“The Phantom Punch: The Story behind Boxing’s Most Controversial Ending” by Robert Sneddon
Boxing, history, controversy, Ali, Liston
October 4, 2015
5 of 5 stars (excellent)
The second heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston ended with one of the strangest and controversial endings in boxing history. Considering the history of the sport and its seamy underbelly, this is quite a statement. However, this outstanding book by Robert Sneddon makes the case for this statement and tells of the background of all aspects of this fight held in a small town in central Maine.
The book read much like a bout between two champion boxers that may start with a flourish, and then slow down as the two opponents feel each other out. In a boxing match that will often lead to more punches landing, more flurries by both fighters and eventually reach an exciting finish. This book did the same thing as it started with how many people view the ending of that fight today. Then there came a lot of background information on not only Ali and Liston but also about the town of Lewiston, Maine and the politics and officials that either helped bring the fight there or wanted to keep it away.
This portion of the book doesn’t sound like it would be exciting or of much interest to readers who are interested in the actual fight. However, that is not the case as much of this information is well researched and written in such a manner that a reader will be both well-informed and well-entertained while reading it. Sam Michael and the Nilon brothers are just a few of the people who may not be household names to boxing fans or historians but they played important roles in this fight.
The sections on boxing, especially for both Ali-Liston fights, were excellent reads as well. I was especially impressed with Sneddon’s account of the first fight between them in Miami, as that information was especially important when it came time to talk about the rematch. As for the punch that is the center of the controversy even to this day, Sneddon does report on it fairly, writing about views from both sides. He is careful to emphasize that there were many who felt the punch did land on Liston as well as report on those that believed it never connected.
Because of this, I felt that this book was not one that tried to sway readers one way or the other, especially those that already have their minds made up. Instead, it seemed that the target audience would be for readers like me who have never seen the punch or the films of it and instead wanted to learn about this controversy. For this goal, the book hits its mark and is an excellent account of a heavyweight championship fight that will be talked about as long as boxing remains a sport.
I wish to thank Down East Books for providing an advance review copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.