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Pep Barone, his manager-of-record, assures people that Sonny is basically a pleasant man ("when he knows you"), who likes to joke during long walks, is trying to learn golf and is addicted to television. "He seems unfriendly because he's kind of shy," says Barone.
Sonny is also virtually illiterate, which may explain his shyness in a world of literate men. His wife has been trying to teach him to read—and he can write his signature now—but generally Liston is content to parrot the words of Willie Reddish, a generously built former Negro heavyweight of modest accomplishment who is Liston's trainer and appears to be his best friend. When a question is addressed directly to Sonny, Reddish jumps into the inevitable impasse and answers for him. Sonny then will often echo his words.
When Sonny did talk
Liston did speak up for himself about his golf game, however. "I'm still learnin'," he said recently. "Guy's still teachin' me."
At this point there was a long, chin-down silence, then an abrupt speech with gestures.
"Too busy. Too busy gettin' out these heavyweights"—one of his monstrous hands, which require specially made gloves, cut through the air to indicate a swath—"too busy cleanin' out a path to the title."
For a reason insufficiently explained, Liston and Machen developed a genuine dislike for each other before they got near the ring to fight. Sonny explained later, "I dislike 'em all."
Machen said, "Liston is the bully type of man. He kept staring at me like he's gonna eat me alive."
At the weigh-in, Machen endured the stare for fully three minutes, then taunted the bully with, "You ain't scarin' nobody, Sonny."
Sonny's stare turned to a disdainful scowl and, with excessive wit and charm, judged by his normal standard, he replied: