Sonny Liston landed on canvas below Muhammad Ali’s feet on May 25, 1965, and Neil Leifer snapped a photo
May 22, 2015 | Source: Monroe Gallery of Photography
The photo languished unlaudedâbefore it was (much later) recognized as one of the greatest sports photos of all time; Ali became the most hated figure in American sportsâbefore he was (much later) named âThe Sportsman of the Centuryâ; and Liston was subjected to intense scrutinyâbefore (not much later) he fizzled into a mostly forgotten footnote.
Like many sports fans, Iâd glimpsed this picture for yearsâin random Ali articles, atop âbest ofâ lists, even on T-shirtsâbut it wasnât until doing my own research, excavating layers, that I discovered its most astounding attribute:
Everything youâd initially imagine about the image is wrong.
But first, just look at that photo! It instantly hits your eyes haloed in a corona of potencyâstructured so soundly as to seem staged, this forceful frieze of physical dominance. The Victor yells, the Loser displays himself vanquished, and the Watchers are all caught in that moment. The kinetic poetry of moving bodies, momentarily frozen, such is the stuff of the best sports photosâthis has that.
There are also the incongruities! The Victor, appearing to proclaim dominance, is in fact pleading for the bested man to rise; and, for that matter, there is secretly a second bested rival below Ali; and though this looks like the moment after a vicious put-down punch, the photo was actually preceded by the puniest of blows, a âphantom punch,â as it would later be knownâa wispy, theoretical mini-hook that none in attendance even observed. That Crowd so multitudinous that it stretches beyond the horizon line? They were actually the smallest assembled crowd in heavyweight championship historyâthere to witness a bumbling conclusion, filled with calls that the fix was in. This bout: still boxingâs biggest unsolved mystery. This image: still iconic, even (especially) with the controversy, for a sport as mythologized as it is crooked. Click for full article.