In the films the good guy always wins, but this is one bad guy who ain't gonna lose.
A formidable boxer, hailed as ‘unbeatable’ in his time rose from poverty and abuse to become the heavyweight champion of the world.
His childhood was plagued by hardships - his father whipped him so badly that the scars were visible for the rest of his life. When he was old enough to work, he was exploited by his employers and so turned to crime, leading a gang of muggers and robbers, and becoming infamous as the ‘yellow shirt bandit’ by the St Louis police.
When he was caught and sent to prison in 1950, Alois Stevens, a priest - and the athletic director of the prison, recognised his latent potential, and began to encourage him to take up the sport, even organising a sparring session with a former champion heavyweight - Sonny forced the man to quit in two rounds. An endorsement from Stevens helped in securing Sonny an early parole and he embarked on a brief amateur career, before making his professional boxing debut in 1953. He quickly became a feared and respected opponent, but his life outside of the ring was remained problematic. It was well known that his professional career was being funded by the underworld, and he moonlighted as a debt-collector and enforcer for the mob.
Liston remained undefeated until a young challenger, Cassius Clay, fought him in 1964. Clay’s dancing style and devastating accuracy and speed saw him win the fight in six rounds. The pair fought again later in the year, with Clay winning by a first round knockout, in one of the most controversial boxing matches of all time. Although Sonny would continue to fight, his profile was never quite the same.