How controversial was this particular World Heavyweight Championship bout? Let’s count the ways. First was the fact that his prelude, Clay vs. Liston Iinspired more than just participation in the controversy as the defending champion, an overwhelming betting favourite, resigned from his stool at the end of the sixth round after his corner possibly tried to sabotage the fight by applying ointment to Sonny’s gloves which got Clay in the eyes and blinded the challenger for most of the fifth round.
There was also the fact that the boxer who defeated the seemingly undefeated Liston in February 1964 has since become one of the most maligned, controversial and controversial figures in all of America. After winning the heavyweight title, Cassius Clay declared his allegiance to the Black Muslim cult and its leader, Elijah Muhammad, before changing his name to Muhammad Ali.
After much contractual dispute stemming from the fact that an immediate rematch only added to the suspicion swirling around the first fight, a return was finally scheduled for November in Boston. But just days before the match, Ali suffered a hernia that required surgery. Meanwhile, there was a fierce and public altercation between a Black Muslim leader and a prominent former follower malcolm xwhich forced the new master to take sides. Ali remained loyal to the leader Elijah, and on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. There was speculation that Ali would be targeted for retaliation, a threat taken so seriously that the FBI decided to protect Ali around the clock with a squad of armed officers.
The rematch organizers opted for an unlikely venue in Lewiston, Maine, but the fight itself only caused more controversy. The atmosphere of tension and violence surrounding the event was blamed on the meager crowd of around 2,500 fans for Maine’s first (and last) Heavyweight Championship match, and when Liston fell midway through the first round, hardly anyone saw the punch that put him there; an influence that determined that the contest would soon become known as “The Phantom Punch”.
With Liston on the canvas, Ali yelled at him to get up before circling the ring in a maniacal victory dance. Jersey referee Joe Walcott, busy trying to stop Ali, failed to communicate with the timekeeper and therefore never counted. Seemingly confused, Liston climbed to his knees but then fell again before finally standing up and attempting to restart the fight. Walcott was then informed that Liston had indeed been on the canvas for over ten seconds and eventually stopped the match and declared Ali the winner.
Since then, there have been a plethora of theories about what exactly happened. The videos show Ali slapping the side of Liston’s head with his right hand – he later called it his “anchor punch” – and then the challenger flipped forward before flipping onto his back. But while the punch landed and seemed to cause a lightning knockdown, the blow didn’t feel strong enough to incapacitate the hardy Liston. Indeed, Sonny later told more than one writer that the reason he didn’t get up was because 1. Ali was hovering above him and 2. couldn’t hear the counting. But his fainting after kneeling suggests that he was either rightfully dazed and confused, or he decided “To hell with it” and quit.
Some speculated that Liston wanted an early exit out of fear that he would be killed by a missed bullet if a Malcolm X supporter tried to kill Ali. Others concluded that the fight had to be fixed, although it’s hard to imagine a more clumsy way to make a dive. And if that was Liston’s intention, why would he get up and try to restart the fight? To this day, some believe that Liston, a former criminal and former mob enforcer, quit Both he battles Ali, although hard evidence to support this idea has never been revealed. The most important is the mysterious and bizarre Ali vs. Liston rematch like never before NO has been controversial throughout the years and will forever remain a surreal episode of infinite weirdness, in fact the most controversial match in the long history of the prize ring.
The bottom line is that we will never know for sure the true story of Ali vs. Liston II. But if many believe they are on solid ground claiming there is no way the seemingly innocuous “Phantom Punch” can upset the hard-core Liston, I am equally confident that this bizarre fight is not so much about performance by boxer’s diving as it concerns an aging boxer, intimidated by the daunting task of facing an opponent who had already inflicted a humiliating and painful defeat, found himself on the canvas and decided he was done for the night. — Robert Portis