EXCERPT FROM MY AMAZON BOOK, BEAST:THE DECONSTRUCTION OF CHARLES ‘SONNY’ LISTON
So what about the “Phantom Punch?”, Well Howard Cosell put together a special in 1965 based entirely on the second fight between Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali where the famous punch was shown from the opposite side. He showed the viewers the side of Sonny’s head where you could see the punch landing. Not only could you see where the punch had landed, but you could also hear the sound that the punch had made. When I searched YouTube for “Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston 1965”, I was able to hear the punch for the first time.
The sound that the punch made upon impact made a noise as though a bomb had gone off in the arena. Mr. Cosell also went through the round step- by- step with his guests Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Bill Hines, Ruby Golstein and Jimmy Canon. Howard Cosell asked the Former Heavyweight Champions if they thought that the right hand punch that Mr. Ali threw that brought down Sonny in the first round had enough power behind it to bring down someone as strong as Sonny Liston; a man who had never been knocked down before; and did Mr. Ali have enough room to generate enough power to knock out Sonny. Jack Dempsey said, “I don’t know how hard he was hit, not being on the receiving end; you don’t know how these punches go over.” Rocky Marciano, who in my opinion did not understand Ali’s style at all, mentioned , “the funny moves that he makes”. Was he talking about the Ali Shuffle or the Rope a Dope? Mr. Marciano also admitted that there wasn’t a ten count. But Mr. Ali stated it very well when he said that “Jack Johnson invented the Anchor Punch and took it to the grave, but before he died he taught it to the great actor Stepin Fetchit, and then Stepin Fetchit taught it to me.” Notice that Muhammad Ali considered Stepin Fetchit to be a great actor when most African Americans are embarrassed by even the mention of his name. After Sonny’s second fight with Ali he was asked by a sports commentator if Ali’s over hand right surprised him; Sonny responded by saying, “Yes it did.” I should say knocked him down, because actually Jersey Joe Walcott, never officially ruled it a TKO. Muhammad Ali described the punch in his post- fight interview by stating that it was like two cars slamming into one another; not one car backing into another that was standing still but both cars driving toward one another going at the same rate of speed. So it was at this very moment when Muhammad Ali was explaining the Anchor Punch to the world that boxing for the first time in history was being articulated to the world as a science. This is what Muhammad Ali was trying to get across in laymen terms to the general public.
“Two moving objects, both possessing momentum by virtue of their mass and velocity, collide with one another. Within the system created by their collision, there is a total momentum M V that is equal to their combined mass and the vector sum of their velocity.” (www.scienceclarified.com)
Mr. Ali explained that he had to perfectly time the Anchor Punch so that when Sonny moved his head forward creating forward momentum he would meet it with his fist, creating a combined force upon impact. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t that people did not want to listen to or believe Muhammad Ali when he was trying to explain the Anchor Punch. It was just that he was trying to explain science to a room full of boxing fans. In other words, Muhammad Ali was not speaking in a language that the average boxing fan could understand. Muhammad Ali was more like a painter than a boxer. He was like a Rembrandt or a Picasso of the sport. And by turning boxing into a science that could then be articulated to boxing fans , Mr. Ali became the sports Albert Einstein or George Washington Carver. Howard Cosell asked his panel if Muhammad Ali was able to generate enough force when he only had six inches of space between Sonny’s head and his glove when he started to throw his punch. He also asked if Sonny’s age was a factor. The question was put to Rocky Marciano as he had been knocked out later in his career by Archie Moore. Archie Moore’s punch was similar to Ali’s punch in terms of distance. Archie Moore also started his knockout punch at a distance of about six inches. Rocky Marciano, like Sonny, had never been knocked down in his career until Archie Moore knocked him down. Mr. Marciano admitted to Howard Cosell that his knockdown was attributed to his age.
Muhammad Ali also mentioned that the Anchor Punch incorporated a twist of the wrist that reminded me of Bruce Lee’s one- inch punch. I have been a martial artist for over thirty years and my teacher Professor Kuffarath the successor to Henry S. Okazaki taught Bruce Lee jujitsu and so did Professor Wally Jay. I have been around great teachers, as well as Professor Richard Bunch, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, Professor Danny Enosanto, Professor Tora Tanaka and Professor Willy Cahill and many, many more. So I know a little bit about generating power, force and velocity using your fist with only a limited amount of space to work with.
“Velocity is a vector measurement of rate of direction of motion or, in other terms, the rate and direction of the change in the position of an object.”- (www.physics.about.com)
The sportscasters explained that the punch that Muhammad Ali threw that was able to knock out Sonny Liston at such a short distance was not a boxing punch in a traditional sense but a martial arts punch. Now you have to understand that Muhammad Ali was not only able to make boxing his muse by turning it into an art form, but he was also a student of boxing. He had taken the time to find out what the secret was to Jack Johnson’s greatness. And that secret was the “Anchor Punch.” This was knowledge that he received from an unlikely source, a person that you would never think would have such a wealth of knowledge inside of him, let alone boxing knowledge. And that unlikely source was Stepin Fetchit. So the Anchor Punch that Mr. Ali threw at the head of Sonny Liston created enhanced velocity only by twisting his wrist before impact. This is the punch that took boxing into the stratosphere. The Anchor Punch if you try it for yourself creates upward velocity. Go ahead and try a traditional over- hand right and then try the Anchor Punch twisting the over hand right at the wrist right before impact and you will see a noticeable difference in the amount of power you will be able to generate. Mr. Ali explained this to us in detail but we weren’t quite ready to listen to him back then. Even the great Rocky Marciano who stated that Mr. Ali had “funny moves” did not realize that Muhammad Ali was way ahead of his time. And that is why Mr. Ali could knock Sonny out with only six inches of impact space between his fist and Sonny’s head. It was not the Phantom Punch that should have been immortalized, but the Anchor Punch that should have been remembered as the punch that brought boxing into its zenith. But Muhammad Ali was not the first to revolutionize the sport of boxing, and he would not be the last. Mr. Ali was part of a long tradition of boxers, who could blend the old with the new, and continue to advance what one philosopher coined “the sweet science.” Pioneers like Jack Broughton who brought the rules to bare knuckle fighting in 1743, Daniel Mendoza “the first Jew to illumine the sport.” Mr. Mendoza brought the hit-and-hop-it artistry to boxing. Thames Waterman, was the Muhammad Ali of his day. He also talked to opponents during battle; Dutch Sam, the inventor of the “uppercut” and many, many more. I’m sure that when boxing fans first witnessed these fighters, they thought they had “funny moves” and saw their methods as mind-boggling.
We have to remember that this fight was the first time Jersey Joe Walcott had ever refereed a fight of this caliber. When Mr. Ali knocked down Sonny Liston after one minute and forty- four seconds into the first round, Mr. Ali never initially went to a neutral corner. Jersey Joe Walcott, instead of starting the ten count spent the first few seconds of the knock-down trying to get Mr. Ali to a neutral corner. In fact, there was never a ten count from Mr. Walcott nor a standing eight count after Sonny got back to his feet. Mr. Walcott actually left the fighters alone to fight after Sonny got back up, so that he could find the mat timer. This mistake would haunt Jersey Joe Walcott for the rest of his life, and ruin any chance of him ever refereeing again. To leave both fighters alone to fight without supervision was the biggest faux pas in the history of boxing. According to the legendary referee Ruby Golstein, “Jersey Joe Walcott should have never left the two fighters alone to look for the mat timer.” The mat timer is the one who usually yells out the count so that the mat referee can hear it. If Jersey Joe Walcott did come back while Sonny was down, he should have started the count where the mat counter was at in the count. If you study the fight, you will find that Sonny Liston was actually on the ground for almost eighteen seconds before he got back on his feet. Maybe that is why Jersey Joe never gave Sonny his standing eight. But it was those extra few seconds of rest that gave Sonny the time he needed to clear his head and get strength back into his legs. This was one point of contention for people who believed that the fix was on. People were wondering why Sonny was rolling around on the ground, when he could have gotten up sooner. Sonny was just as bewildered about what to do as Jersey Joe Walcott. Should he wait for Jersey Joe to come back and continue the count or should he get up?
If you are a fan of boxing then you would know that all boxers wait until the last second to jump back to their feet so that they have more time to rest before the count of ten. For example, If I was a typical boxer and I had just been knocked out and I was trying to clear my head and the referee had not started his count yet, or walked away from the count, why wouldn’t I stay on the ground as long as I could in order to clear my head and get my legs back? Or, if I wanted to receive a standing eight count, I would wait for the referee to come back to continue his count. It was also a matter of protocol steeped in years of tradition for Sonny to wait for the referee to return to begin his count. Sonny stated in the post-fight interview that he was trying to pick up the count from the mat timer. Even Sonny knew that if he was not hearing it from Jersey Joe Walcott, then he had to try and hear the mat timer yelling the count from outside the ring. Sonny also stated that if he would have picked up the count, then he would have continued. Most people felt that when Sonny got on his feet he seemed to have all his faculties, and that made most people suspect a fix, because they thought that Sonny should have been more disheveled for a guy who had just been knocked out. To most fans his ability to maintain his faculties right after the count proved that he had faked the knock down. But because of all the raucous that was happening in the ring before and after the knockdown, even though it’s been more than forty years since one of the most controversial sporting events in the history of the 20th century ended, no one has ever bothered to count how many seconds Sonny spent on the canvas after the initial knockdown. Not even Howard Cosell nor his panel of experts brought up this point of contention. Or argued that Sonny had been robbed of the chance of regaining the title because of the confusion surrounding the ten count from Jersey Joe Walcott. Again, as Sonny stated “If I would have known that ten seconds was almost up, I would have gotten up.”
If Sonny was going to fake a knock down, then why didn’t he just stay down right then and there? Why get up and keep fighting? The fight was stopped because while Jersey Joe Walcott was trying to lasso in Muhammad Ali, the mat timer was keeping track of the ten count. So when Sonny finally got back on to his feet to continue fighting, he had already been counted out. Was it Sonny’s fault that he didn’t know whether or not he should have gotten up off of the canvas? We have blamed Sonny Liston for this for decades when in actuality we should have been defending him. Sonny should have been able to dispute Jersey Joe’s mishandling of the ten count and not have been counted out. I truly believe that we as a society overreacted and jumped to conclusions by blaming Sonny, Mr. Ali and the Italians. Let us not forget that throughout the history of boxing, betting, gambling and the fixing of fights have had more notorious conspirators than the Italians. This chaos and confusion in the ring and Jersey Joe Walcott’s inexperience caused the fans and the public to go into a frenzy creating a public outcry. This brought about an immediate discrediting of the power of the boxing commission to maintain the public trust forcing the public to look at them as an illegitimate organization.
“One reason that bribery is regarded as a notorious evil is that it contributes to a culture of political corruption in which the public trust is eroded. Other issues related to political corruption or betrayal of public trust are lobbying, special interest groups and the public cartel.”(www.societyforqualityeducation.org)
If the legitimate operation of boxing was no longer in control vis-a-vis the government, then there must be some type of illegitimate element that has taken over. Some great evil that was capable of corrupting this noble sport of kings. Our fears and our superstitions had gotten the best of us and soon our imagination had begun to run wild. We had overreacted and over- simplified the circumstances that had unfolded before us. Fingers had been pointed in a blame game. The only explanation that made sense to people, was that these dark forces of change that had taken control of this match were looking more and more like the Mob. As the old saying goes, “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it must be a duck.” It was easier to blame Sonny because he was considered illiterate and stupid, the noble savage who was easily manipulated and an obvious pawn of the Mafia. Also, Muhammad Ali was considered suspect because of his association with the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X. Who other than the Italians would fit perfectly into this scenario? It was rumored that they had entrenched themselves into the world of boxing and they had been fixing fights for years. Why would this fight be any different? The stakes were high and there was a lot of money on the line. This fight had the Mafia’s signature written all over it. It was easier at this time in history to blame the Italians, Sonny and Ali, than to blame our own government.
“Cognitive Dissonance – Biases prevent you from seeing the truth, or modifying your position when new facts dictate. Confirmation bias creeps in when instead of seeing the facts- you see everything as proof of your position.”
In the 60s, we as a society were still very innocent, and not quite ready to admit to ourselves that our government was no longer watching out for our own best interest. We have to remember that we had just begun to escalate the war in Vietnam, Watergate had not yet happened, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had yet to be assassinated, and we were still in the process of desegregating the South. We were not ready at that time in history to distrust our government officials completely, nor did we have any reason to distrust them. Even with the Kennedy assassination we accepted without question the Warren Commission’s single bullet theory. We were more than sure that Big Brother had our back. We still believed that America held promise of a dream yet fulfilled. But at the same time, we did have the tendency to be very superstitious, and we could sometimes let our fears and “superstitions- the belief or practice based on fear or ignorance” get the best of us; especially when it came to the issue of race relations in America. And if the boxing commission, a government body, wasn’t in control of things then who was? Amidst the chaos of trying to reestablish control over the situation at hand, the boxing commission’s authority was beginning to crumble like a cookie, before our very eyes. And their ability to take matters into their own hands, began to eat away at their credibility, every second that passed them by. But boxing has always been filled with one controversy or another. If the Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston fight was fixed, then it would not be the first time nor would it be the last.
“Bear in mind, a prizefight is still illegal. If police get wind of one they jump on the fighters beforehand and bind them over to keep the peace. Those caught fighting are treated as felons. Prizefighting reeks of ruffians, fixing contests for betting coups. Bernard Shaw has written: ‘It isn’t boxers who bring disrepute to boxing, but betting men.” (London’s Covent Garden 1831)
In 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the most sweeping Civil Rights legislation since Reconstruction. 1965 would bring more change, with the passing of the Voting Rights Act, race riots in Los Angeles, Affirmative Action laws, and the start of a militant organization in Oakland California that would one day be known as The Black Panther Party. There was a change occurring and it was now, “blowing in the wind.” Desegregation meant change, and change meant uncertainty, and uncertainty brought fear. There was a power shift occurring in our central government. The Voting Rights Act was changing the balance of power between blacks and whites in the South, and in the North. At that time the public had to make a choice and that was to either blame the government that they had put their faith and trust in for centuries.( that same government that ran and controlled the boxing commission) or to lay the blame on the Italians and the Blacks. The public ended up choosing the latter. But what evidence did the public have that made them so sure of the fact, that the people involved with the fights were guilty as charged. What litmus test was the public using to make a case against the Listons, Alis and the Palermos?
Where there is an “Air of reality –only having the traces of truth, a preponderance of the evidence-it is more likely than not, a clear and convincing evidence- it is substantially more likely than not, beyond a reasonable doubt- no reasonable doubt could be raised, beyond the shadow of a doubt no doubt whatsoever could be raised”. “ Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard of evidence required to validate a criminal conviction in most adversarial legal systems. Generally, the prosecution bears the burden of proof and is required to prove their version of events to this standard. This means that the proposition being presented by the prosecution must be proven to the extent that there could be no “reasonable reason that the defendant is guilty. There can still be a doubt, but only to the extent that it would not affect a reasonable person’s belief regarding whether or not the defendant is guilty.”