February 25 1964, Miami Beach, Florida
EVERY now and again, a world heavyweight champion comes along who scares the bejesus out of everyone. Not just opponents, but the world at large. Charles “Sonny” Liston – like George Foreman and Mike Tyson after him – was one such giant. Built like he’d been cut from concrete, Liston rarely smiled. Instead, the former Missouri State Prison inmate growled. And his coronation, though overdue, was as emphatic as any in boxing history. Floyd Patterson was a gifted and popular king but he was knocked out in a round by Liston. They had a rematch and the result was – give or take six seconds – exactly the same. Many experts believed that the new champion was unbeatable, even if you were to put him in a time machine and match him against the best of any era. It wasn’t just his power, it was his style. He was more than just a slugger. Liston stalked his prey intelligently, cutting off the ring and setting traps. When the fight with Muhammad Ali, or Cassius Clay as he was then known, was made, hardly a soul gave the young man a chance. After all, he had barely survived against the comparatively limited Henry Cooper. Clay was installed as a 7-1 underdog – long odds in a two-horse race.