By the sixth,
Clay could see clearly again, and as he danced and jabbed, hitting Liston at
will, the champion appeared to age three years in three minutes. At the end of
that round, bleeding and exhausted, he could foresee his humiliating end. His
left shoulder had been injured—he could no longer throw an effective punch with
it—and so he stayed on his stool, just sat there at the bell to start Round
There were cries
that Liston had thrown the fight. That night Conrad, Liston's publicist, went
to see him in his room, where Liston was sitting in bed, drinking.
they sayin' about the fight?" Liston asked.
took a dive," said Conrad.
"Me? Sell my title? Those dirty bastards!" He threw his glass and
shattered it against the wall.
The charges of a
fix in that fight were nothing compared with what would be said about the
rematch, in Lewiston, Maine, during which Liston solidified his place in boxing
history. Ali, as the young champion was now widely called, threw one blow, an
overhand right so dubious that it became known as the Phantom Punch, and
suddenly Liston was on his back. The crowd came to its feet in anger, yelling,
Ali looked down
at the fallen Liston, cocked a fist and screamed, "Get up and fight,
sucker! Get up and fight!"
There was chaos.
Referee Joe Walcott, having vainly tried to push Ali to a neutral corner, did
not start a count, and Liston lay there unwilling to rise. "Clay caught me
cold," Liston would recall. "Anybody can get caught in the first round,
before you work up a sweat. Clay stood over me. I never blacked out. But I
wasn't gonna get up, either, not with him standin' over me. See, you can't get
up without puttin' one hand on the floor, and so I couldn't protect
The finish was as
ugly as a Maine lobster. Walcott finally moved Ali back, and as Liston rose,
Walcott wiped off his gloves and stepped away. Ali and Liston resumed fighting.
Immediately, Nat Fleischer, editor of The Ring magazine, who was sitting next
to the official timer, began shouting for Walcott to stop the fight. Liston had
been down for 17 seconds, and Fleischer, who had no actual authority at
ringside, thought the fight should have been declared over. Walcott left the
two men fighting and walked over to confer with Fleischer. Though he had never
even started a count, Walcott then turned back to the fighters and, incredibly,
stepped between them to end the fight. "I was never counted out,"
Liston said later. "I coulda got up right after I was hit."
No one believed
him, of course, and even Geraldine had her doubts. Ted King, one of Liston's
seconds, recalls her angrily accusing Sonny later that night of going in the