down too much, too. I got me some fans but not many appreciate me like they should. I’m tired of talking. I only have a few words and you’ve heard ’em all.”

Q: Talk about George Foreman, he went on to do great things, didn’t he?

“Taught him everything he knows.”

Q: How great was Ali?

“Can’t you stop talking about Clay? Plenty of other fighters you could talk about.”

Q: You don’t rate Ali?

“He tuned out pretty good. He went on too long and got himself brain damaged. Kinda sad I guess.”

Q: Who was the greatest ever heavyweight?

“Joe Louis.”

Q: Would you have liked to have fought him?