By: Ken Hissner
Muhammad “I Am the Greatest” Ali was the most colorful athlete this writer has ever seen. In person he was one of the funniest person’s I have ever met. He should be in anyone’s top five greatest heavyweights (third in mine). He brought back fifteen American hostages in 1990 from Sadam Hussein’s Iraq. He was the first heavyweight champion to regain the title three times. He was 56-5-1 with 37 knockouts. He reversed three of those five losses in rematches. He defeated nine opponents who would be or were champions.
This writer could go on and on and on raving about Ali, but two fights that have always been under suspicion were his fight in February 1964 and especially in May of 1965. At the Miami Convention Center in February of 1964 he was a very lopsided underdog when he challenged the mean and hard hitting champion Sonny Liston, 35-1.
Ali was 19-0 and talking trash to Liston who most likely was controlled by the mob. Liston would retire at the end of the sixth round giving Ali his world title. There was a moment during the fight that Ali had some kind of ointment in his eyes and wanted to quite but his trainer Angelo Dundee made sure he went out in the next round.
There have been tales of say vaseline ointment that was either on Liston’s gloves or possibly on his should pulling Ali into a clinch. Ali had problem seeing and went out and ran around the ring until it cleared up.
Another story had it that the mob used a baseball bat whacking Liston’s upper left arm so he couldn’t use his powerful jab for long. Liston’s left eye was just about closed and he wasn’t landing any jabs prior to quitting in the corner. We can give Ali the possible win in this one.
The rematch in May of 1965 in Lewiston, MA, was a different story. This writer talked to Liston’s valet in “Smokin” Joe Frazier’s Philadelphia gym and was told “we pulled up to a traffic light just outside of the facility holding the fight (he was not driving but riding shotgun) when these two kids were pointing to the back seat laughing. When I turned around Liston was sweating so bad it was very noticeable even to the two kids. I knew the fix must be in. The money on both fights betting on Ali had to be big.
At 2:12 of the first round what his trainer Dundee called “the Phantom punch” was landed by Ali while pulling back hitting Liston on the jaw with a right hand and down Liston went. He was rolling all over the canvas while former heavyweight champion “Jersey” Joe Walcott who was the referee started and then stopped counting only to start counting again due to Ali standing over Liston telling him “get up you bum!” Ali not being a one punch knockout artist we all thought couldn’t have knocked out Liston with one punch.
Just six months after Liston’s last fight in June of 1970 defeating Chuck Wepner on cuts (57 stitches) he was found dead with needle marks in his arm obviously from an overdose. The thing was Liston had a fear of needles. Was he going to “tell all” about the Ali fights and the mob had to silence him?
The questions have gone on and on for over fifty years about that second fight Ali had with Liston. Few boxing people would tell you the fight was on the up and up. Liston had only be stopped in his previous fight with Ali for the first time in his career.
We may never know how both Ali and Liston fights came to an end but that’s boxing for you. Many people felt Ali was the greatest of all time. At least in the heavyweight division. How about you?