Sports

Muhammad Ali’s ‘Phantom Punch’ Against Sonny Liston Still Confuses Everybody

The former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali put forth an illustrious career that earned tremendous respect over the years. Ali had numerous memorable fights that began with his back-to-back bouts against Sonny Liston. These were the fights that put him on the map as one of the top fighters in the world and truly begun to build his reputation in the sport.

Muhammad Ali upsets Sonny Liston in first fight

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Ahead of their first meeting, Ali was seen as the huge underdog in the fight as he was still on the rise as a young and promising fighter.

Many doubted his ability in the ring while his infamous trash talking had rubbed many the wrong way. The overwhelming belief was that he was in over his head as he was seen as an inexperienced young fighter that is going up against one of the best boxers at the time.

Despite all that, Ali remained quite confident in his ability continuing to voice before the fight that he would knock out Liston. That led to him to state his iconic phrase “I’m young, handsome, fast, pretty, and can’t possibly be beat.” That also saw wear a denim jacket at the weigh-ins with the words “Bear Huntin'” on the back in reference to Liston’s nickname “Big Bear.”

Ali lived up to his pre-fight jabbering as the bout went six rounds with him taking control quite early in the third round onward. In the final three rounds of the fight, Liston wore down progressively due to the punishment that Ali was handing out. That saw his corner decide to end the fight before the start of the seventh round leading to his infamous spitting out of his mouth guard in disgust of the decision.

Muhammad Ali’s ‘Phantom punch’ against Sonny Liston

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There was much chatter around the situation that created much controversy around the second match. The conversation led some to believe it may have been fixed with Liston being paid by the mob to throw the fight.

That didn’t stop in the second bout between the two on May 25, 1965, as it was a quick match with no shortage of storylines. There was a discussion that the mob was involved; it was known that he had ties and was an ex-convict. That only added more fuel to the fire around the second match as the two were garnering much attention for their involvement out of the ring. Liston had his strong mob ties, and Ali recently joined the Nation of Islam.

It set the stage for the fight as Ali made quick work of Liston with it lasting just one round with what has been known as the “phantom punch” that sealed the win. It was an off-balanced quick jab to the jaw that led to a knockdown and count-out.


The match ended so quickly behind a punch that only created more controversy around the two that has remained more than five decades later.

Controversy still surrounds the match

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Ali’s second win over Liston created a whirlwind of controversy about the outcome.

The punch that sent him to the ground wasn’t seen as a powerful or earth-shattering hit that could knock down the 215-pound fighter. In the years that have followed the bout, there has remained much mystery around the situation.
There are various versions of the story after the punch, as it believed that Ali told Liston to get up and keep fighting.

Meanwhile, another story states that Ali didn’t realize he hit his opponent, bellowing out, “Did I hit him?”There is even dialogue that Liston was visited by two Muslims before the fight and threatened to be killed if he didn’t lose.

There has never been any clear-cut answer to what transpired, but it’s an iconic moment captured by an incredible photo that helped jump-start Ali’s legacy. Ultimately, there may never be a crystal-clear answer to what happened that night at the Civic Center in Lewiston, Maine.