Sonny Liston

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Charles L. "Sonny" Liston (Unknown – December 30, 1970) was a professional boxer and ex-convict known for his toughness, punching power and intimidating appearance who became world heavyweight champion in 1962 by knocking out Floyd Patterson in the first round. Liston bafflingly failed to live up to his fearsome reputation in an unsuccessful defense of the title against Cassius Clay, underworld connections and an early death—like his unrecorded date of birth—added to the enigma.


Early life

There is no record of Liston's birth, he once gave an age compatible with being born in 1928 but is said to be absent from the 1930 United States Census. The officially claimed date of birth was May 8, 1932 but Liston's aged appearance added credence to rumors that he was actually several years older.[2][3]

Liston was born the son of a sharecropper in Morledge Plantation, Johnson Township, St. Francis County, Arkansas and is believed to have been the 12th of 13 children born to Tobe Liston and Helen Baskin. He endured frequent beatings - the scars were still visible decades later - and was forced to pull the plow when his father's mule died.[4] To escape from his father's brutality, he hitchhiked to St. Louis and reunited with his mother and his cousins.

Liston was sentenced to prison as a teenager for taking part in the robbery of a gas station. When he robbed places he always wore the same yellow t-shirt, and became known to the local police force as the "Yellow Shirt Bandit". When he was caught running away from the gas station wearing the same yellow t-shirt, he was sentenced to 8 years in prison. His boxing talent was discovered by a Roman Catholic priest, and it was boxing that helped him get out on parole two years later, along with an endorsement from the priest. Liston never complained about prison, saying he was guaranteed 3 meals every day.[5] On Halloween night in 1952, he was paroled. Much was later made of his being controlled by criminals. However, according to the priest who interested him in boxing, underworld figures became his management simply because they were the only ones willing to put up the necessary money.[4]

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