The Fall And Decline
In February 1964, Liston finally gave the loud-mouthed young boxer a shot at the title. When Cassius Clay stepped into the ring, he was counted out by virtually everyone. Instead, after six rounds, the two boxers stood even in points. Then Sonny Liston refused to leave his corner for the seventh round, claiming a shoulder injury. The champ had conceded defeat to the upstart, and many people wanted to know why. Liston's manager, Jack Nilon, said the injury had occurred during training before the fight, but nobody had heard anything about it before. Liston himself claimed the injury occurred in the first round of the fight. A few days later, speculation deepened when it came out that Inter-Continental Promotions, in which Nilon and Liston had a major stake, had signed a $50,000 contract in October 1963 securing the rights to promote Cassius Clay's next fight after the Liston-Clay fight, a contract that had just become much more valuable. Suspicious officials even withheld the fight purse until a doctor confirmed that Liston's left shoulder had indeed been injured.
Still, questions remained, but they were nothing compared to the storm that would erupt after the rematch on May 25, 1965, held in the Central Maine Youth Center in Lewiston, Maine, after other venues rejected the idea of hosting the tarnished ex-champ. Even as the challenger, Liston was favored 8-5 against the champion, now renamed Muhammad Ali. But what happened defied all the odds. Liston went down in the first round, after Ali threw an overhand right that seemed to barely graze his head. The punch would go down in boxing lore as the "Phantom Punch."