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Muhammad Ali Vs. Sonny Liston | The Night Lewiston, Maine, Can Never Forget

Muhammad Ali Vs. Sonny Liston | The Night Lewiston, Maine, Can Never Forget
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In the lobby cigar ashes tip into $928 worth of souvenir ashtrays, compliments of the Maine tourist office. The broad-shouldered men who sit in the wicker chairs along the half-mile of veranda have names like Louis, Marciano, Walcott, Sharkey, and Patterson. But the real attraction is Sonny Liston, who has moved his training camp here from Dedham, Massachusetts.The fists of Sonny Liston measure 15-1/2 inches. No ordinary boxing glove fits them and his must be custom-made. They are probably the largest fists in heavyweight history and have devastated the ranks: three of his last four fights ended in first-round knockouts. He is called “the ultimate weapon in unarmed combat.”

It was his last fight, though, 15 months ago in Miami, against the then-named Cassius Clay, that has put Liston in the unexpected role of challenger. Then, a fatigued and cut champion did not answer the bell for the seventh round, suffering, he said, from an injured left shoulder.” I took Clay too light before,” he tells reporters. “This time I’m gonna bring my lunch. We may be in there a long time.”

He lives in the Mansion House, a separate hotel built in 1796, amidst old-world elegance. He trains in the ballroom, and spars in a ring with chandeliers overhead and sunlight filtering through green stained glass.

He runs on the golf course in his familiar hooded sweatshirt. Once he surprises a greens keeper tending a water hazard who glances at the hooded spectre emerging suddenly from the mist — and topples into the pond.

Experts say they have never seen him train so hard. “He’s ready,” they say, and they discount that at 33 he gives away 10 years to Ali. Nobody is surprised when the odds-makers make him a solid favorite to regain his title. The doctor who examines Liston for the Maine Boxing Commission leaves the room in awe. “He’s the fittest man I’ve ever examined, ” he says.

But his sparring partners are worried. It is obvious to them he has left more than his championship on the stool in Miami. They reach him frequently with right-hand counter-punches as he lunges in, off-balance. They hope he has merely over-trained. When reporters ask for a prediction, though, they are fixed with the “hard brown eyes” ‘that people say knocked out Floyd Patterson before the left hook arrived.

“Don’t blink,” Liston growls, “or you’ll miss the knockout.”

Every night Muhammad Ali dreams the same dream. At the opening bell he rushes across the ring and shivers Liston with a right. Liston falls, a look of astonishment on his face. Standing over him, Ali shouts, “Rise and shine. Rise and shine.” When he awakens before dawn in his Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, training camp, trainer ‘Bundini Brown is shaking him. “Rise and shine, champ. Rise and shine.”

The dream is so real that Ali, uncharacteristically, says he has no prediction. “If I told you what would happen nobody would come,” he explains. He offers a poem, instead, and reporters can make of it what they will.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Mel Allen

Author:

Mel Allen

Biography:

Mel is the fifth editor of Yankee Magazine since its beginning in 1935. His career at Yankee spans more than three decades, during which he has edited and written for every section of the magazine, including home, food, and travel. In his pursuit of stories, he has raced a sled dog team, crawled into the dens of black bears, fished with the legendary Ted Williams, picked potatoes in Aroostook County, and stood beneath a battleship before it was launched. Mel teaches magazine writing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son. His column, “Here in New England,” is a 2012 National City and Regional Magazine Awards Finalist for the category Column.
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