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On this day in 1971, the body of Charles “Sonny” Liston (40) was discovered by his wife Geraldine at their Las Vegas home. The former world heavyweight boxing champion had been dead for an estimated 6 days and foul play was suspected.

Today in Sports History presented by Starr Cards

As a boxer, Liston was particularly known for his toughness, unparalleled punching power, long reach, and intimidating demeanor. Boxing writer Herb Goldman ranked him as the second greatest heavyweight of all time.


Born into extreme poverty in rural Arkansas, neither Liston’s birthday nor birth year were ever definitively established. The beatings he would receive from his sharecropping father would later inspire him to mete out the same punishment in the ring.

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''The only thing my old man ever gave me was a beating.''

— Heavyweight boxer Sonny Liston

In 1947, Liston went to live with his mother in St. Louis and soon turned to a life of crime, committing muggings and armed robberies that earned him a five-year stint in the Missouri State Penitentiary, where he was introduced to boxing by Reverend Alois Stevens.


With support of people connected with the mob, Liston turned pro after his release from prison and eventually was able to fight, and defeat, Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight belt in 1962. He lost the title two years later to Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) while nursing a lame shoulder. In 1970, he was still a world-ranked boxer when he died under mysterious circumstances, which most believe to be relaated to his underworld connections.