50th anniversary of Ali-Liston II

Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston II (2:57)

Go back to May 25, 1965, when Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston for the second time, by first-round knockout in Lewiston, Maine. (2:57)

Monday is the 50th anniversary of the second fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston, remembered for what some called a “phantom punch” that dropped Liston and a searing photograph of Ali standing over a vanquished Liston.

Stats & Information recalls the key numbers from the fight and the Ali-Liston rivalry.

The May 25, 1965, fight followed their world heavyweight title matchup on Feb. 25, 1964, in Miami Beach, Florida. The 1964 bout was Ali’s final fight as Cassius Clay, his first heavyweight fight, and Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year in 1964. Ali won when Liston retired after six rounds, citing a shoulder injury.


The second Ali-Liston fight happened 15 months after the first. It was Ali’s first fight after he announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name, and it came under unusual circumstances.

Less than three weeks before the bout, the fight was moved from Boston due to concerns about the promoters being involved in organized crime. The fight was moved to St. Dominic’s Hall, a junior hockey rink in Lewiston, Maine. The fight drew 2,434 spectators, a turnout dampened by the remote location and fears of violence.

The fight was short and controversial. Liston missed with a left jab, and Ali quickly countered with a fast right hand, knocking out Liston in the first round.

It was the first time Liston had been knocked out in his career and the second-fastest knockout (in two minutes, 12 seconds) of Ali’s career. Ali’s only faster knockout (and his only other first-round knockout) came in his fourth fight, against Jimmy Robinson in February 1961.

Ali initially stood over Liston, gesturing and taunting him. After Liston climbed back to his feet, the fighters resumed boxing before referee Jersey Joe Walcott stopped the fight, as Liston had been counted out.


The knockout punch was quick, and many people didn’t see it. Some thought Liston took a dive, and many in the crowd started booing and yelling, “Fix!” The punch was often called the “phantom punch.” To this day, there is still controversy surrounding the knockout, although video appears to show Liston’s neck buckling when Ali’s punch lands.