Sept. 25, 1962 - With an arrest record as long as his list of knockout victims, Sonny Liston was fearsome both out of the ring and in. The surly challenger had boasted that he would blast Floyd Patterson from his heavyweight throne in five rounds. It didn't take nearly that long.
With a 25-pound weight advantage (214 to 189), Liston took control from the start, pounding away at the champion's ribs with a two-fisted attack in their bout at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Then he dropped Patterson with a powerful left hook to the jaw. Patterson was counted out at 2:06 of the first round and it was several minutes before he could be helped to his corner.
"I felt enough of him under my glove on that last hook to know it was a good enough punch to put any man down hard," Liston said.
Former heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano, who attended the fight, said, "I never realized Liston had so much power."
The new champion was a man, according to The New York Times, "who was born in poverty, reared in slums and arrested 19 times for various offenses."
Odds 'n' EndsOne of Liston's idols was Joe Louis. Growing up, Liston listened on radio to many of Louis' bouts.
In 1950, Liston was arrested for six muggings, one that brought him only five cents.
After his release from prison in 1952, Liston got a job in St. Louis as a laborer at a steel plant and roomed at the YMCA.
The next year, Liston became the Midwest Golden Glove heavyweight champ by beating Olympic gold medalist Ed Sanders.
Liston's first professional loss came to Marty Marshall on Sept. 7, 1954. His next defeat didn't come until Feb. 25, 1964, when Cassius Clay beat him for the heavyweight title.
Liston had his jaw broken in the fight with Marshall. Liston claimed his mouth was open and he was laughing at Marshall when he got hit. "It didn't hurt, but I couldn't close my mouth," Liston said. "I had to fight the last six rounds with my mouth open."
Liston married Geraldine Chambers on Sept. 3, 1957. Four days later, he was arrested for disturbing the peace.
Liston's first national TV exposure came on May 14, 1958, when CBS aired his third-round knockout of Julio Mederos.
From 1958-60, Liston had a streak of nine knockouts.
George Katz became Liston's manager in 1961 and controlled 10-percent of Liston's earnings.
In 1962, Liston was denied a license to fight in New York on grounds that his past "provided a pattern of suspicion" that could be "detrimental to the best interests of professional boxing and to the public interest as well."
To prepare for his first fight against Patterson, Liston walked seven miles a day wearing seven-pound shoes.
A week before their fight, Patterson asked fans not to judge Liston by his criminal record. "I have met Sonny Liston several times and I believe there is much good in him," Patterson said. "Should he be fortunate enough to win, I ask that you give him a chance to bring out the good that is in him."
His move to Denver in 1963 didn't stop the police surveillance that had previously frustrated him in St. Louis and Philadelphia. "For awhile the Denver police pulled him over every day," said Ray Schoeninger, a former sparring partner.
Liston bought a home in Las Vegas in 1966, less than a mile from where his hero Louis resided.
In 1967, it was reported that Sammy Davis Jr., would become Liston's new manager. It never happened.
Of Liston's 39 career knockouts, eight came in the first round.
Liston earned $13,000 for his last fight, against Chuck Wepner in 1970. He was almost broke six months later when he died.
Two weeks before his death, Liston was arrested for drunken driving in Los Angeles.