IN Jersey City, New Jersey on June 29, 1970, former world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston fought for the last time when he halted Chuck Wepner at the end of the ninth round.
Bayonne, New Jersey’s Wepner lived up to his nickname of the ‘Bayonne Bleeder’ when his vulnerable features suffered fight-ending lacerations at the slashing fists of the surly Liston.
The 38-year-old former champion was having his first fight since being flattened by Leotis Martin the previous December.
Martin, incidentally, never fought again after suffering a detached retina in that contest.
It very nearly ended in disaster in the first round for Liston when the 30-year-old Wepner caught him off balance and dropped him with a right to the jaw only for referee Barney Felix ruled it a slip.
Wepner unloaded a combination at the end of the round that ominously buckled Liston’s legs. The 17-year career of the former champ teetered perilously on the edge at the smoke-filled New Jersey Armoury.
But the paunchy looking veteran regained complete control in the second round.
The younger Wepner, who was four inches taller at 6ft 5in and nine pounds heavier at 228lbs, bled from the mouth and came under heavy pressure as Liston worked behind his ramrod left jab.
Wepner took plenty of stick and also bled from cuts over both eyes.
In the fifth Wepner was sent sprawling from a right-hander. He jumped up claiming a slip but the ref gave the mandatory eight-count despite his protest and boos from the sell-out (4,012) crowd.
The famously tough Wepner battled on but was met with more thudding punishment from the revitalised Liston.
Wepner’s left eye began to close under the assault and was shut tight by the ninth round.
The ‘Bayonne Bleeder’s face was by then a mask of blood and he trailed heavily on the scorecards.
Ringside physician Dr Reginald Farrar was left no option and refused to let the crowd favourite come out for the tenth and final round.
It was Liston’s 37th and final stoppage of his 49-fight career. Wepner suffered his sixth loss and was floored for the first time.
Liston was tentatively penciled in a shot at Jerry Quarry off the back of this victory, but looked to be facing George Chuvalo instead.
He would face neither man.
His wife, Geraldine, found Sonny dead in their Las Vegas home on January 5, 1971.
He had been laying there for several days and the date on the official death certificate reads December 30, 1970.
Not hearing of Liston’s death, Chuvalo had sent a telegram to the promoter in December agreeing terms for a fight.
Years later Chuvalo would state: “I’d actually signed a contract to face a dead man.”