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1960 The Heavyweights

Sonny Liston.

Having looked at the title holders in 1960 I thought I would select one division-the heavyweights-and review who was in the ratings or climbing and what the future held for them.
One name dominated the heavyweight division in 1960 and it was not the champion Floyd Patterson. The shadow of Sonny Liston loomed over the whole division. He had beaten Mike DeJohn, Nino Valdes and Cleveland Williams to go to No 1.In 1960 he had stopped Williams again, defeated Roy Harris inside a round and beaten Zora Folley and Eddie Machen. There is no way that Patterson’s manager Cus D’Amato was going to volunteer to put Patterson in against Liston. He had a reasonable excuse in that he had no intention of letting the mob-run International Boxing Club, who were behind Liston, get control of the title.

Liston would have to mark time in 1961 before getting his chance and when he did face Patterson in 1962 he wiped out Patterson in 126 seconds and repeated the feat in 1963 taking just 130 seconds. It is difficult now to give anyone who was not around in those days any appreciation of just how terrifying a figure Liston was. There was an air of menace about him and his cold, flat-eyed stare had some opponents beaten before a punch was thrown. He was unbeatable-or so it seemed.

Lurking in the record books covering 1960 was a note of a couple of fights for a new kid called Cassius Clay. He had set the 1960 Rome Olympics alight with his fluid, extrovert style and won the gold medal in the 81kg (light heavyweight) division before turning pro. A group of investors had put money into the career of the flashy prospect and hired Angelo Dundee to train him. In his first pro fight in October 1960 Clay outpointed Tunney Hunsaker over six rounds. Hunsaker had lost his last six fights. In Clay’s only other fight in1960 he stopped prelim fighter Herb Siler over six rounds. Clay weighed 192lbs for the Hunsaker fight and 193lbs for the Siler fight and Clay, or the “Louisville Lip” as he was already being called then, was probably the only one in the world to think he was the man who would bring down Liston.

It had taken Liston nine years and 36 fights to win the title but he lost the title to Clay in 1964 and lost again to him in 1965 and those two losses, and the way he lost in both fights-a retirement due a shoulder injury and a confusing first round kayo-saw his reputation crash in flames. He won his next 14 fights, 13 by KO/TKO, some of which were promoted in Sweden by Ingemar Johansson, to keep himself in the ratings before being flattened by Leotis Martin in December 1969. He beat Chuck Wepner in June 1969 but was then inactive. In late December 1970 George Chuvalo signed to fight Liston but when Chuvalo signed Liston was already dead. He had died in his Las Vegas home only being found when his wife returned to their home on 5 January 1971 after a two-week trip. The Las Vegas police concluded Liston had died of a heroin overdose but there were inconsistencies over that finding and after an autopsy the official cause was given as lung congestion and heart failure. A sad end for a fighter who had been ranked as the third greatest heavyweight of all time.

Clay changed his name firstly to Cassius X and then to Muhammad Ali and went on to become one of the greatest heavyweights in boxing history and the best known sportsman in the world.
It was the misfortune of fighters such as Eddie Machen, Zora Foley and Ernie Terrell to be campaigning over a period that saw Liston and then Ali dominate the division. Machen was No 1 in the ratings until he suffered a shock first round kayo against Ingemar Johansson in 1958 and it was 1965 before he received a world title shot losing to Ernie Terrell for the vacant WBA title. Folley was close to a title fight a few times but did not get a shot until he was knocked out in seven rounds by Muhammad Ali in 1967. That was Ali’s last fight before he lost his titles after refusing to be inducted in the US Army. It had taken Folley nine years and 85 fights to get a title shot. Terrell picked up the WBA version of the title after they stripped Ali. He was good enough to beat Folley, Bob Foster, Machen, George Chuvalo and Doug Jones but was outclassed by Ali in their unification fight in 1967.

Britain was actually well represented in the rankings with Henry Cooper, Joe Erskine, Dick Richardson and Brain London all in the ratings at one time or another in 1960.

Cooper had put together a run that saw him beat Erskine twice, Richardson, London, Folley and Argentinian Alex Miteff. A second round loss to Folley in 1961 was a set-back but when his left hook put Ali on the floor in June 1963 although being stopped on a cut his stock shot way up. He continued to beat his local rivals but stunk the place out in losing fights against Roger Rischer and Amos Johnson. He had his second shot at Ali, this time for the title, in 1966 but was stopped on cuts. A fourth round kayo by Floyd Patterson and later a points loss to Joe Bugner ended his career. London was on a poor run in 1960. In 1959 he lost to Henry Cooper for the British and Commonwealth titles in January and was knocked out in four rounds by Floyd Patterson for the world title in May. He finished 1959 with a stoppage loss to Nino Valdes. London fought only twice in 1960 knocking out Pete Rademacher in April. Rademacher won an Olympic gold medal in 1956 and made history in 1957 by challenging Floyd Patterson for the title in his first pro fight and flooring Patterson before being knocked out in six rounds. Any joy for London from that win was short lived for as he was stopped on cuts against Richardson in August. London continued his career with a mixed bag of wins and losses and was knocked out by Ali in three rounds in a title challenge in 1966. Erskine, the most skilful boxer of the four Brits, had only one low level fight in 1960. He had beaten Willie Pastrano and Richardson in 1959 but the lasting impression of his activity in that year was of Joe hanging almost unconscious over the bottom rope from a Cooper left hook with the fight being stopped in the twelfth round. Cooper and Erskine fought each other five times with Erskine winning the first two and Cooper the last three. Richardson beat German Hans Kabfel and Brian London in 1960 but the low point of the year was his disqualification loss to Mike DeJohn in July when Richardson was rightly disqualified for a blatant butt and Richardson’s Welsh fans rioted hurling chairs and bottles in the ring. Richardson posted a huge upset when he knocked out German Karl Mildenberger in one round in 1962 to win the European title but knockout losses to Ingemar Johansson and Henry Cooper saw him retire in 1963. Mildenberger, one of the best Germany heavyweights of all time, won his eight fights in 1960 and went on to build a good record losing only two of his fifty-four fights before being stopped in twelve rounds by Ali in a title challenge in 1966. He blew his chance of a second title fight when losing on points to Oscar Bonavena in 1967 and retired after being disqualified for a butt against Henry Cooper in 1968. Canada had a couple of good heavyweights in George Chuvalo and Bob Cleroux. Chuvalo had a mixed 1960. He lost to Rademacher then dropped his Canadian title to Cleroux on a split decision. He saved the year by outpointing Cleroux in a return. That loss to Chuvalo snapped a twelve bout winning streak for Cleroux. He had won ten of those twelve fights by KO/TKO nine of them inside three rounds. Cleroux would outpoint Chuvalo again in 1961when he also beat Roy Harris and Alex Mitef inside the distance but lost to Zora Folley. He then retired for five years but returned with a string of eight victories and was on the brink of a shot at Jimmy Ellis for the WBA title until he was outpointed by Billy Joiner in 1969. Cleroux never did get a title shot but Chuvalo did. The Canadian was one of the toughest men to ever climb through the ropes and had one of the hardest chins in boxing but he could also box a bit and he challenged Ernie Terrell for the WBA title in 1965 and Ali for the title in 1966. He lost only twice on stoppages against Joe Frazier and George Foreman and was never knocked down in his 93 pro fights.

Unlike today there were no Eastern European fighters in the rankings. No Klitschkos, no Pulev, no Usyk. Professional boxing was banned behind the Iron Curtain and in Cuba. The Olympic weights rule was that if you weighed over 178lbs (81kgs) then you were a “heavyweight” and the heavyweight champion at the 1960 Olympics in Rome was Franco de Piccoli. He turned pro in 1961 and won his first 25 fights but lost consecutive bouts inside the distance to Wayne Bethea and Joe Bygraves. He rebuilt his record but retired in 1965 after suffering two disastrous losses.

There were guys such as Doug Jones, Nino Valdes, Tom McNeeley, Alex Miteff, Roy Harris and Tommy Jackson floating around as well as the fearsome punching Cleveland Williams. Angelo Dundee had high hopes for 20-0 Tony Alongi but despite losing only two of his 46 fights and drawing twice with Jerry Quarry Alongi never came near a title shot.

Up in Utah they had a heavyweight named LaMar Clark. He was in the same stable as Gene, Don and Jay Fullmer and often sparred with Gene. He won his first pro fight on points in January 1958 and then won his next 44 fights by KO/TKO. On 1 December 1958 he had six contests on the same night winning five in the first round and the other one in the second round. Most of these opponents had no professional experience or were wrestlers. The year 1960 saw Clark’s steak of 44 consecutive inside the distance wins come to an end when he was stopped in nine rounds by Bartolo Soni in April. He was also stopped by Pete Rademacher in June. He had his last fight in April 1961 being knocked out in two rounds by Muhammad Ali. From the Ali to Clark from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Heights and weights of the top ten heavyweights as at the end of 1960 (as per Ring Record Book & Encyclopaedia)

Name / Height / Weight
Floyd Patterson 6’0” 190 lbs
Sonny Liston 6’1” 211 lbs
Ingemar Johansson 6’0 ½” 194 ¾ lbs
Eddie Machen 6’0” 199 lbs
Zora Folley 6’1” 201 lbs
Henry Cooper 6’1 ½” 189 ½ lbs
Mike DeJohn 6’2 ½” 210 lbs
Bob Cleroux 6’1” 206 lbs
Alex Miteff 6’1” 211 ½” lbs
Joe Erskine 5’11” 191 lbs

Today’s Fighters weights for their most recent fights

Anthony Joshua 6’6” 237 lbs
Tyson Fury 6’9” 273 lbs
Deontay Wilder 6’7” 231 lbs
Dillian Whyte 6’4” 271 lbs
Andy Ruiz 6’2” 283½ lbs
Kubrat Pulev 6’4 ½” 248¼ lbs
Joseph Parker 6’4” 245¼ lbs
Dereck Chisora 6’1½” 260¼ lbs
Olek Usyk 6’3” 216 lbs
Michael Hunter 6’2” 226 ½ lbs

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eric Armit.

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