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Sonny Liston—Night Train

February 16, 1964 (The Ed Sullivan Show)

The contrived scenarios in which Liston found himself were often discordant. (Getty Images)

Sonny Liston was the heavyweight no one wanted. Notwithstanding his destruction of reigning and defending champion Floyd Patterson in Chicago on September 12, 1962, in just two minutes and six seconds, which he repeated 10 months later, needing four seconds more in the rematch, he was despised as a man, however respected he might have been as a fighter. Repeatedly abused as a child, he was psychologically malformed as a result and drifted toward a life of crime, reinforcing the idea that he was unfit for society, let alone the heavyweight throne. But before his aura of invincibility was shattered by a mouthy young whippersnapper named Cassius Clay in 1964, Liston was the world champion and the media, which then as now was willing to do just about anything to attract viewers, reluctantly embraced him as the celebrity he was and succeeded, to some extent, in humanizing the alleged monster in our midst. These film clips of Liston before the fall give a taste of how he was packaged. Making him safe for family viewing couldn’t have been easy. There was an unmistakable frisson when and wherever he appeared, and the contrived scenarios in which he found himself were often discordant, with the exception of Sonny jumping rope to James Brown’s Night Train on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 16, 1964, nine days before he faced Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali the first time.

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