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10 Plausible Sports Conspiracy Theories


10
Sonny Liston and the 'Phantom Punch'
A gloating Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston who was KO'd in the first round. Or did Liston take a dive?
 Hulton Archive/Getty Images
A gloating Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston who was KO'd in the first round. Or did Liston take a dive? Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On May 25, 1965, the heavyweight boxing championship of the world was decided in a tiny arena in Lewiston, Maine. The bout was a rematch between the brash young motormouth Muhammad Ali and the former champion Sonny Liston. A year earlier, Ali has shocked the world by stealing the title from Liston, who failed to return from a 7th-round shoulder injury.

In the first round of this second championship fight, Ali displayed his infamous finesse, bouncing light-footed around the ring while the shorter, thicker Liston lunged with jabs and body blows. As Liston leaned in for a left to Ali's face, the champ dodged and landed a glancing right hook to Liston's head, and the big man goes down. But he's getting up, right? No? What!

Ali's half-hearted right hook became instantly known as the "phantom punch" and Liston's collapse was dismissed as a dive. Sadly, the accusations were probably true. Liston had a deeply troubled life — born into extreme poverty, illiterate, in and out of jail for robbery and assault — and he was managed by men with known Mafia ties [source: Puma].

Years later, Liston denied that the mob fixed the fight, but blamed his obvious dive on Ali's association with the Black Muslims.

"That guy was crazy," Liston told a Sports Illustrated reporter. "I didn't want anything to do with him. And the Muslims were coming up. Who needed that? So I went down. I wasn't hit."


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