‘Even before Liston had become world heavyweight champion,” Muhammad Ali recounted in The Greatest: My Own Story, “I knew he was the fighter I would have to beat if I were ever to be recognized as what I declared I was: The Greatest.”
In the early 1960s, Charles “Sonny” Liston was the scariest man in America. Six feet, 218 pounds, ebony-dark and mustachioed, broad torso and arms powerfully sculpted, hands like bricks, Liston had done time for armed robbery. His true age was unknown. Reputed to have broken legs for a St. Louis union, Sonny learnt to box in prison and absolutely annihilated his opponents. One was carried away with seven teeth in his mouthpiece and blood trickling from his ear. Liston’s chief weapons were a stiff left jab, crushing hooks, and patience in the ring that belied quickness to anger outside of it. The hooded robes he favored evoked the Grim Reaper. No one had ever seen anything like him.