The Phantom Punch: A Conspiracy Theory

The Phantom Punch: A Conspiracy Theory

By Simon Graham

Controversy surrounding big fights is one of the biggest causes of arguments amongst fight fans, we can all argue about who we believe to be the best boxer, be that of all time or in the current era we find ourselves now, for the record the “Greatest” of all time in my opinion is Sugar Ray Robinson, if he was considered the greatest by Muhammed Ali then that’s good enough for me.

Controversial decisions and stoppages divide fight fans worldwide, should Lennox Lewis have got the decision over Evander Holyfield during their first meeting? did Mike Tyson knock James Buster Douglas out during the 8th round of their bout, the list goes on, it’s what we as fight fans love about the sport of boxing.

Controversy and conspiracy go hand in hand, its been in boxing for decades ever since Jack Johnson lost to Jess Willard right up to this present era in a bout featuring Deontay Wilder v Tyson Fury, however a fight that occurred 55 years ago this coming May still has fight fans analysing “That Punch” the Phantom Punch administered by Muhammad Ali upon the chin of Sonny Liston 25th May 1965.

I’ve researched the Liston vs Clay/Ali fights relentlessly, watched the fight countless times, coming to the same conclusion over and over, Ali in no way should be held responsible for the fight.

Sonny Liston during his early and prison life was nothing more than a bully and thug, it was during a spell in prison that Liston started to box, upon release and subsequent short amateur spell he turned pro in 1953, unable to gain serious backers Liston turned to the enforcers of Underworld bosses, he worked collecting outstanding debts for them in return for funding his pro career.

Liston was a brooding, muscular, beast of a man and quickly racked up a fearsome reputation of knocking out his opponents, it was inevitable that he was heading for a title match with the then champion Floyd Patterson.

There were lengthy delays getting the fight made, Patterson was advised by the US President, former champions and close friends not to let Liston fight for the title as it was very evident that Liston was a “Mob Owned Fighter” as the number one contender the fight was eventually made in 1962, in retrospect the fight was total mismatch, Liston knocked out Patterson in round 1 to become the world heavyweight champion.

Liston was the most intimidating fighter of his day considered by some to be among the best heavyweights of all time, many were reluctant to meet Liston in the ring because he was looked upon as being a ferocious and indestructible fighter.

The new pretender to the heavyweight crown was given little to no chance, the style of boxing used by the 22 year Cassius Clay was not considered suitable for the heavyweight division, Clay was of slight build for his category, percieved to have no punching power and dethroning Liston for the heavyweight title was considered by many an impossible task.

The first meeting between Liston and Clay it ended with Liston giving up on his stool resulting in the brash Clay becoming champion, even though their first meeting was full of controversy, I would like to fast forward to their second meeting.

The ending of the second Ali-Liston fight remains one of the most controversial in boxing history. Clay had now changed his name to Muhammad Ali after embracing the nation of Islam. Midway through the first round, Liston threw a left jab and Ali went over it with a fast right, knocking the former champion down. Liston went down on his back. He rolled over, got to his right knee and then fell on his back again, many in attendance that night had not even settled in their seats before the fight was declared over resulting in many of those in attendance calling the fight a fix.

After analysing the footage over and over my view is this, Ali threw a perfectly timed counter to Liston’s left hand jab catching him flush on the chin, of that there is no doubt ! it’s a punch of great speed and accuracy that is capable of knocking down an opponent, the saying goes “the punch that knocks you out is the one you don’t see coming” this is true in this instance.

I’ve watched Ali over and over from the point where he connects his punch to the final stoppage of the fight, you can clearly see that he is a young man who is both shocked and angry that Liston is rolling around on the canvas like a man poleaxed by a lump of timber, at this point you get that iconic image of Ali yelling at Liston to “Get Up” yelling at him as if he believes Liston is trying to rob him of legitimate KO victory, Liston clearly not hurt is ready to fight moments later on rock steady legs before referee Jersey Joe Walcott rules that Liston was in fact counted out.

We will never know for certain if the fight was fixed, Liston made sure he kept that a secret taking it to his grave we can only guess the reasons why he did what he did, Liston was a very troubled man in over his head with all the wrong people he lived his life ruled by the Mob and for this his legacy will be forever tarnished.

Photo Credit: Getty Images


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