Monday, May 25 marked the 50th Anniversary Muhammad Ali’s 1965 rematch with Sonny Liston, in Lewiston, Maine. It is one of boxing’s most infamous prize fights, ending on in one of the sport’s most controversial knockouts.
The venue itself, St. Dominick’s Hall in Lewiston, Maine, is one of the most unlikely places to ever host a world heavyweight title fight. The building today is known as the Colisee and although it has undergone modernization over the years, it remains essentially a modest-sized, high school hocky rink.
For a few years about a decade ago, it doubled as the home ice for a junior league team. I’ve actually covered a small MMA card there. It’s very hard to picture it as the location for a contest for the biggest championship in professional sports.
Lewiston, Maine is an out-of-the-way outpost even in today’s hyper-linked world. Fifty years ago, it was a small mill city on the edge of the great northern wilderness. So the fight must have looked a bit fishy even before it happened.
As if to set the tone for the fiasco, Lewiston native, Las Vegas icon and future Naked Gun star Robert Goulet forgot the words to the National Anthem.
Ali had shocked the world in February 1964 in Miami, when he used his speed and movement to frustrate and punish Liston before forcing him to quit on his stool. Norton had famously KOd former champion Floyd Patterson twice in the first round. Liston was a hulking, bear of a man with astonishing 84″ reach. He had been seen as unstoppable and had been expected to quiet the Louisville Lip.
Even Ali’s first victory had been marred by some controversy, as ointment of some sort blinded Ali in Round 5 and forced him to fight with partial sight for most of the round and part of the next.
The rematch ended in a hurry, with Liston going down in the first round as a result of a quick, short right hand. The punch that can be seen to drop Liston in the video of the fight does not appear to be a very big punch, and as a result, this fight has gone down in history as the “Phantom Punch” fight and speculation has endured that Liston took a dive, either on the orders of his Mob handlers or due to his own aversion towards trying to face Ali’s speed in another fight.
Oddly, although the fight had gone down in history as a debacle, it yielded perhaps the most iconic image of Ali’s brilliant career (image after the jump). The photograph of an enraged Ali standing over Liston and urging him to get up and fight has served as the basis for the most popular boxing poster of all time. I have a framed copy hanging in my own office.