Sonny Liston gets sold very short in accomplishments category. He accomplished alot in his heavyweight career, and his resume has very very little holes in it compared to other heavyweight champions. I am going to leave out listons skill in this thread and concentrate on his resume.
Now lets Breakdown Listons Competition..........
A. Thrown To the Wolved Early
Some fighters are coddled on there way up. Not Liston. He was thrown to the wolves very early and came out on top. Being thrown to the wolves early in your career and doing well is a big accomplishment that not many heavyweight champions can lay claim to.
Liston as an inexperienced amatuer beat Olympic Heavyweight Champion 6'4 210lb Huge Punching Ed Sanders. Liston was very inexperienced yet beat Sanders on his jab alone. Liston showing natural talent like this and dominating a far more experienced favorite is something that should be warranted.
Entering the pros........
Liston in his first 5 fights is thrown in against 3 guys with above average records including a 4-0 fighter, and is thrown in against 3 guys weighing above 200lb.
In just his 6th and 7th pro fights, Liston is thrown in against Contender 20-1 Johnny Summerlin. Johnny Summerlin was one of the best heavyweight contenders of the mid 1950s and was a very dangerous fighter who beat strong opposition. A very raw inexperienced Liston twice beats one of the best HW contenders of the mid 1950s Johnny Summerlin. Liston outboxed him in very close fights. Not many heavyweight champions in history beat such a good fighter by there 6th pro fight.
In listons 8th pro fight, he is thrown in against # 7 ranked light-heavyweight contender 18-5 experienced flashy marty marshall. Liston outboxes the much more experienced world class marshall until clowning techniques made liston get his jaw broken, slowing liston down and liston toughened in out to last in the distance in losing a close split decision loss. Liston then rematches world class Marty Marshall and a still very green sonny beats the shit out of marshall knocking him out in 6.
after 10 pro fights, Liston held wins over johnny summerlin 2x, and Marty Marshall. Not many heavyweight champions beat this good competition by there first 10 fights. in fact the only one i can think of is james jeffries. So liston is thrown to the wolves very early in his pro career yet comes out 9-1 in his first 10 fights with 3 of those wins coming over ranked contenders.
Liston has a very casual unimpressive year in 1955 but then picks up in 1956 with a one sided dominating win over marty marshall to win the trilogy. But now one must remember, Sonny Liston was originally scheduled to face harold johnson on that date in 1956. Liston was just a green 14-1 kid yet his management was going to send Liston in vs # 1 ranked contender hall of famer 54-7 harold johnson? just 4 days before the harold johnson-sonny liston fight, johnson pulled out due to an injury. A inexpereinced green Liston should get alot of credit for taking on such a fighter that early in his career. Its too bad this fight didnt happen, because it would have most likely really helped sonnys legacy had he done well(and maybe even won).
So liston in his first 15 fights takes on harold johnson(cancelled), marty marshall 3x, and johnny summerlin 2x. thats defintley called being thrown to the wolves. yet liston came out 15-1. So this looks good for liston.
What Could Have Been?
on a sidenote, had liston not missed out on fighting most of 1956 and all of 1957, his legacy would be even better because he was just starting to mature into his physical prime by 1956 and liston most likely would fought alot in 1956-57 and added top quality names like young jack johnson, harold carter, hurricane jackson, harold johnson to win resume which would have further enhanced his legacy......and liston might have gotten a title shot sooner than he did. So like louis missed out in 42-45, sonny missed out in 56-57 2 prime years of tearing up the division.
B. Cleaning out the division 1958-60 to establish # 1 contender
Liston went he came back from prison in 1958 tore up the division like no one we seen before. from 1958-62 Liston cleaned out the top heavyweight contenders in his division like no heavyweight champion ever did.
Sonny Liston beat top ten ranked contenders like nino valdez, cleveland williams 2x, eddie machen, zora folley, mike dejohn, roy harris, wayne bethea, albert westphal. Liston clearly established himself the # 1 contender by in a 3 year period 58-60 consistently beat all of the top contenders in the heavyweight division.
Liston challenged and sought to fight all the top heavyweights 1958-62. The only one who liston missed out on fighting were henry cooper, harold johnson, archie moore, and ingemar johannsen.
liston was scheduled to fight harold johnson in 1956, but johnson pulled out with 4 days left due to injury. So we cant hold it against sonny for not fighting harold(who was a top fighter during listons era)
Henry Cooper- henry cooper and coopers manager publicity stated they wanted no part of sonny liston. you cant fight fighters who duck you. plain and simple.
Archie Moore- Archie by the late 50s-early 1960s was really starting to decline and he was no longer a force to be reckon with. Moore was not going after the big fights in the heavyweight division anymore, and lost his status as a top 10 contender.
ingemar johannsen- johannsen was heavyweight champ during listons era. Liston publicly challenged johannsen many times, and called him out on numerous occasions even offering to fight patterson and ingo on the same night. Ingo ducked liston, wanted no part of sonny liston. You cant fight who ducks you.
So liston cleaned out the best of his division, and the ones he missed out on fighting he made sure he challenged to fight him. no other heavyweight champion can lay claim to this.
Even in his two title defenses....he took on # 1 ranked floyd patterson rematch, and # 1 ranked cassius clay.
C. Domination in Prime 1958-62
another big factor is domination. Many heayweight champions struggled with there best opposition they faced like larry holmes, joe louis, rocky marciano, lennox lewis, jack dempsey.
NO HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION WAS MORE DOMINATING IN HIS PRIME THAN SONNY LISTON!! NO ONE!! Liston did not struggle at all in his prime. He wiped out the entire heavyweight division with hardly any struggle. no other heavyweight champ can acclaim this!
lets take a look
TKO 1 Wayne Bethea- destroyed top 10 ranked granite chin bethea in 58 seconds. bethea never knocked out before or after the liston fight.
TKO 6 mike dejohn- One sided massacre over dangerous top ranked heavyweight
TKO 2 and TKO 3 Cleveland Williams- Destroyed a top 50 heavyweight of all time TWO TIMES in 2 and 3 rounds respectfully. only time williams ever knocked out in his prime.
KO 3 Zora Folley- Destroyed a top 50 heavyweight of all time in 3 one sided rounds.
TKO 4 Nino Valdez- Destroyed a fading but still dangerous durable contender in 4 one sided rounds.
TKO 1 Roy Harris- Destroyed 22-1 ranked contender in embarrasingly easy fashion.
TKO 7 Wille Besmanoff- Destroyed Fringe Contender VERY DURABLE besmanoff in 7 one sided rounds. besmanoff had fought over 65 fights and had NEVER been stopped prior to fighting liston(except his pro debut).
W 10 2x bert Whitehurst- Twice easily won shutout decisions over one of the most talented journeyman of all time
W 12 Eddie Machen- Won a Wide decision over a top 50 heavyweight of all time who also happened to be a master boxer.
KO 1 2x Floyd Patterson- TWICE destroyed a top 20 heavyweight of all time in 1 round! this is arguebably the two most dominating preformances over a ATG heavyweight heavyweight ever!
as you see, no fighter in sonny listons prime even gave trouble. Liston won all his fights in his prime vs top level competition by blowouts, or one sided decision. NO OTHER HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION CAN LAY CLAIM TO THIS TYPE OF DOMINATION. Liston in his prime did not struggle.
D. Defeat of Opposition in there "primes"
One thing that makes liston look great is almost all of his best opponents he beat were fighters who were in there primes. many ATG heavyweight champions beat fighters who were considered green, or past there prime, but liston was one of the few heavyweight champions of all time who beat virtually all of his world class fighters when they were in there prime.
lets take a look
Floyd patterson 26-27 years old at his peak
eddie machen 26 years old at his peak
cleveland williams 26-27 years old at his peak
zora folley 27 years old at his peak
mike dejohn 27 years old at his peak
johnny summerlin 21 years old entering his prime
roy harris 26 years old at his peak
Nino Valdez 34 years old and past his prime- the only world class fighter listo beat who was over the hill. though valdez was past his prime, at 34 he was still a dangerous ranked contender so the win counts.
bert whitehurst 28-29 years old at his peak
Albert Westphal 30 years old at his peak
Willie Besmanoff 28 years old at his peak
Marty Marshall 22-23 years old at his peak
So as you see, Liston virtually beat all his top competition when they were young(under 30) and in there prime. not many HW champs can claim this. Also if you look at his opponents records, they were all virtually at the peak of there career when they fought liston.