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What If Clay Quit Against Liston 50 Years Ago Today?

Frank Lotierzo

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On February 25th 1964, undisputed heavyweight champion Charles “Sonny” Liston boasted a 35-1 (28) record. Liston was 218 pounds of tempered steel packaged into a large boned frame that stood a little over 6’1″. For the previous five years, three of those before he knocked out former champ Floyd Patterson in September of 1962 to win the title, Liston was a human wrecking machine. Yes, he was the baddest man on the planet.

In the early sixties it wasn’t uncommon to hear it said by many boxing aficionados that Sonny was the most formidable heavyweight champion in history and perhaps even greater than Joe Louis.  From 1958-1963 Liston won 20 consecutive fights and only two fighters, Bert Whitehurst (who was out on his feet and saved by the final bell) and Eddie Machen went the distance with him. Both fighters received ovations for lasting the limit with Sonny, but that’s about the best that can be said on their behalf because they never really were in the fight nor did they present much of a threat to Liston over the course of the 22 rounds they spent in the ring with him.

It was understood at the time that Liston was taking apart all of the top contenders that Cus D’Amato, heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson’s manager/trainer, refused to let Floyd defend the title against. Contenders such as Mike DeJohn, Cleveland Williams (who Liston stopped twice) Zora Folley and Eddie Machen.

Liston, 31, was seen as the future of the heavyweight division. He was a fundamentally sound boxer who possessed the best left jab in heavyweight history at the time, something that probably still holds true today with only the likes of Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes and Lennox Lewis having a case to be made for theirs in the post Liston era. Sonny was a natural at boxing and carried dynamite in both hands. He was strong as an ox and had a great chin. One doesn’t need more than a few fingers to count the times Liston was hurt or shook over his 54 fight professional career.

Enter Cassius Clay 19-0 (15), who would challenge Liston for the title on the night of February 25th 1964 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

At the time Clay, who would change his name to Cassius X three days later and then to Muhammad Ali shortly after that, was not thought to be the greatest by anyone other than himself. He was an Olympic light heavyweight gold medalist with hand and food speed never seen before in a heavyweight. That aside, he was still between a 7 or 8 to 1 underdog against Liston. In his previous bout before challenging Liston, he was dropped and almost stopped by Henry Cooper in London, England. This was the same Henry Cooper whose managerial team wouldn’t even let him campaign for a fight with Liston because they knew it would end quickly and painfully, and not because Sonny would be hurting himself.

As history would see it, Clay was too fast and swift of foot for Liston that night. Everyone knew Sonny didn’t think much of Clay as a fighter prior to their fight and was certain that because of his foot speed, Clay might last a round longer than Patterson managed to do in two fights with him. In other words, Liston was planning on working about five minutes versus Clay at the most, something he figured he could do in his sleep, and often joked about during his training leading up to the fight. When they met in the ring Clay didn’t back down from Liston and by the middle of the first round his confidence was escalating. Sonny and Cassius traded rounds and after four rounds, despite Liston being cut and a little swollen around the eyes, the fight was even.

In between the fourth and fifth rounds, Liston’s corner-man Joe Pollino tended to Sonny’s eyes. The solution used on Liston’s cuts somehow got into Clay’s eyes during the fifth round. By the middle of the round Liston was knocking Clay all over the ring without much resistance from Cassius, who was blinking and squinting profusely.  Sonny used a lot of himself up trying to get Clay out during the fifth round, but due to Clay’s good legs and unknown at the time physical strength and durability, Clay survived the round.

However, Clay must not have felt that he was out of danger and was imploring his trainer Angelo Dundee to cut off his gloves before the start of the sixth round so he could show the world that Liston was cheating. Remember, years later as Muhammad Ali he would admit that Liston was the only fighter he ever faced who really scared him. So it’s not out of the question with Liston having his best round of the fight that the young Clay’s confidence was waning. In the corner Clay and Dundee were going back and forth as Dundee was imploring Clay that with the title being on the line, nobody was cutting the boxing gloves off of him. Luckily for Clay, Dundee kept the ref occupied and Barney Felix never got to ask Clay if he wanted to continue or not.

Dundee managed to push Clay out for the sixth round and it changed the course of both boxing and heavyweight history. Clay’s eyes cleared during the round and he began peppering a tired Liston, whose confidence and will were slowly being sapped from him. As fate would have it, Liston wouldn’t come out for the seventh round, claiming he dislocated his left shoulder while throwing his vaunted left hook at Clay as he was moving away from him. With Liston sitting on his stool, Cassius Clay became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world at age 22.

As Muhammad Ali, the former Cassius Clay would win the title two more times. In the interim, Ali was drafted to by the army to fight in the Vietnam war and was exiled from boxing for nearly three and a half years due to his refusal to do so. As a contender and champion Muhammad Ali fought a who’s-who list of outstanding/hall of fame heavyweights and also stopped two all-time greats, in George Foreman and Joe Frazier, to win and retain the undisputed heavyweight title in 1974 and 1975.

Ali was much more than an athlete or fight, he also stimulated talk and debate on segregation, race, religion, politics, human rights and a plethora of other topics. He was a true pioneer and paved the way for the Sugar Ray Leonards, Mike Tysons, Oscar De La Hoyas and Michael Jordans of the world. Without Muhammad Ali before them, they wouldn’t have become superstars who accumulated fortunes as both sports and cultural icons.

Yet if the result of the Liston-Clay fight ended with Liston as the winner,  the legend and legacy of Muhammad Ali would’ve died before it ever was born in the Miami Beach Convention Center 50 years ago today.

What if referee Barney Felix sees the confusion in Clay’s corner before the bell rings for the sixth round and asks Cassius if he wants to continue, and Clay, blinded and panicking, indicates that he can’t? The fight is stopped and as expected Liston retains the title. The fact that Clay wanted the gloves cut off to show that Liston was cheating and that the mob/establishment was against him because he was a known member of the Nation of Islam, wouldn’t have held a drop of water or changed the public’s perception of him a bit. With Liston being seen as such a prohibitive favorite and Clay as a quitter, it’s unlikely there would’ve been a rematch. Most would’ve would figured that Sonny would get in shape the next time and massacre the loudmouth and heartless Clay. Of course Clay/Ali would’ve wound up becoming champion–he was clearly the best heavyweight of the emerging era– but his aura would be gone. Liston probably would’ve kept the title for a few more years and Ali would probably beat the guy who eventually beat the declining Liston. But he’d have represented something completely different: he would have just been another fighter. But the magic wouldn’t be there since he would have suffered an early kayo where he quit. To have been undefeated and seemingly untouchable before his exile is what in the first stage of his career defined him. And he would have always had that stigma of having quit when trying for the heavyweight title.

In real life, Ali had to take some beatings and come back to gain mainstream respect as a fighter. If he’d quit in the Liston fight, it would have been just the opposite. To regain his respect, he would’ve had to have been pretty much untouchable for the rest of his career. Yes, when it comes to Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight division could be riddled with a ton of what ifs if Muhammad didn’t answer the bell every time he fought.

What if Ali had his way and his first fight with Sonny Liston ended with him sitting on his stool instead of the opposite? The twists and turns that heavyweight history may have taken are endless. Who knows, maybe Joe Frazier never wins the title because Liston is the defending champion and Sonny would be a terrible matchup for Joe. Maybe the once beaten Ali and Frazier meet around 1967/68 in an elimination bout and their historic rivalry never comes to fruition. It’s great to venture into the ‘what if’ possibilities and they’re endless if you change a result here or there regarding Ali’s fighting career.

So let’s finish with what we know. Ali did fight the sixth round with Liston and resumed command of the fight. He captured the title and beat Liston in a rematch via a controversial first round knockout, in a fight that saw Liston on his feet fighting Ali when referee “Jersey” Joe Walcott stopped the fight. Thus Ali eliminated Liston for Joe Frazier and then himself was exiled from boxing three years later and paved the way for Frazier to flower and emerge as the best heavyweight in the world by the late sixties and early seventies.

Interesting if you think about it – if Ali loses the first fight against Liston, his legacy dies and boxing is cheated out of a generation of great heavyweight fights and Muhammad Ali may not be, as he is today, regarded as the greatest overall heavyweight champion in boxing history. In real life, Ali defeats Liston and his legacy is hatched. And as a result of Ali ridding Liston from Frazier’s path along with his exile, the seed of Frazier’s legacy is planted.

Is it really possible that had Cassius Clay refused to come out for the sixth round against Sonny Liston 50 years ago today, the Ali-Frazier rivalry and both of their legacies also would’ve been buried alive before they were even born?

Yes, it’s very plausible that’s how things may have unfolded.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Dan Parker Bashed the Bad Guys in Boxing and Earned a Ticket to the Hall of Fame

Arne K. Lang

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Twenty-five years ago this month, sportswriter Dan Parker was formally ushered into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the non-participant category. Parker wasn’t there to enjoy the moment. He had been dead going on 30 years.

Dan Parker, who began his career in journalism as a court reporter in his native Waterbury, Connecticut, hired on with the New York Daily Mirror in 1924, was named sports editor two years later, and remained with the paper until it folded during a prolonged newspaper strike in 1963, a total of 39 years.

Parker has been underappreciated by historians of the sports page because he worked for a paper that didn’t make the cut when advances in microphotography allowed copies of old newspapers to be stored on microfilm. During this reporter’s days as a college student — and here I date myself – the only out-of-town papers archived in the school library were the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, and to cull something out of them for a term paper one had to commit to spending long hours manually scrolling through reels of microfilm on a clunky machine. The tabloids – and the Daily Mirror was a tabloid – were considered too lowbrow for serious research, and even today in the digital age, stuff by Dan Parker is hard to find if one doesn’t have the luxury of hunkering down for an extended stay in the periodicals section of the Library of Congress. His online omnibus consists entirely of scattered stories that were picked up by other newspapers and a few magazine pieces.

But among boxing writers, Dan Parker was a giant. He did more than anyone to cleanse the sport of the hoodlum element. The IBHOF electorate has come up with some curious choices in the non-participant category over the years, but in the case of Dan Parker they certainly got it right.

Parker was a big man, carrying about 240 pounds on his six-foot-four frame, but a man’s size is irrelevant when staring into the barrel of a gun and Parker was fearless when facing off with the goons that infested the fight racket. His best year, one might say, was 1955 when a story he authored for Bluebook magazine flowered into an award-winning, six-part series in the Mirror titled “They’re Murdering Boxing.” The series spawned an investigation that ultimately resulted in the imprisonment of Frankie Carbo, boxing’s so-called underworld czar, a man with a long rap sheet, and several of Carbo’s collaborators, most notably Philadelphia numbers baron Frank “Blinky” Palermo.

Parker’s friends urged him to lay off the hoodlums before something bad happened to him, but he ignored their counsel. “Everybody in boxing lived in fear of this enforcer (Frankie Carbo) but not Dan Parker. Nobody ever put enough heat on Parker to slow down his typewriter,” reminisced Hartford Courant sports editor Bill Lee.

Parker’s reputation as a reformer was well-established before he zeroed in on the machinations of Carbo and others of his ilk. In 1944, when a vacancy came up on the New York State Athletic Commission, Governor Thomas Dewey, who had made his reputation as a racket-busting District Attorney, offered the post to Parker.

It was easy money, but he declined. “What would I use for a punching bag if I were on the boxing commission myself?,” he said.

During a portion of Parker’s tenure with the paper, there were eight other New York dailies competing for readers. The Mirror was the paper of choice for well-informed boxing fans thanks in large part to Murray Lewin who came to be recognized as the city’s best fight prognosticator within the ranks of the newspaper writers. Lewin, the boxing beat writer, did the grunt work, attending all the little shows and writing up the summaries. Parker, as he freely admitted, was more interested in writing about sporting characters than about the games they played. And like his good buddy Damon Runyon, who wrote for the New York American (later the Journal-American), Parker was inevitably drawn to boxing and horseracing because that was where the most colorful characters were found.

Parker found time to write one book, a primer for novice horseplayers published in 1947 when horseracing was on the cusp of the boom that would lead it to becoming America’s top spectator sport (a distinction, needless to say, that wouldn’t last).

The book had a chapter on touts, one of Parker’s favorite subjects for his newspaper column. They were all charlatans, he wrote, an opinion that did not endear him to the bean-counters as they were forever cluttering up his sports section with ads from racetrack tipsters. Parker wasn’t afraid to make enemies on his own paper.

Believe it or not, but there were still folks back then who believed that professional wrestling was on the up-and-up. Parker educated them when he wrote a column that gave out all the winners on a show that hadn’t yet started.

The programs for the wrestling shows, which included the bout sheet, were published well in advance and then hidden away until they were needed. Parker procured a copy and from it was able to glean which wrestlers had won their preceding match.

“Dan was a shy, gentle, and kindly man with a quick sense of humor,” wrote New York Times sports editor Arthur Daley. But within his profession, he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The legendary Herald Tribune sports editor Stanley Woodward once likened him to Fearless Fosdick, a character in the L’il Abner comic strip who was a parody of Dick Tracy. Parker had a long-running feud with New York Daily News sportswriter Jimmy Powers which may have had something to do with Powers becoming a well-known radio commentator. In the eyes of the old guard, a true journalist didn’t do “electronic media.”

When Damon Runyon died from cancer of the larynx in 1946, several of his close friends, notably Parker and the famous gossip columnist Walter Winchell, a Daily Mirror colleague, got together and resolved to create a charity in Runyon’s memory. What resulted was a foundation that has raised millions for cancer research. Parker worked tirelessly on its behalf.

Daniel Francis “Dan” Parker died on May 20, 1967, at age 73. He was quite a guy.

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What Next for Gabriel Rosado?

Ted Sares

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What Next for Gabriel Rosado?

Bektemir Melikuziev, Freddie Roach, Edgar Berlanga, and Jaime Munguia are names that, one way or another, figured into Gabe Rosado’s stunning KO last Saturday night in El Paso. It overshadowed the impressive showing by Noaya “Monster” Inoue later that night in Las Vegas.

Rosado (26-13-1) is a well-documented bleeder and just might start spurting during the walk-in, but he is never, ever in a dull fight. The tougher-than-tough Philadelphian won Top Gore honors for his blood and guts TKO loss to Canadian middleweight star David Lemieux in 2014. The year before, he bled aplenty in his game but losing effort against Gennady Golovkin.

This time against Melikuziev, the unbeaten Uzbek, the fight ended in round three when the 35-year-old underdog beat the Eastern Euro fighter to the punch during an exchange of rights with Gabe’s landing first and sending the former amateur star into dreamland. The force of the blow was amplified by the younger and faster man coming forward with caution to the wind. And this time, there was no bloodletting.

The knockout should be a contender for KO of the Year. In fact, it was reminiscent of Juan Manuel Marquez’s explosive knockout of Manny Pacquiao in their final match.

Once again, Rosado (who is now trained by Freddie Roach) has revived his career and can count on at least one last decent payday. While many think Jaime Munguia would be a solid next fight, the thinking here is that Rosado could get carved up by the undefeated Tijuana veteran who has won 30 of his 37 fights by KO. Munguia is just too good.

The Catch 22

Rosado is an all-action fighter but scar tissue and his propensity to bleed is his worst enemy. It has cost him in the past. For such an offensive-minded fighter as Gabe, he is trapped in a terrible catch-22. If he can get the lead early and the bleeding is stemmed within reasonable limits, he can be a force, but not against the likes of Munguia.

If not Munguia, then who?  Here is one suggestion: How about “The Chosen One,” Edgar Berlanga (17-0) whose first round KO streak recently came to an end. Brooklyn vs. Philadelphia would be a nice added touch –not to mention the Puerto Rican factor. Could Rosado expose Berlanga as someone without enough experience, aka rounds? Would Gabe show that Berlanga is more Tyson Brunson that Edwin Valero?

Let’s make it happen!

Ted Sares enjoys researching and writing about boxing. He also competes as a powerlifter in the Master-class. He can be reached at  tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Fast Results from Las Vegas: Inoue Demolishes Dasmarinas; Mayer UD Farias

Arne K. Lang

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Fast Results from Las Vegas: Inoue Demolishes Dasmarinas; Mayer UD  Farias

LAS VEGAS — Top Rank was at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas on Saturday, June 19, for the second of their three June shows. In the headliner, WBA/IBF world bantamweight champion Naoya “Monster” Inoue lived up to his nickname with a vicious third round stoppage of Filipino import Michael Dasmarinas.

Inoue (21-0, 18 KOs) had his opponent fighting off his back foot from the opening bell. He knocked down Dasmarinas in the second with a left hook to the liver and twice more in the third round before referee Russell Mora waived it off. The official time was 2:45.

Dasmarinas brought a 30-2-1 record and hadn’t lost since 2014. But he was no match for the “Monster” who looks younger than his 28 years. Those body shots landed with a thud that could be heard in the far reaches of the arena. This kid is really good.

Mikaela Mayer continues to improve as she showed tonight in the first defense of her WBO world super featherweight title. Mayer 15-0 (5) turned away Argentina’s Erica Farias (26-5) with a 10-round unanimous decision in a fight that was frankly rather monotonous.

Mayer won by scores of 97-93 and 98-92 twice. Farias, who landed the best punch of the fight, didn’t have the taller Mayer’s physical equipment but yet landed the best punch of the fight. Her only setbacks have come on the road against elite opponents—Cecilia Braekhus, Delfine Person, Jessica McCaskill (twice) and now Mikaela Mayer.

The opener on the ESPN portion of the show was a lusty 10-round welterweight affair between Ghana native Isaac Dogboe and Glendale, California’s Adam Lopez. Dogboe, whose only losses came at the hands of Emanuel Navarette in world title fights, improved to 22-2 by dint of a majority decision that could have easily gone the other way. Dave Moretti had it a draw but was overruled (97-93 and 96-94).

Lopez, one of two fighting sons of the late Hector Lopez, an Olympic silver medalist, did his best work late, particularly in the eighth round. With the loss, his record declines to 15-3.

Other Bouts

Monterrey, Mexico super lightweight Lindolfo Delgado, a 2016 Olympian, was extended the distance for the first time in his career but won a wide 8-round decision over Guadalajara’s Salvador Briceno

Delgado won by scores of 80-72 and 79-73 twice while advancing his record to 12-0. Delgado’s best round was the eighth, but Briceno (17-7) weathered the storm. Briceno is 5-6 in his last 11, but has been matched tough. The six fighters to beat him, including Delgado, were a combined 78-3 at the time that he fought them.

Vista, California lightweight Eric Puente has yet to score a KO but he is undefeated in six starts after winning a unanimous decision over Mexico’s Antonio Meza (7-6). Puente, who is trained by Robert Garcia, knocked Meza down early into the fight with a sweeping left and was the aggressor throughout. The judges had it 57-56 and 58-55 twice.

Puerto Rican super lightweight Omar Rosario improved to 4-0 (2) with a fourth-round stoppage of Reno, Nevada’s Wilfred “JJ” Moreno (3-1) The official time was 0:47.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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