CLEAR UP THE LISTON CASE
Heavyweight Prizefighter Sonny Liston has a superb record in the ring and a bad one out of it. He has been undefeated in the past six years; of his 31 fights he has won all but one and he has scored 21 knockouts. He may make it 31 victories and 22 knockouts on September 7 in Seattle when he fights Eddie Machen. If so, he will clearly be the only worthwhile opponent for the winner of the Patterson-Johansson championship fight.
Floyd Patterson has said recently that he wants Sonny Liston as his next opponent. But Cus D'Amato, ex-alter ego of Patterson and still his manager in some states and countries, prefers to have his tiger meet other fighters the way Indian maharajas usually meet tigers. It is a champion's prerogative to fight occasional bums ( Joe Louis fought a lot of them), but the gold crown given Patterson by D'Amato will soon lose its luster unless Floyd also meets his equals or near equals. And that suggests Sonny Liston.
First, though, there should be a clarification of Liston's status. The boxing authorities, who seem willing to act only when public outrage touches boiling point or when a major scandal explodes around them, must make up their minds—and act accordingly—on two points:
1) Is Liston a man who should be allowed in the ring?
2) Should the men who own him be allowed to remain in boxing?
Sonny Liston is a man with a poor past. He doesn't know how many brothers and sisters he had—the unofficial count was 14. By the time he was 18 he had been sentenced to three concurrent five-year jail terms for armed robberies. He got another chance through the intervention of Father Alois Stevens, chaplain and athletic director of the Missouri State Penitentiary, who believed in Sonny's reformation and saw real promise in his performance in prison boxing bouts.
Liston has fulfilled the boxing promise magnificently, but the reformation is open to question. In 1956 Liston beat up a St. Louis cop and took his gun away from him. He got nine months, and his boxing license was suspended in Missouri for a time. Since its restoration, he has been seen in the company of known gangsters. The St. Louis police feel it is no coincidence that a Liston home fight brings with it an infestation of hoodlums.
Just as he is uncertain about the number of his brothers and sisters, Sonny Liston is far from sure how many people, gangsters or otherwise, own a piece of him. The report is that Frank (Blinky) Palermo, Frankie Carbo's alleged successor as the underworld boss of boxing, is Sonny's feudal lord. In any case, it has been established that Blinky has advanced money for Sonny's living expenses and Blinky has never been noted for his philanthropies. One St. Louis mobster, John Vitale, with a police record 25 years long is said by the St. Louis police to own a piece of Liston. Vitale denies this.
As far as Liston is concerned, if the law has nothing with which to reproach him now, he is entitled to a shot at the heavyweight title.