Monday, July 15, 2013

Review of "Sonny Liston: The Real Story Behind the Ali-Liston Fights"

As a boxing fan who has always been intrigued by the story of Charles "Sonny" Liston, I have been searching for a book that talked more about his boxing than his time in prison or being involved in organized crime.  While those topics are covered in this book, Paul Gallender has written the type of book I have been searching for - one that concentrates on Liston's boxing ability.   Enjoy!

“Sonny Liston – The Real Story behind the Ali-Liston Fights” by Paul Gallender

Boxing, historical, biography, Liston, Ali, Clay, heavyweight, championship

March 18, 2013

308 pages

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Former heavyweight boxing champion Charles “Sonny” Liston was a mysterious figure, especially outside the ring.   There were questions about him concerning his incarceration before his boxing career, his connections to organized crime, his ability to interact with fans and the general public.  Even when he lost the second of his two bouts with Muhammad Ali, he generated questions as to why that happened.   This biography of Liston by Paul Gallender is an attempt to answer some of these questions and also portray Liston in a manner that was very different than the manner the press did so during Liston’s life.

Throughout the book, Gallender will compare what Liston’s actions and thoughts were about his training, his fights, his manner of handling his celebrity status and his career to those same topics as they were covered by the press.   The reader will see the difference.   Gallender gathered much of his information through research and interviews of those people who were involved with Liston.   The quality of his research shows as there are many new stories and details that even avid boxing fans of the era will be surprised to know. 

This biography does not delve with great detail about aspects of Liston’s life that were not related to his boxing career.  Of course there is good information on his childhood and excellent writing about his relationship with his wife (her loyalty to her husband was very touching) but there was a good balance of those types of passages mixed in with the boxing aspects of Liston’s life.  I was hoping to read mostly about the boxing and was happy with this aspect of the book.

The author also gives fair coverage to controversial topics, such as whether Liston “threw” the second fight with Ali because of ties to organized crime or whether he was threatened if he didn’t lose the fight.   The official reason for many years was that Liston was injured, and the author sticks with this reason, but gives ample coverage of the other reasons bandied about through the years.

Overall, this is an outstanding account of Liston’s career and life.  This type of book for this particular boxer is difficult to find in any bookstore or library.  As someone who has been intrigued with Liston’s career, I found this book to be just what I needed to read to learn more about the man. 

Did I skim?

Did I learn something new?
Yes.   Having not been old enough to understand the sport when the two fights took place, I did learn a lot of information in this book.  Those fights and Liston’s story in particular have always intrigued me and I found this book to be a wealth of information for that.

Pace of the book: 
Excellent.  Never drags and is always moving on to the next pertinent topic.   

Everything, but what I especially liked is that most of the information on Liston’s life outside the ring was covered in a manner that still connected with his boxing or his boxing related business.  There weren’t a lot of irrelevant stories or outside fluff and I found that to be very good.

This is a personal preference of mine, but something I really liked is that the author referred to Liston’s opponent in the two fights as both “Cassius Clay” and “Muhammad Ali” when appropriate – meaning that the man was named “Clay” until legally changed to “Ali.”  I believe that is best for true accuracy.  Most books will refer to him as “Ali” regardless of the time described in the particular passage.

The closest to a negative I could find is that a reader might believe that the author is very protective of Liston and may not be totally objective in his writing.  I found that not to be the case, as I believed he was simply trying to portray Liston as not quite the same person that the press did at the time.

Do I recommend? 
Yes.  Any boxing fan or historian will enjoy this book.

Book Format Read:
EBook (Kindle)

Buying Links:


  1. He was the scariest fighter of my youth. His menacing stare would make opponents knees buckle. This sounds like something I'd enjoy.
    I saw the fights with Ali live and will always believe the phantom punch was a fraud

  2. After reading this book, I wish I would have been able to see his bouts. He must have been one scary man in the ring when even Clay was afraid of him before the first fight.