In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Sonny Liston becomes the heavyweight champion with a stunning first-round knockout of Floyd Patterson at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Patterson first won the championship on November 30, 1956, beating Archie Moore. He held it for three years before losing to Ingemar Johansson. Patterson regained the title in a rematch a year later and held the title through three defenses. Sonny Liston, 34-1, overpowered Floyd Patterson, delivering a left hook to the jaw that dropped the champion at 2:06 in the opening round. Liston would knock Patterson out again in the rematch in 1963 before losing the belt to Cassius Clay in 1964.
Charles “Sonny” Liston was born in Arkansas sometime around 1932. Learning how to fight while in prison, Liston turned professional in 1953. Known as a heavy hitter, he slowly climbed the ranks and overcame a loss early in his career. After losing to Marty Marshall in 1954, Liston won his next 26 fights, most of which were by knockout. He stood at 33-1 when he finally got his chance at the heavyweight title.
Floyd Patterson was born on January 4, 1935, in Waco, North Carolina, and raised on the streets of Brooklyn in New York. Heading down the wrong path, Patterson came under the tutelage of Cus D’Amato, who trained him at his Gramercy Gym. At 17, Floyd Patterson won a Gold Medal at the Helsinki Olympics as Middleweight. After posting a 30-1 record in his first four years as a professional, Patterson won the heavyweight title on November 30, 1956, by beating Archie Moore with a fifth-round knockout following the retirement of Rocky Marciano.
Patterson became the face of boxing as he easily won his first four title defenses. However, on June 26, 1959, Floyd Patterson was stunned by Ingemar Johansson. A year later, Patterson regained the title in a rematch with Johansson. After winning a third fight against Ingemar, Johansson defeated Tom McNeely and stood at 38-2 heading into the fight against Sonny Liston.
Sonny Liston had been the top contender for several years, but Floyd Patterson and the boxing community refused to give him a shot at the heavyweight title due to concerns over Liston's connections to organized crime and the mafia. Even President John F. Kennedy advised Patterson not to fight Liston, who was considered by most to be an unsavory character unworthy of winning the heavyweight title. In 1961, Sonny Liston had his boxing license suspended after being arrested for impersonating a police officer, further delaying the fight.
Sonny Liston was the betting favorite heading into the fight against Floyd Patterson. A crowd of 18,806 were on hand at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Liston had a 25-pound advantage over Floyd Patterson, as the fight quickly turned into a mismatch. The challenger quickly took control of the fight and dropped Patterson with a powerful left hook at 2:06.
The fans and boxing community were unhappy that Sonny Liston had won the heavyweight championship and hoped that Floyd Patterson could win the rematch in Las Vegas in 1963. However, the fight was just as much of a mismatch as Sonny Liston needed 2:10 to knockout Patterson a second time. Sonny Liston's reign would end in 1964 when he lost to Cassius Clay, who changed his name after the fight to Muhammad Ali.