From moments after the rematch on May 25, 1965 in Lewiston, Maine, there have been conspiracy theories about that night.
They all point to the conclusion that Sonny Liston took a dive due to his alleged mob ties.
Muhammad Ali was believed to have connected with a short right to Liston’s chin, which had the champion stumbling backward on to his back. Seemingly unfazed, Liston laid on the canvas for much longer than the standard 10-count — some say he was down for as long as 20 seconds. Ali himself refused to go to a neutral corner, screaming at the challenger to “get up and fight, sucker!”
Camden’s Jersey Joe Walcott, a former heavyweight champion-turned-referee, also focused on pushing Ali back despite the timekeeper already ticking down the seconds. When Walcott picked up on the 10-count, Liston was already back on his feet and trading punches with Ali. The champ’s corner was incensed, screaming at Walcott that Liston had already been counted out. (Walcott sort of owned up to his mishap by saying, “When I finally came back to pick up the count, the timekeeper told me he had reached 12.”) Seconds later, it was over, and Ali successfully defended his title for the first time.
Ali — who had changed his name from Cassius Clay to Cassius X to Muhammad Ali between the Liston fights — was not entirely sure how the former champ went down. Liston, who didn’t expect the right hand at all, quipped that he would fight anybody and ruefully claimed, “I could have continued. I just didn’t hear the count.”