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  • Lance Mannion
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Dumb Ox

Lance, I notice that "The Devil and Sonny Liston" is getting fairly negative customer reviews on Amazon. What was your opinion of the book?

Michael Bartley

Ah, bullshit. And Obama's a socialist. Jezus H. Christ. Ali was the best heavyweight I ever saw. He lost the prime years of his career and still was incredible. Speed and power in his youth and basically unhittable. As I kid, I saw him on his return in the first fight with Frazier on closed circuit. Damn seems like another world. Lord what a fight. And he wasn't even close to what he had been, would be, or could of been in those terrible lost years. Two more fights with Frazier and the fight with Foreman in his prime. My God no one would have dreamed it possible. Beautiful and savage beyond words. Lance that bullshit artist Tosches has me raging biblicalisms so, I'll stop now. By the way, I don't know much about Liston but he sure gets a raw deal in this whole thing. Like to hear what you think?


What a bunch of crap.

I mean, I really liked this post, Lance; you're a hell of a writer, but you're not good enough to make me want to go read Tosches's book. I'm too young to have seen most of Ali's great fights live, but luckily for me ESPN-Classic ran a bunch of them, a couple times, in a marathon. I was glued to the set.

I don't believe for a second that Ali's some kind of fake. And I certainly don't believe that his opponents weren't trying -- including Liston, by the way, but especially Frazier and Foreman. Foreman. My God, if Foreman was faking it in their fight, I will literally eat my hat. And I like my hat.

And Frazier! Good grief. Like I said, Lance, I really liked your post, but it really sounds to me like Nick Tosches is filled head to toe with crap.

Chris The Cop

Ditto: Tosches = poop.

King Rat

Unless I'm misreading you, Lance, you agree with the people who are outraged at your post and think that Tosches is full of it.

I don't, but not because I think Ali was a bum. Liston, however, was enough of a monster that you really have to wonder what the hell happened in the Lewiston fight. Only one guy fought both guys, Chuck Wepner, and he says that while Ali was great Liston hit him harder than anyone ever had-and that was when Liston was on the downside of his career. Maybe the Miami fight was on the up and up-but it smells. It's theoretically possible that the Lewiston fight was legit-but it stinks to high heaven. As I recall-it's been years since I read the book-Tosches' theory is that the fixers who controlled Liston-and he provides compelling evidence that Liston was mobbed up to his eyeballs-feared that there was no way that they could sell Liston as a popular champ, and had him take a dive. What exactly is implausible about this? Ali, or Clay as he still was is Miami, would later become the unquestioned best fighter of an unbelievably rich era, and maybe he would have won a fair fight with Liston anyway-but the idea that it's outrageous to suggest that one or both fight were fixed is nuts.

A great book, the Devil and Sonny Liston. I'm also fond of Mark Kram's Ghosts of Manila and Stephen Brunt's Facing Ali for looks at Ali from a different angle than the ones you usually see. Brunt's book in particular is excellent-he interviewed fifteen opponents of Ali, and you really come away with a rich appreciation of his greatness, and of the greatness of that era in heavyweight boxing.


Liston blinded Ali in the first fight with some crud on his gloves and didn't answer the bell for the seventh round! How'd Liston throw a fight he was trying to cheat to win???

Ali also dragged both Patterson and Ernie Terrell for thirteen rounds longer than he had to. No, he wasn't Mike Tyson, to be sure, and maybe he wasn't the strongest puncher, but he was quick and had deadly accuracy.

Having been in enough fights in my own life, I can attest that those two skills will knock a guy out faster than any haymaker you can throw.

King Rat

As I say, no one disputes that Ali was the greatest fighter of his era, and is on the extremely short list of possible best evers.

That said, there's a lot of weird stuff surrounding both Ali-Liston fights, in particular Ali-Liston II. Personally, I think the Miami fight was on the up and up. Lewiston, on the other hand, was very, very weird.


King, Michael, I'm not sure what to think. My interest in boxing is mainly historical---I like to read books like Tosches', but I've never followed the game in real time. All I know about Ali is what I've read and from what I've read it sounds like he was what he claimed to be, the Greatest. Tosches was writing about Ali at the beginning of his professional career and he may have just been overselling the point that at the time Ali wasn't yet good enough to beat Liston. But then he really seems to despise Ali all around. But Tosches doesn't try to make Liston out to be any better a man than he was, and as King points out, "Liston was mobbed-up to his eyeballs." He'd have thrown a fight or two or three, if the money was right and the right people asked him to. I've watched the YouTube clip over and over and I can't see the first punch at all. If Ali hit him it must have caught Liston right on the button. The second punch catches nothing but air. On the other hand, it doesn't look to me as though Liston's acting. He looks genuinely dazed. It also doesn't look to me as though either of them thinks the fight is over. Liston takes a while, but he does get back up and get back into it. Ali seems simply to be celebrating the fact that he's knocked the supposedly unknock-down-able Liston down. Maybe the fight wasn't fixed. Maybe Jersey Joe Wolcott just goofed up. If he'd gotten Ali to his corner and started a real count, maybe Liston would have realized he needed to snap out of it faster. I don't know though. Which is why I'm asking you folks and why I'm enjoying your answers.

Ox, it's not my favorite boxing book. It's not my favorite book by Tosches. There's a thrown-together quality to it, and I never felt Tosches knew Liston. I don't think he captured the sense of what the fight game was like behind the scenes in the fifties and early sixties and a lot of the people who were colorful characters in real life don't exactly pop off the page. But I'm probably comparing it unfairly in my head to David Margolick's Beyond Glory, which did all that and more for Louis and Schmelling and their world. I also don't trust Tosches on this one because of his portrayal of Ali. But it's not a bad book, and it's full of interesting side stories. And it's on the short side so you can read it in an afternoon, if you're in a hurry. I'd say it was worth your time if you're a Tosches fan or a boxing fan.

Exiled in New Jersey

It was said of Liston that if you cut off his head, he would still get up and turn on the television set. He was a monster who fought his way up in a time when great heavyweights were non-existent [pre Ali, Frazier, Foreman] but if you can find it, watch his fight against the classic boxer, Zora Folley. That was Folley in his prime, not the washed up shell who lost to Ali. Floyd Patterson wanted no part of him and the fights show it.

Liston lived an unsavory life, associated with unsavory people, and had no Howard Cosell to be his John the Baptist.

Paul Gottlieb

I am old enough to have seen the first Liston - Clay fight in the theater. The same fight has been broadcast dozens of times on ESPN. No one who has seen the fight can have any doubts: Clay was beating the crap out of Liston and Liston quit. Liston was a coward and a bully and once he started getting hit, and it became clear that he was too slow to hit Clay (that was his name then), he looked for an excuse to quit. If you don't believe me, or your own eyes, listen to the color commentary from Joe Louis. He had no doubts at all about what he was seeing: Sonny Liston getting his clock cleaned. Even before the fight started, there's a funny moment when the fighters are in the middle of the ring getting their instructions from the referee, and Liston looks at Clay and suddenly realizes that he has to look up! Clay is the taller man. Liston had assumed that he was much the bigger man, and you can see how surprised he was.


The people who say Ali couldn't punch have to remember that he "couldn't punch" only in comparison with world-class maulers like Liston, Frazier, and Shavers. He still had legitimate, average-contender-quality heavyweight punching power; saying he couldn't punch would be like saying Marciano was slow --which he was compared to Ali.
If you watch the video, you can see that Ali is set up solidly to deliver a short right uppercut, which an off-balance Liston practically charges chin-first into. It's a legitimate perfect storm of a sequence, and Liston is on queer street for a while. By my eyes, the ref called the fight too soon, but I suspect Liston was demoralized and done anyway.
Murray Kempton once said of Liston that he was proof that America was growing up because he was the first morally-inferior negro to be accepted as a success. I've long since lost the book (America Comes of Middle Age) or I'd give the exact quote. Paraphrasing Kempton is a sin, and I can only plead for forgiveness.

The Devil

"I've watched the YouTube clip over and over and I can't see the first punch at all."

You can't be serious. My command of the english language is too limited, I'll let the images do the talking for me. :-)

001-Seven seconds into the video. Liston is about to throw a punch

002-Looks like a left to the head

003-Yes, here it goes

004-But Clay saw it coming, he is dodging

005-Clay is so fast, here is his right-hand counter already

006-Fist about to make contact

007-Punch lands

008-End of the movement, Liston is falling

009-And falling

010-And falling

George Worthmore

I saw the fights as a kid. And I had seen Liston's previous fights. My dad was a Golden Gloves Champ (1936 NYC Welterweight)and we were boxing fans.

I'm taking nothing away from Ali/Clay but it was obvious, that for whatever reasons, in both bouts Liston did not come to fight.

And I agree with Tosches that Ali turned boxing into a clown show like professional wrestling. Before Ali no matter how mean and dirty the sport was boxers still had dignity.

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