Age and Performance.
Boxing and Masters Swimming.
1. "Socialising? .......It's Murder!"
Boxing like swimming is a battle of wills rather than skills.
Only when both men show equal will does a fight boil down to skill.
When suggestions are made for an award system for skill and speed the subject of terminology for evaluating masters’ swimmers comes up. For those not familiar with Master’s Swimming Gala’s you swim against those with a similar time but, afterwards, the results are extrapolated into 5-year age group bands. So, you can lose your race but still get gold in your age group.
Juxtaposition To place close together or side by side. In which other sport is there such a "unique" structure of competition where "like competes with like" in every way! However, as a coincidence, even the brutal and unbenign sport of professional boxing once nearly adopted the concept of master’s competition when it was rumoured that two ex-heavyweight champions of the world wanted a rematch.
Classification from the bottom up. An age group signifies being judged by your own era.
Everyone is an opponent on the day of the meet. Someone who you should beat but still looks good on the record but still no absolute thing.
To be an opponent a person who cannot swim very well can still get a swim.
Then, there's the JOURNEYMAN.
Has some skills, modest ones, but he's hardworking and stays in shape most of the time. He could be hard to beat.
Then, comes a CHAMPION. Aforementioned. A combination of heart and skill, the difference between the two is maybe one has more talent. These can be dangerous guys if you're making a match, but you're going to have to meet them somewhere along the line if you are ever going to get anywhere.
Then, there's a "Hell of a CHAMPION". Here, you wait awhile, compare them to other swimmers who've been and gone and you can say "GREAT". Being there in spite of. Not because of.
Which brings us to Charles "Sonny" Liston. The documentary film of his life "Pariah" has just been released.
Aptly when news of his death was released in 1970 Boxing News wrote: "Liston is dead - but his legend is just beginning". Graham Houston wrote: Liston had been an equal match for any heavyweight in history. He was the universal tough guy, the sort of man no one wanted to meet in a back alley on a dark night. The most dangerous unarmed man in the world. Along with his partner in crime "Big Barney Baker" Jimmy Hoffa's Teamster's Union.
Baker, a huge man, nearing 400 lbs who reputedly boxed for the U.S in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in the Super-Heavyweight Division. Needless to say, Liston and Baker made a good Team breaking strikes and various limbs. Liston was cited by Chuck Wepner as the biggest intimidator of all time. 57 stitches. Useful in the collection of debts.
2. Born to Box.
In my opinion. Born to box. And he certainly represents a dichotomy in terms of age and performance.
Nobody knew when he was born and nobody knew when he died. Basically, his date of birth was scrawled on a tree and somebody chopped the tree down. He was one of 25 children. Worked in the field where his father beat him. Ran away to find his mother. No schooling. Believe it or not he did not learn to read or write until he won the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Roaming the streets getting into trouble fighting, eventually ending up in prison. Little wonder that by the age of 18 he was convicted of armed robbery. Jefferson County Jail. Attempted to kill a police officer. prison that he was introduced to boxing.
Immediately recognised for his physical attributes, he was introduced to boxing. Being 6'00" (72") tall with an amazing 84" wingspan. Then there was his 15 +1/2" fists, measured around the circumference, and were likened to cannonballs. The largest of any boxer, even Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano fists were only 11”. Albeit only a personal theory I believe that originally, he was a southpaw. Stance then changed to that of utilizing the conventional left lead. Hence, his left jab was reputed to be one of the best ever in heavyweight boxing history.
Teddy Atlas, trainer of Mike Tyson, in his Mythical Matchups, in citing that Liston would beat Tyson, utilised an old fight film of Liston executing his left jab likened to that of a final follow through in swimming. It was his main asset in being cited as being in the top five heavyweight champions of the world. World boxing historian Hank Kaplan bears witness to this assumption although famed boxing journalist Bud Scholberg cited the date order of eras. The 1973 book "The 50-Meter Jungle: How Olympic Gold Medal Swimmers are Made" by Sherman Chavoor and Bill Davidson bears out the sociology which stills seems to haunt the sport of swimming even to this day. Chavoor, coach to Mark Spitz, in finalising his book, quoted that he wanted to coach the first black Olympic swimming champion. Escorted from St Louis, then Philadelphia, Las Vegas became his home where the nightlife suited him. 14 fights straight. Cruising in his pink Cadillac along the parade at night.
Incidentally, Liston when living in Las Vegas, had a competition size swimming pool in his back garden. By all accounts he would swim regularly.
This still bears out Liston's ranking.
I certainly believe he was in the top ten. As time went on in era order up until now thus:
Tony Pearce's Top Heavyweight Champions of the World.
3. "A Man"
But in terms of age and performance Sonny Liston stands out.
According to Houston because of the Clay/Ali fiascos Liston was unlikely to be elected in any Boxing Hall of Fame. However, now Sonny's age is now in real debate - literally. Here, I will explain.
As a young teenager I remember walking home from swimming training one Saturday and passing a newsagent I spotted a brightly coloured magazine called Boxing Illustrated the front cover of which read "Nobody But Nobody can beat Sonny Liston". Sonny was pictured in fighting repose complete with that menacing scowl. This was in the late 1950's. Then, I happened to see him on Saturday black and white T.V on the Gillette Fight of the Week. He beat a top contender at the time Mike DeJohn. Then came Cleveland Williams (twice) Nino Valdez, Willie Besmanov, Zora Folley and Eddie Machen. Yes, he was knocking them all over. And these were also all at the peak of their careers. Unheard of today as boxing is now run by businessmen. Liston was the last boxer to be owned by the mob. Here, the mob were able to stage these matches. However, eventually, Champion Floyd Patterson (more like his manager) conceded to defend, and lost the title (twice).
And now comes the first title defence against Cassius Clay. Here, believe it or not, Liston was in actuality somewhere around 40 years of age. Clay was only 22 years old. A new era in boxing was about to begin.
In masters swimming terms Liston (40-44 Years Age Group) Clay (19-24 Years Age Group). TKO 7 KO 1. Because of these fiascos Liston is unlikely to be elected in any Boxing Hall of Fame - until now!
It must be remembered. Sonny Liston was a very worthy champion but also undeniably was bad in many other ways. Yes. Like all of us he had human frailties. "A Man" A suitable headstone... How did he die? Some say the Mafia. I think very simply. He just died. In the end natural causes was the actual verdict.
SONNY LISTON Mysterious life and death of a champion
Reference film can be found on YouTube
Here, he worked in the fields, with a mule, pushing a plough.
"The mule dies. You're the mule!"
Sonny carried welts across his back
By his father.
His last fight with Chuck Wepner showed them.
When not working time was spent either riding mules or swimming in the crop fields.
Finally residing in Las Vegas a competitive shaped swimming pool in his back garden.
Completely running away from home proved difficult.
Somewhat sparse general clothing.
Committing crime while roaming the streets of St Louis.
A police identification code evolved.
The "yellow checked shirt bandit"
Eventually, resulting in him wearing prison clothing in Jefferson County Jail.
Inevitable altercations with prison authority.
Revealed a talent for various forms of intimidation
15/16 inch cannonballs for hands.
84 inch tent poles for arms.
Essential not only recruitment for the prison boxing team
But a life outside prison.
Care of the Mafia
Daytime employment included.
The Teamsters Union.
Collection of debts
Any other miscellaneous "jobs" that needed doing.
Occasional lucrative evening employment
Professional heavyweight boxing.
An outstanding biography by Paul Gallender
The Real Story behind the Ali Liston Fights.
In his opinion
The best Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World Ever.
I hold a view
The result of Hard Work.
The Physical. The Mental. The Spiritual. The Emotional.
All he had was what he was going after
He finally made it.