By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
Unedited Ali vs. Liston II 1965 Film:
Over half a century after Muhammad Ali (better known then as Cassius Clay). fought a rematch with Sonny Liston, an unedited black and white tape of their weigh-in and controversial 1965 one round affair had miraculously surfaced. Many former champions were introduced in the ring before the heavyweight championship bout began. Liston was cheered, Ali was booed.
The brief world heavyweight title bout was interested in its unedited form, because it does show Ali clearly landing a confusing lightning fast right hand lead which dropped Liston. The count, when counted correctly, had Liston on the canvas for 11 seconds. Ali circles him, interfering with the count. Gene Tunney was down against Jack Dempsey for more ten seconds in the famed ‘battle of the long count’. Dempsey interfered. Why was it Tunney got a second chance, and Liston did not? Ali as the intimidating factor was to blame, creating an in the ring climate of antagonism and complete confusion turned to dismay.
As it ended, it did not appear Liston could survive Ali even if the bout had been allowed to continue. Ali had Liston completely out psyched into the fear mode by big mouth and speed movement intimidation. It is true the delay in the rematch benefited Ali, who still entered the ring with injured ribs. Liston, who was throwing body shots with evil intent in the rematch, probably could have taken Ali out if he had his wits about him. Liston let Ali get to him.
The unedited tape, long lost to snippets of the bout, tells a much clearer portrait of what happened to Liston. The bout ends strangely, with Ali and Liston fighting on with no referee. The fact someone pointed out to referee Jersey Joe Walcott that Liston was down for more than 10 seconds was an irrelevant detail. Ali did not go to the neutral corner like Dempsey, and Liston should have been allowed to continue. Walcott’s mistake was in not calling time and sending both Ali and Liston to their respective neutral corners.
Ali was peppering Liston with power jabs with blinding speed, and with superfast left to right foot movement, Ali was a class in ability above Liston. Yet when it was over, Ali seemed afraid. Like George Foreman, Liston was a great big ugly bear who made everyone afraid, and Ali’s fear had been conquered. At this point, the tape makes perfectly clear Ali was NOT a popular fighter at this point in the history of the ring, despite giving boxing a new face. Perhaps his spiritual beliefs and anti-Vietnam war stance, when combined, had caused Ali to be labeled anti-patriotic. Liston was rumored to have faced death threats before this bout, but it was never proven he had taken a dive out of fear for his family’s safety. It was, however, implied. For all of these reasons, the unedited Ali vs. Liston II tape is of great historical interest to interested fight fans and Muhammad Ali fans.