The Liston/Ali Conspiracy Theory and Liston’s Unsolved Death

There have been many conspiracy theories surrounding the Sonny Liston/ Mohammed Ali fight for years. In 1964, when Liston did not return for the seventh round people grew suspicious and said he threw the fight against Ali. Liston, a 7-1 favorite, cited a sore shoulder as his excuse for not returning to the match. However, many people were not convinced. How could a guy with as many knockouts as Liston not return because of a hurt

Liston on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

shoulder? A rematch was later held in 1965, and once again, people’s suspicions were heightened. In the first round, Ali hit Liston with what is now known as the infamous “phantom punch” causing Liston to fall to the mat; he was struggling to get back up. Many say that, upon further review, Ali’s punch never even hit Liston in the first place. In addition, not only were their fights in question, Liston’s mysterious death has also been unsolved.

A few years earlier in 1963, when Liston defeated Floyd Patterson, Mohammed Ali jumped into the ring shouting his “I am the greatest” speech, causing the crowd to boo Liston’s victory. Ali continued to taunt Liston after claiming Liston was too afraid to fight him. Ali’s taunting even followed Liston to a Las Vegas casino where Ali continued to bully him. Frustrated, Liston pulled out a gun and fired off 2 rounds towards Ali, who took off running.

Liston down after a punch from Ali.

When Liston died in 1970, people were again suspicious; this time as to the cause of death. With drugs found in his home and needle marks on his right arm, it was thought that Liston died of a heart attack due to drug use. However, it is widely known that Liston had a fear of needles, so the thought of a heroin overdose was preposterous. It later came out that a month before his death, Liston was briefly hospitalized after a car accident and was given intravenous drugs, which would explain the needle marks on his arm the night of his death.

Was Liston’s death revenge for shooting a gun at Ali years earlier? Did he die of a drug overdose? What is the tie between his death and the fights? We may never know. One thing is sure: the Liston/Ali fights and Liston’s death will always remain an unsolved mystery.