NYU Black Renaissance Noire Spring 2015 - Page 18

And given his actions when knocked down, it appears that the punch upset Liston’s equilibrium. Liston didn’t remain on the canvass, which the famous photo might lead one to believe. He rose and continued to fight, until the hapless referee Jersey Joe Walcott stopped the fight on the instructions of the sports writer. Nat Fleischer had a problem with Sonny Liston and didn’t include him among the top heavyweight fighters of all time. Though the Ali biographers tend to breeze by Liston’s 1960 fight with Eddie Machen, Machen’s strategy provided the blueprint for Ali. Machen ran, ducked and fought in flurries. He showed that Liston was vulnerable to an overhand right as evidenced by the egg-like swelling over Liston’s left eye. 16 Liston wasn’t able to knock Machen out as he had done with other contenders and became so frustrated that he delivered three low blows. It gave the final round to Machen. After the fights with Ali, Liston was never again given the opportunity to fight for the championship, but continued to bust up some contenders. His reputation was destroyed by sports writers and commentators, who then, as now, believe that they know more about boxing than the fighters. Like those who broadcast Floyd Mayweather’s second fight with Marcos Maidana. They said that Mayweather had been helped in his defeat of Maidana with the aide of the referee. They also disputed Mayweather’s claim that he’d been bitten by Maidana. “How,” they asked, “could he have been bitten when he was wearing gloves?” Paulie Malignaggi had to explain to them that he’d been bitten by a boxer while wearing gloves and it hurt. BRN-SPRING-2015.indb 16 Similarly, while sportswriters who have never entered the ring, like Jazz critics who fake it, accused Liston of being in on a fix, three champions, Rocky Marciano, José Torres and James Braddock, “The Cinderella Man,” said that it was a legitimate punch that knocked Liston down. They say that for an aging champion, and Liston might have been forty when he fought Ali, power is the last asset to go. And so it was with Liston. His last fight was with Chuck Wepner, whose knock down of Ali was the basis for the Rocky films. Liston beat him so badly that Wepner was to say that “every time he hit me in the face, he broke something.” Liston received thirteen thousand dollars for that fight. He was supposed to have received fifteen thousand. So was Liston an animal? Liston had a dry wit and a shrewd intelligence. He loved ch ildren and there is an account that the mob frightened Liston by kidnapping one of his children if he didn’t take a dive. Liston gave money to charity and was known to do good works. Most of those who knew him vouch for his good character and his intelligence. Few mention his witty repartees to Ali’s clever verbal jabs, in the hundred or so worshipful books about Muhammad Ali. They feature his clever goading of Liston, which got Liston so angry that he fought a clumsy first fight with Ali. His spouse Geraldine said that he was a good husband. But like many, he could be a mean drunk and there are a couple of accusations of rape. Liston continued to have bad luck. He was often harassed by the police. Two of these jokers thought that it was funny to give him a traffic ticket every day for a hundred days. He was once given a traffic ticket when he wasn’t even driving the car. He busted up a drunken cop who called him a “black ass nigger.“ During a second incident involving the police, he deposited a cop into a trashcan. He was persecuted by the police in Philadelphia, St.Louis and Denver. He was arrested, capriciously, by both the Philadelphia and Denver police. Certainly he got into trouble with the law during his youth, but so did Patterson and other fighters like George Foreman and trainer Emanuel Steward, who trained for their careers by participating in street fights. A judge sent Floyd Patterson to the Wiltwyck School for Boys. When Liston’s body was found, it was surrounded by drug paraphernalia. But his friends said that he didn’t touch drugs. Geraldine Liston said that he was afraid of needles. Moreover, wouldn’t his drug use have been detected when he was examined for the Wepner fight, three months before his death? Emanuel Steward and Khalilah (Belinda) Muhammad told me that he was probably murdered. 3/29/15 11:41 AM