Scar Tissue Part 3: Liston vs Foreman
By Jess E. Trail (January 20, 2005) 
Sonny Liston
It’s not easy being a boxing clairvoyant. Sometimes all I have to do is think of the pop-tart and visions begin to stir in my head like someone is turning a radio dial. Just like in the movie 'Children of the Damned', I have to start thinking of a brick wall. Sometimes, my gift provides images of matchups I just don’t need to see. I had this dilemma at the grocery store about a month ago. At the cash register, Lorenzo Zanon and James Broad began walking toward me in a field. I shook me head sharply and locked in on the brick wall. I took my change, grabbed the plastic sack. Alfredo Evangelista appeared from a hallway and spit angrily on Primo Carnera’s shoe and I ran out of the store saying, “blah, blah, blah, blah” and attempting desperately to get my mental image back on the brick wall. When I got back to the serenity of the car, I looked at the cherry-cheese danish I had bought (that was all I bought) and I heard a jazz horn begin to blow. I saw Sonny Liston pounding a black heavy bag. George Foreman was looking through a window, his hands cupped on the glass to block the peripheral sun. The world stopped at that point and my danish bounced off the steering wheel and dropped to the floorboard between my feet. Liston stopped for just a moment with a single bead of sweat making a circuitous route down his cheek, looked at the window briefly and nearly took the heavy bag down with a right cross.

This had been accomplished with a cherry-cheese danish. I realized at that point that the pop-tart was done. I had moved beyond it. I finally exited the parking lot several hours later. It was getting near midnight, but I was still dazed and awestruck by the entire melodrama I had witnessed. My arms still held gooseflesh and my hair stood on end.

Only true boxing fans understand what it means when a matchup like this occurs, when two proud and awesome warriors prepare to battle. I still get shivers when I watch the Foreman-Lyle stare-down in ring center (if these were ranked, this one would possibly be at the top of the list). I feel similarly when I watch Ali and Frazier talking non-stop in ring center as Arthur Mercante gives instructions.

Foreman-Liston is one of those matches. I had to use hair-gel for a week afterward.

Charles 'Sonny' Liston struck terror in the boxing world in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. He destroyed nearly everyone who stepped into the ring with him. He knocked out Cleveland Williams, another formidable slugger, twice. He didn’t just win the title; he grabbed it in rude and brutal fashion, mugging the classy and talented Floyd Patterson in less than a round. Heavyweight boxing was no fancy sport under his reign.

George Foreman’s early career largely mirrored Liston’s. He was big, mean and all business. His plan was certain for those opposing him. He was simply going to knock them out, or beat on them until the warrior’s soul was vanquished.

We can almost complete their strengths and weaknesses in the same paragraph. Both were strong and brutal punchers. Liston had the better jab. Foreman was a bit sloppier. He was also larger. Liston was not a tall heavyweight at 6’1” but he had long arms. Liston sometimes became impatient when having difficulty reaching his opponent. Foreman fans can recall his occasional pawing at opponents, trying to pull their gloves apart so he could deliver a lethal blow to their chin.

Liston had a good chin. No, I don’t believe that Ali’s 'anchor punch' in Lewiston, Maine legitimately put Liston out of commission. I say this also in spite of Leotis Martin’s sudden 9th round knockout of Liston in 1969. He was on the downside of his career and was caught just right. His jaw was also broken.

Foreman had a sturdy chin as well. This was actually proven several times, particularly during the second leg of his career as he took good shots from Alex Stewart, Evander Holyfield, Lou Savarese, Tommy Morrison and others.

Can you see this one? We don’t have to review tapes of their respective bouts with Ali. We don’t need to watch Liston against Patterson. We have no need to review the tapes of Foreman against Frazier or Norton. The key tape to review would be Foreman-Lyle in 1976.

Ron Lyle was almost a mirror image, physically speaking, of George Foreman. He stood 6’3” and his fighting weight was around 218 to 220. Having spent 7-1/2 years in the Colorado State Penitentiary and stabbed while there, pronounced dead on the operating table, he was about as close to fearless as boxers come. He was not afraid of George Foreman. What ensued was arguably the best fifteen minutes in heavyweight boxing history. The details may be broken down in a future edition of Scar Tissue, but Foreman was down twice, and appeared to be nearly out the second time in round 4. In round 5, Lyle hurt Foreman both to the head and body, seemed to have him teetering on the brink when Foreman came roaring back. A combination of Foreman’s non-stop punching and Lyle’s exhaustion put Ron down for the count.

The whole subject of Lyle-Foreman and the question of what may have been had Lyle started his career at 21 instead of 29 is worthy of an entire article. Hopefully, I’ll have more on that at another time.

The fight itself was as interesting and thrilling as expected. The first two rounds were very close and somewhat tentative. There was a good bit of missed punches by both. Liston was able to get in several hard jabs, while Foreman snapped Liston’s head with short right hands in clinches.

Liston hurt Foreman badly in round 3 with a looping right hand. Foreman staggered and held for the remaining minute of the round. A left hook dropped George to one knee with five seconds left in the round.

Foreman came back in rounds 4 and 5, disrupting Liston’s attack with his own jab and stunning Liston with a left-right in ring center.

In round 6, a Foreman right landed flush over Liston’s jab and Sonny staggered backward into the ropes. Foreman landed another booming right hand and Liston bounced from the ropes and staggered forward like an inebriate making a dramatic play for an open bar stool. The referee jumped between them as Liston entangled himself with the bottom rope near his own corner. The fans screamed appreciation for the brawl. The sounds of leather seemed to echo for hours.

I, on the other hand, developed a horrible left side facial tic due to the whole experience that still hasn’t stopped. It's blatant and frightening to anyone who converses with me, and medicine hasn’t helped.

Also See: Scar Tissue Part 1: Louis vs. Ali
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 2: Larry Holmes vs Joe Frazier

For comments and suggestions for future subjects, email at
© Copyright / All Rights reserved: Doghouse Boxing 1998-2005