Liston Supremacy Unchallenged

Line-Up for the Canvass

A shortsighted sportswriter a few months back dared to ink the late New York Yankees with Sonny Liston in some absurd metaphor about twin colossuses astride the narrow world of sports.

What with the Yankee myth shattered in the dust of Chaves Ravine, Sonny Liston now stands alone. And much is gentle sportsfans might wish that Liston would meet the Bombera fate, there is no fistic Sandy Koufax around to strike out Sonny.

Of course there is Cassius Clay. The present tense still applies to cassius, but only because his proposed October might with Sonny has been postponed--until February of next year at the earliest. Sonny, the former sharecropper, is now a millionaire, and Mortimer Caplin has made it unprofitable for millionaires to fistfight three times a year.

With a minimum of four months to go before a heavyweight title fight, the division has settled into stagnation. Even Cash is unusually quiet: he has evidently decided to devote his full attention to avoiding another fight before Liston consents to meet him. With his undefeated record Cassiue is as pretty as a $6 million Christmas present. The fact that he will be unwrapped inside of five rounds is relatively unimportant. Clay just has to remain intact until he steps into the ring with Sonny, and that is precisely what he plans on doing.

There are however, at least two young and highly ranked heavyweights who would love to have a shot at Clay before he is dispatched by Liston. Ernie Terrell, 6' 6" and 206 pounds, is a smart boxer with a left that is good enough to flatten Cassius and a reach which might just hold off Sonny for six or seven rounds. Terrell is not a flashy fighter, but his strike and clinch style makes excellent use of his exceptional size. Terrell has beaten Cleveland "Cat" Williams and most recently the young giant sent aging Zora Folley stumbling down the heavyweight ladder, presumably for the last time.

Terrell Protecting Record


Ernie's next fight should be with journeyman Doug Jones, the number-two contender who lost a controversial decision to Cassius in Madison Square Garden last Spring. Jones, however, maintains hope for a shot at the champ and will soon fight unranked Alex Koskowits instead, to avoid a further blemish on his record. Jones enthusiasts--and they are scarce--point out that at 185 their boy is no lighter than Marciano or Dempsey when he took the title. But then, Jones is no Marciano. Marciano probably would have lasted no more than ten with Liston, and as for Dempsey, 180 pounds is all that Doug has in common with him.

Doug Jones is one of those fighters who spend ten years beating most of the best boys around without even getting the big chance. He is a yardstick fighter, a constant to measure the up-and-comers by. His near KO of Cassius finally mortalized the Louisville Lip for the sportswriters. His KO of Folley was the beginning of the end for the Arizona boxer. Doug's hard punching and ring savvy would provide the perfect test for Terrell.

Williams, Clay Matched

The second fighter with a fair chance to clobber Clay is powerful "Cat" Williams whom Liston terms, "the second-hardest-punching heavyweight." Sonny KO'd the cat twice, and to make him do it again would only belabor the issue, but a Williams-Clay contest might be another story. The mild blows of Henry Cooper deposited Cassius on the canvas for eight seconds in London last winter, and anything Cooper can do Williams can do better.

The rest of the division is singularly unimpressive. Billy Daniels, only a fair puncher and a worse boxer, was outpointed by Jones in Teaneck this summer, and all one could really say in Daniels' favor was that Jones never looked worse winning. Daniels will face Folley on October is in Montreal, and only a very decisive win would satisfy the sceptics who have labelled him a club fighter.

Eddle Machen, who once managed to backpeddle for 15 rounds with Liston, has been unranked since his recent emergence from a mental hospital. And that brings us to Floyd Patterson. The former champ, victor over such ring luminaries as Tom McNeeley, Brian London, Pete Rademacher, and Roy Harris is now looking for fights with the likes of Billy Daniels and Henry Cooper. The only real difference between Floyd the champ and Floyd the number-seven contender is that he now has to go the bums rather than letting them come to him. And that is a difference. Even for those of us who saw Patterson's reign as a tragedy and travesty for boxing hate to see the poor man spend' the next four years struggling for another title bout which he could not win and which no one would pay to see. Certainly there are heavyweights around whom Floyd can still beat. Probably he deserves to be rated fourth or fifth instead of seventh. But, he would go into the ring an underdog against Clay, Jones, and probably Terrell, and that alone is reason enough for a former champion to retire.

In Cassius Clay Liston has a potentially threatening contender. Clay nearly matches Liston in size and surpasses him in speed. Cassius could become a master boxer, and that would offset Liston's power. In two years time, with six more fights behind him and a new defense in front of him, Clay could be a serious threat to Sonny. Unfortunately, the financiers, the publicists, and Clay's own big mouth have pushed him too far too fast; he will no doubt pass up further experience for the big money. Cassius, the 21-year-old wonder boy, will deny an able and experienced 24-year-old Clay a realistic chance for the title.

Jones, Terrell, Williams, Patterson--they are all competent heavy weights, and Terrell should prove to be the best of them. But, at the end of any survey of he heavyweight scene one comes to the simple conclusion that Liston's only real battle in the years ahead will be with the effects of age and easy living. Sonny claims to be 31, but even in the absence of a birth certificate this is obvious fiction.

Also, Liston is not a full-time physical fitness type. So far he has always been in condition for fights, but he lives well in-between. If Liston believes, like most of the boxing public, that his challengers are beneath contempt, what is the rationale for running ten miles a day?

In any case, Sonny is not likely to trip over his white beard in the next few years and in the meantime none of the present contenders will knock him out of the ring without a bazooka