Charles “Sonny” Liston!
Charles L. “Sonny” Liston (c. 1930 – c. December 30, 1970) was an American professional boxer who competed from 1953 to 1970. A dominant contender of his era, he became the world heavyweight champion in 1962 after knocking out Floyd Patterson in the first round, repeating the knockout the following year in defense of the title; in the latter fight he also became the inaugural WBC heavyweight champion. Liston was particularly known for his toughness, formidable punching power, long reach, and intimidating appearance.
Although Liston was widely regarded as unbeatable, he lost the title in 1964 to Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), who entered as a 7–1 underdog. Liston retired in his corner due to an inflamed shoulder. Controversy followed with claims that Liston had been drinking heavily the night before the fight and had entered the bout with a lame shoulder.
In his 1965 rematch with Ali, Liston suffered an unexpected first-round knockout that led to unresolved suspicions of a fix. He was still a world-ranked boxer when he died in mysterious circumstances in 1970. Underworld connections and his unrecorded dates of birth and death added to the enigma.
The Ring magazine ranks Liston as the tenth greatest heavyweight of all time, while boxing writer Herb Goldman ranked him second and Richard O’Brien, Senior Editor of Sports Illustrated, placed him third. Alfie Potts Harmer in The Sportster also ranked him the third greatest heavyweight and the sixth greatest boxer at any weight. Liston was inducted into the international Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.
Charles “Sonny” Liston was born circa 1930 into a sharecropping family who farmed the poor land of Morledge Plantation near Johnson Township, St. Francis County, Arkansas. His father, Tobe Liston, was in his mid-40s when he and his wife, Helen Baskin, who was almost 30 years younger than Tobe, moved to Arkansas from Mississippi in 1916. Helen had one child before she married Tobe, and Tobe had 13 children with his first wife. Tobe and Helen had 12 children together. Sonny was the second youngest child.
There is no official record of Liston’s birth. His family’s home state of Arkansas did not make birth certificates mandatory until 1965. His family, but not one Charles (or Sonny) Liston, can be found in the 1930 census, and in the 1940 census he was listed as 10 years old. It has been suggested Liston himself may not have known what year he was born, as he was not precise on the matter.
Liston believed his date of birth to be May 8, 1932 and used this for official purposes but by the time he won the world title an aged appearance added credence to rumors that he was actually several years older. One writer concluded that Liston’s most plausible date of birth was July 22, 1930, citing census records and statements from his mother during her lifetime.