Song of the Day for Feb. 25: "Song for Sonny Liston" by Mark Knopfler
Cassius Clay was the underdog. Sonny Liston was the world champion. Clay was everything Liston was not – good looking, charismatic, literate. Clay surprised the world February 25, 1964 when he defeated Liston in Miami.
Clay the world the next day when he announced that he a member of the Nation of Islam. Not too long after that he announced he was changing his name to Muhammad Ali. He would go on to beat Liston again a year later with what had become known as "the phantom punch." He became one of the greatest boxers ever, but he paid a price for his outspoken beliefs. He would be stripped of the heavyweight title for evading the military draft. Still, in the end he became the most popular athlete in the world.
In many ways, his story was more interesting than Ali’s. Liston would die alone in his Las Vegas home seven years after his first fight with Clay. He was working for mobsters. He was broke. He died mysteriously. He was 38 years old.
Mark Knopfler wrote “Song for Sonny Liston” in 2004. Knopfler learned about Liston while he was still a child in eastern England. He told the New York Times that Liston “was scared, he was scared of so many things. He was scared of the police. He was scared of the black-power movement. And the face, it was an unforgettable face. I remember thinking as a child that this was a man who wanted to be left alone."
Knopfler was one perceptive child. Liston wanted to be left alone as much as Ali wanted the attention. Both got what they wanted.