My brother asks about Ali-Liston 2 pt. 2

Ali-Liston II : May 25, 1965

Considering that he had proven to himself that he could slay the giant, Ali was much more confident going into the second Liston fight. Liston however, was very concerned for reasons that were above and beyond getting slapped the ring for fifteen rounds like a Catholic school boy, if not outright raped like one. As in most high profile fights, there are inside and outside elements that have a vested interest in certain outcomes manifesting. Certainly there is the issue of gambling, but in many ways that doesn’t filter into championship fights, Walcott excepted.

There were two factions that fueled

The first round began much like their first fight except it was in color. It turned out that Ali was black after all, as white America couldn’t be entirely sure seeing as how his skin color was so light compared to Liston that it was hard to tell. This had to have contributed to the general public dislike that fomented in future years, as many white folks living outside the known universe in Kansas and Nebraska likely thought nothing more about his race other than the new Great White Hope’s slightly odd haircut.

Then, about halfway through the round, Ali caught Liston with the “phantom punch” that would take almost ten years to erase from public concern until he whooped George Foreman’s ass in Zaire.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: Ali’s punch indisputably connected with Liston’s gigantic noggin. Also, there’s no reason to suspect that the punch couldn’t have knocked Liston down. Despite being seen as a relatively light hitter for a heavyweight, Ali actually possessed more power than he got credit for, and the shot caught him right on the button. You’re just not going to win as many fights with that high quality opposition without having some sting on your shots, and Ali’s left hand has been described as having an additional sort of twist to it that impacted and then ground the glove into your face at the same time. Sounds lovely, and  it tended to have the effect of cutting people. Particularly white people.

The controversy that followed and led to the phantom punch mythology had to do with what happened after Liston hit the ground. Liston was likely stunned briefly by a punch that just caught him while he was still cold. That s$%# just happens in boxing, and you pick  yourself up and get back to it. Realistically, he should have been down for about a two count, popped up, bounced on his legs with a slightly annoyed look on his face for getting embarrassingly caught so early, pounded his gloves and gone back to work. Unfortunately for boxing fans, Liston basically decided he was done and gave up on the floor instead of his stool.

Doubly unfortunately, Walcott was a bit cold too.

Liston lay there on the canvas putting on a decent show that degenerated into total BS, and it quickly became obvious to everyone on the planet that he had no intention of getting up. The only problem was that Ali was so pissed he at him for taking the lying down he stood over him screaming at him to get up because “you fell down just to stop me from looking so great.”

During these blog posts, I’ve had a number of conversations with my editor about what language I may and may not use, and how I may use it. These are perfectly reasonable requests, by the way, and it’s mostly stuff like “If you don’t mind, thanks, try not to use the N- word.”

I wasn’t planning on it, but I’m actually at a bit of a loss here because I cannot for the life of me figure out how I’m supposed pass on the rest of Ali’s rant without using it at least fifteen times.

Anyway, Walcott then faced his first problem, in that he wasn’t able to get Ali to go to a neutral corner because he was too busy screaming at Liston. Ali had a tendency to ignore referee’s demands that he stop beating the s$%t out of people when he was in the mood, and one of my favorite examples occurred in his second tuneup fight before Ali-Frazier I. Bonavena was a very good fighter who gave both Joe Frazier and Ali a world of trouble, and will likely be a subject of a future post owing to the fact that he was executed on the command of a brothel owner whose wife he stole and tried to disenfranchise from the business. So as an aside…

In the 15th round of a very tight fight, Ali caught Bonavena with a great left hook that sent a visibly exhausted Bonavena to the canvas. Bonavena got up and then got put straight back down like a horse with a broken leg. Just like the Liston fight six years earlier, Ali stood over him and refused to go to a neutral corner. When the ref finally got him away, Ali kept trying to walk around him while the ref held his hand on his chest and moved Bonavena back so they could get a clean start. Then comes my favorite part.

I wish to god Ali was mic’d at that moment, because he’s casually trying to walk around the ref, and then finally just swats his arm out of the way and probably said something like “bitch, don’t tell Ali when to whip a man’s ass”, walks over to Bonavena, and pounds him into the canvas for a TKO win. If a fighter did that today, he would be fined and probably banned by the commission. Personally, I think the ref was smart to let it go there, because if he would have tried to stop him Ali seemed ready to shoved him out of the ring.

Back to Liston.

By the time Walcott got Ali away, Liston had been down for a good 15 seconds, and you can actually see the moment where the little hamster wheel in his head starts to spin as he’s picking himself up, and he amateurishly rolls around like Walcott in the second Marciano fight.

Now Ali’s shot was enough to stun and knock down a man, but let’s get another thing perfectly clear: that shot was nowhere near enough to separate a 10-year-old girl with a spinal injury from her senses for a ten count, much less the thickest black man on Earth.

Unfortunately, Walcott was as confused as I’ve seen him at the end of any of his heavyweight title fights. Once he got Ali away, he had no idea whether to start the count or pick it up from the timekeeper. Worse, when he looked over at the timekeeper, the timekeeper was no help at all because he didn’t know what to do when you get to eleven and the fight’s not over. That’s when Walcott did the absolute worst thing a ref can possibly do, and I mean it: literally, the most basic cardinal sin of refereeing a boxing match.

He wandered off to ask someone what to do.

And not just wandered off, but wandered outside the bounds of the TV camera that was showing a good eighty percent of the ring. For all the audience knew, he was halfway down the street with the commissioner to the nearest bar after a good night’s work. The ref’s first and foremost responsibility is to maintain control of the time and place where parts of boxers’ bodies are flying through no-man’s-land towards one another, and as soon as you leave two fighters alone in a boxing ring you’re basically inviting them to grab steel chairs and start braining each other.

During this time, Liston obviously started to feel like a douchebag sitting there, because if Walcott wasn’t going to stop it his choices were to either give up the sad little display and get on with it or prop himself up on an elbow and wait for the crowd to silently file out of the arena. Thank the gods,he sheepishly pulled himself up, and, both he and Ali not really knowing what to do and being on live television with the entire world watching, just started boxing again as if Walcott was standing there anyway. For two men who hated each other, it was remarkably civil and organized. They box for about ten more seconds, and then Walcott comes lumbering across the ring at a run, breaks the fighters, and says that, since Liston was clearly down for about fifteen minutes while he was trying to remember why he had walked over to the left ring ropes in the first place, and stopped the fight.

The s$%# storm went F5 immediately. Everyone who bet on the fight was pissed, the crowd was livid, and if ever a riot had a justifiable reason to break out this was certainly it. Ali was incensed because he didn’t get to beat on Liston’s face for a greatly increased period of time, and the only ones who didn’t have a good grasp of what was going on were the commission, judges, timekeeper, and referee – in other words, the everyone who should be. Liston took a dive, but Walcott had taken a goddamn header off a two-story building and come out in much better condition than when he was actually fighting.  The only saving grace is that he wasn’t white; that would have just been the crowning glory on the birthday cake of s$%t he’d just served up to everyone.

Naturally, Walcott was put out to pasture and never seen in the ring again. Liston had a few more fights, got into heroin, and was eventually found dead in his apartment after a week from an overdose. Ali, well, I think we know what happened after that.  However, there was always the lingering question as to why Liston took a dive. Quitting on your stool is one thing – a very bad thing to be sure – but taking a dive? That made no sense until several years later.

Liston admitted that he was done with the fight before it even started, and actually wanted no part of the whole affair in the first place. His story varied, but the most plausible explanation is that he was receiving death threats by the black Muslims leading up to the fight.

These weren’t just any black Muslims. The nation of Islam was headed by one Louis Farrakhan, one of the most unctuous and despicable characters to ever walk the planet. The fact that he’s still alive is proof positive as far as I’m concerned that there is no god. He’s an anti-semite, violent, bigoted, insane demagogue who deserves to be taken out into the street and shot for the sake of continued development of civil culture.

For those of you who know anything about Malcom X, he was assassinated by his former compatriots in the Nation of Islam after he took issue with the fact that Farrakhan was – like all cult leaders such as Jim Jones, Joseph Smith, etc. – using his position to debauch the unsuspecting women of his own charge.

It’s completely credible that Liston bailed out of the fight at their suggestion, and sooner rather than later lest he accidentally knock out Ali and then get killed.

And that’s the fight. For Ali, everything would be different. He would spearhead the new black empowerment movement, participate in a very famous photo shoot with the Beatles after which he asked his manager “who were those little faggots”, and take a stance against the US government and pervading racial policy by standing up to the draft. Upon his return from exile, Ali would restart his career on 26/10/1970. According to forensics reports, Liston was dead two months to the day later.

The only person involved who made it to the end of his life without something going wrong in their brain was, of all people, Walcott. In 1971 be became sheriff of Camden, and then chaired the New Jersey State Athletic Commission until he was 70. At no time did he display the effects of crushing knockouts by the likes of Lewis, Marciano, or Charles, not to mention many others, with the exception of his actions during Ali-Liston II.

Thus ends the two fights that were Ali’s ascension from contender to legitimate heavyweight champion of the world.

Ben Tomkins
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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