When the friend dropped in, Sonny Liston, the eye of the hurricane, was getting ready to leave Philadelphia for his training camp. He did not seem to want to talk about the refusal of the New York Athletic Commission to license him for a heavyweight championship fight with Floyd Patterson. But while his pal Raymond (Munsie) Munson helped pack the gear, Sonny slowly came out of his shell, as he almost always does. He disappeared into the basement, returned quietly and dropped an oversize, specially weighted work shoe into his visitor's lap, catching him unawares and nearly knocking the wind out of him.
"They weighs eight pounds each," Sonny announced, laughing at his practical joke. "I had 'em made special for running shoes. But there's too much strain on this muscle here [he patted the biceps femoris on the back of the thigh] to run in 'em. But walking in these shoes I get just as much good as running in regular work shoes."
Would this improve his wind? "Here's the wind down here," Liston said, patting his thigh and running his huge hand down alongside the calf. "If your legs is good, your wind is good."
Amenities over, he turned to the New York action. "I still think it's an unjustice," he said, "but fretting over it can't change it. When I started boxing, I never thought things like this could happen. To me, boxing was a sport—like baseball. When a man steps up to the plate, he either hits that ball or he don't. That's what he's judged on, not who he is or where he came from. Seems there's more politics than sport in boxing now."
His wife, Geraldine, interjected her own view on the New York ruling. "First it made me mad," she said, "but now I'm settled to it. Do they think Charles is so bad he can come in for just one night and turn the whole town rotten?" (Neither of the Listons—Mr. or Mrs.—discussed the heart of the New York reasoning: that Sonny is probably still connected in one financial way or another with the mobsters who used to control him, and that such elements "do not disengage easily." Some Philadelphians believe that if such under-the-table arrangements have been made Liston is not personally "in" on them. He is a fighter; others handle his business.)
Although Sonny professed indifference the day of the New York edict, Geraldine admitted that he was upset. He had received a telegram notifying him of the decision, without further explanation, but he had already heard the news on the car radio when he reached home.
Asked if things like this hurt his pride, Sonny said, "Some. But I gotta strong enough pride to take it. A man without strong pride has no business bein' a fighter. That's one thing I respects about Patterson. He got strong pride. Otherwise he wouldn't be fighting me.
"But things like this just give me more...more...."
"That's right, incentitive. When I gets to be champion I know I can change a lot of minds about me. I'm gonna be a good champ, a fighting champ and a friendly champ. They say Patterson's always kept to himself, that he's been hard to get to. I won't be like that. I'll speak to kids and go to banquets and all that stuff. I like to go to banquets. You can pick up new jokes that way.