Muhammad Ali Vs. Sonny Liston | The Night Lewiston, Maine, Can Never Forget
Fleischer turns to Walcott who wants somebody to get him out of a horrible mess.” Joe,” he screams, “the fight is over! ” Walcott turns away from the fighters. Liston is trying gamely to fight back and later one writer wondered, What would have happened if Liston had knocked Clay out while the referee consulted with Fleischer and McDonough? Walcott is convinced that Liston has been counted out.When Walcott separates them and leads the challenger away Liston thinks the round is over. He thinks he was lucky to escape that one. He looks back and sees Ali’s arm raised by Walcott. Only then does he know the fight is over.
The fight establishes several dubious firsts. It is the first fight stopped by a magazine editor. It is also the first fight stopped without the referee’s counting one second over the fallen fighter. And it is the first fight to record “official” times of 1 minute, 1:47, and 2:12, the discrepancies due to Carroll’s inadvertent resetting of his watch, and to differences of opinion as to when the fight was actually over.
At 2 A.M. Liston serves coffee in the Mansion House, while his wife Geraldine cries softly in a corner. “Fourteen years is a long time,” she says. “I’m glad it’s over.” But Liston will fight again. He wins 16 straight in a comeback that ends when Leotis Martin knocks him out. His last fight is in a smoky little fight club in Jersey City on June 29, 1970. Six months later he dies in his home, alone. When he falls his fists evidently smash against a bench, for when he is found seven days later the bench lies in splinters by his head.
Ali is stung by the cries of “Fake” that fill the hall. “I hit him hard enough to knock out any man,” he says. “I told you I had a secret,” he adds. “That was my anchor punch. It’s lethal.” After the fight, Ali fights many times, but the anchor punch is not heard of again.
Only a handful of reporters actually saw the punch. Those that did were convinced of its power. However charges of “fix” filled the papers for days. Jimmy Breslin called the fight “the worst mess in the history of sports.” Another writer added, ” It was boxing’s shot in the arm — embalming fluid.” Of all the Maine officials, Francis McDonough suffered the most. He said his job was to count over a fallen fighter, and that he did. He did not tell Walcott to stop the fight, only that Liston had been down for at least 20 seconds. He stopped speaking to reporters. When he died three years later, much of his obituary concerned his role in the ill-fated fight, a task that from 68 years of life consumed 20 seconds.
Lewiston today enjoys a certain pride in the fight. After all, how many people can name where Ali fought Zora Folley, say, or Cleveland Williams. But go anywhere where people are talking boxing and to start an argument you just say two words: “Lewiston, Maine.”
“It’s part of our lore and legend,” the man says, and for Lewiston, at least, the fight will never really be over.