The FBI always suspected the Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston fight — which took place in Miami, Florida on February 25, 1964 — was fixed.
On the 50th anniversary of the epic battle between two great champions we look back at the circumstances surrounding the “match of the century.”
The fight was one of the most watched in the sports’ history and also ended up being one of the most controversial ones.
Before Cassius Clay — later known as Muhammad Ali — took the boxing world by storm, there was Sonny Liston, who was a feared and respected champion. So much so, that many did not want to get into the rink to fight him.
British champ Henry Cooper’s manager said: “We don’t even want to meet Liston walking down the same street.”
At the time of his fight with Ali, Liston was the heavyweight champion, having destroyed former champ Floyd Patterson with a first round knockout to claim the title in September of 1962. A rematch ten months later yielded the same result, a first round knockout of Patterson.
Muhammad Ali was the 22-year-old “big mouth” challenger known as the “Louisville Lip”, he loved the attention he was getting for fighting Liston, but his style was seen as unconventional and ill equipped for the heavyweight title. This would be the last time he would fight as Casssius Clay.
Not known at the time, Liston has been suffering from bursitis and had been receiving cortisone injections on a regular basis after practice. The former champ claimed to be 32 at the time, but it was later revealed that he was probably 40 or older.
The FBI became suspicious of the result after the great Liston withdrew before the seventh round when Muhammad Ali’s punishment became too much to handle.
The bureau suspected that the result had been fixed by a Las Vegas gambler, as reported by the Washington Times, which uncovered documents incriminating two gamblers called Ash Resnick and Barnett Magids.
The documents show Resnick told Magids not to make any bets on the fight but to “just go watch the fight on pay TV and he would know why and that he could not talk further at that time.”
“Magids did go see the fight on TV and immediately realized that Resnick knew that Liston was going to lose. A week later, there was an article in Sports Illustrated writing up Resnick as a big loser because of his backing of Liston. Later people ‘in the know’ in Las Vegas told Magids that Resnick and Liston both reportedly made over $1 million betting against Liston on the fight and that the magazine article was a cover for this.”
Even though no evidence was ever found that either Liston nor Muhammad Ali had any knowledge or had willingly participated in arranging the results, the FBI continued its investigation.
The more likely possibility is that because of Sonny Liston’s age and physical problems, it became physically impossible to stop the younger, most agile Muhammad Ali on that fateful day 50-years ago.
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