Ali fought Liston 50 years ago. Two legends were born, but another was broken.

SLATE COLUMN: …I don’t mean [Sonny Liston] walked into that ring in Lewiston thinking, I’m taking a dive. I mean something deeper down wanted to take a dive, even as his conscious self tried to fight for victory. Something like what F. Scott Fitzgerald writes of in The Crack-Up, when—curiously enough—he employs a pugilistic metaphor:

“Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work—the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside—the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within—that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick—the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed.”…

Nonetheless, for maybe a last time, he whipped himself into shape to face Ali late in 1964—and then Ali had a hernia, the match was put off for six months, and Sonny fell out of shape. Back at the casino, living that casino life, his body fell into disrepair—and then he was once again cheated out of over a million dollars. Some part of him might’ve given up, as Fitzgerald says, “without your knowing it” and was only “realized suddenly indeed” when he went down from a punch that could never have felled him physically if something incorporeal hadn’t already been cracked… (more)

EDITOR: For those of us who remember the shock of the second Ali / Liston fight, the article serves to answer many questions left in our minds. The first part is about a famous photograph; it gets even more interesting when it provides Liston’s history and the circumstances surrounding the fight.