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Sonny Liston was introduced to boxing while serving time in a Missouri State penitentiary. He became a professional fighter in 1953.
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Liston, who was viewed as nearly invincible before the fight, was unable to answer the bell for the seventh round, and Clay (soon to take the name Muhammad Ali) was named champion on February 25, 1964.
The subsequent rematch with Clay on May 25, 1965, included the infamous "phantom punch." Though it appeared that Liston had barely been grazed by Clay's right fist, the boxer went down just one minute and 45 seconds into the first round.
In 1966, following his loss to Clay, Liston launched a comeback. He won 11 consecutive fights by knockout in 1968 and added three more wins in 1969 before losing a brutal bout to Leotis Martin. He climbed back into the ring on June 29, 1970, registering a 10th-round technical knockout against "Bayonne Bleeder" Chuck Wepner.
After being unable to reach Liston for 12 days, his wife, Geraldine, returned to their Nevada home on January 5, 1971, at which time discovered Liston's dead body. The official cause of death was lung congestion and heart failure, although Liston had fresh needle marks on his arm and police discovered heroin and a syringe in the house. His death certificate states his death as December 30, 1970, based on milk deliveries at his doorstep. Liston was buried in Paradise Memorial Gardens in Las Vegas, Nevada, beneath a simple gravestone. His epitaph reads: "A Man."
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