Sonny Liston Profile

Charles 'Sonny' Liston had a bad start in life, but he went onto become one the greatest and most controversial fighters of his time.


No one knows his exact birth date but, some time in the late 1920s or early 1930s, a boy was born into the large family of Tobe Liston, an impoverished sharecropper in Little Rock, Arkansas. Beaten by his father as a child, Charles had almost no formal education and worked as a cotton-picker during his youth.


Physically intimidating, he became involved in criminal activity. In 1950, he was sentenced to five years in prison for armed robbery. He learned to box while in jail and took up the sport after his release. He began to put a boxing career together but his progress was interrupted in 1956, when he was jailed again for assaulting a police officer.

During the late 1950s, Liston worked his way up the rankings, quickly earning a reputation as a fearsome puncher. He was also known to have Mafia connections, adding to his bad boy image.

In 1962, he took on Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight title. He was an unpopular challenger, equally disliked by the white establishment and by black civil rights activists, who thought his thuggish demeanour did their cause a disservice.


The unpopular challenger nevertheless became heavyweight champion of the world when he knocked out Patterson in the first round. He beat Patterson again in 1963 but lost the title a year later to 22-year-old Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), after refusing to begin the seventh round.

There were accusations that Liston - the 7-1 favourite before the bout - had thrown The Fight, perhaps in order to satisfy his Mob connections. Nothing was proved and he obtained a rematch with Ali in 1965. He lost again, this time in the first round, apparently to a punch so quick most people never saw it. Again there was controversy and, again, nothing was proved.

Liston fought several more bouts in the sixties, achieving moderate success but never looking like he could reclaim the title. He died in mysterious circumstances, possibly of a drugs overdose, during the final few hours of 1970.