The Phantom Punch

Good Morning Tash Appreciators,

Operation Zorro activities have kept me busy this week and so this edition of TF will be a brief one. Luckily, this week’s topic is an event which was over in the blink of an eye. In fact, it happened so fast that many people in the audience didn’t believe it happened at all.

I wonder how many of you are familiar with this week’s Tash, Sonny Liston:

Tash Friday 8:8:14


I suspect that his face is not familiar to many of you. In 1962, Clay became the heavyweight champion of the world and was thought to have unrivalled punching power and toughness.

However, in 1964, he came up against a young man with a relatively modest 7-1 record by the name of Cassius Clay. Clay, who would later change his name to Mohammed Ali, was the underdog but by the end of the 6th round he had put Liston under so much pressure that he sat on the stool in his corner, said “that’s it”, spat out his mouthguard and ended the fight.

In 1965, the two men fought again. This time, Liston was knocked out after 1 minute and 44 seconds of the very first round. I suspect you might be more familiar with this picture of Liston lying on his back:

Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston, 1965 World Heavyweight Title

The punch which floored Liston came from nowhere. Ali called it the Phantom Punch. Some of the crowd didn’t see the punch being thrown at all and there was speculation that the fight had been fixed.

Whatever happened that night, that moment, 104 seconds into a world championship fight, shows how quickly a person’s life can change. Liston’s reputation from that moment onwards was ruined; while it marked the beginning of Ali’s journey to the almost legendary status he enjoys today. It also changed the life of the person who took the photo – Neil Leifer. The image that he captured in that split second is one of the most iconic in sport – I reckon most, if not all of you, have seen it before.

I guess TF’s message this week is that things can change almost instantaneously and without warning. That can be for better or worse but I wonder if there’s also something about being in the right shape (mentally and physically) to make things change in your favour. On one view, Liston was already beaten when he sat down in his corner during the first fight and called it quits; Ali was definitely the younger and hungrier of the two; and, while Neil Leifer was perhaps lucky in that he was in the right place at the right time, he took his chance.

Have a great weekend folks!

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