On this day in 1962, Sonny Liston defeated Floyd Patterson in the first round, becoming the world heavyweight boxing champion.
Liston was born in 1932 in Arkansas where he grew up in an abusive household. As a teenager, he had trouble with police and was arrested multiple times. While serving time in a penitentiary, he was introduced to boxing by The Missouri State Penitentiary’s athletic director Father Alois Stevens.
After his release, he began his controversial boxing career, winning 54 of 58 bouts. Released on parole in 1952, Liston quickly won the local Golden Gloves championship, becoming a professional fighter when he defeated Don Smith in one round in St. Louis.
For nine months, beginning in December 1956, Liston’s boxing career was interrupted when he was sent to a medium-security institution in St. Louis for stealing an officer’s gun. After being released, he relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and almost seamlessly continued his career.
In 1962, he won the heavyweight title after knocking out Floyd Patterson in only two minutes. This marked the first time in history that a heavyweight champion was defeated in the first round.
His 17-month reign as heavyweight champion ended in a match with fighter Cassius Clay. Clay, soon to take on the name Muhammad Ali, was named heavyweight champion on February 25, 1964. In 1966, following yet another loss to Clay, Liston launched a comeback, winning 11 consecutive fights before losing to Leotis Martin.
Liston died in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 30, 1970. The official cause of death was listed as heart failure and lung congestion, however, heroin and a syringe were found in his home and he had fresh needle marks on his arms.
He was buried in Paradise Memorial Gardens beneath a simple gravestone that reads, “A Man.”