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Replay

In 1965, Ali-Liston was the Maine event

Sonny Liston ended up flat on his back in Lewiston, Maine, but was it because of a short hard right to the jaw from Cassius Clay?
Sonny Liston ended up flat on his back in Lewiston, Maine, but was it because of a short hard right to the jaw from Cassius Clay?JOHN ROONEY/Associated Press

Editor’s note: While the games are on pause, the Globe is reaching into its archives to bring you “Replay,” stories from the past that highlight something interesting, timely, or revealing. This column by Harold Kaese on the Clay-Liston fight 55 years ago in Lewiston, Maine, appeared on Wednesday, May 26, 1965, under the headline, “Down Mainers Robbed Worse Than Indians." Garrett H. Byrne was Suffolk County district attorney at the time, and had the fight banned in Boston on the grounds that it was a “setup” and “unlicensed” and, as a result, a “common nuisance.”

LEWISTON, Maine — Was Boston lucky to get rid of the Clay-Liston fight? Does Garrett H. Byrne rate a statue in the new government center?

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You said it.

The Anasagunticook Indians who sold this town — a pretty nice little town it is — for a peck of peas were richly rewarded compared to the people who paid to see this travesty of a championship bout.

The Birch Street laundry selected to wash the fight canvas before the fight should take it back, wash it again, fumigate it, burn it, and toss the ashes overboard beyond the 12-mile limit.

The punch that sent the prideless Sonny Liston diving for the canvas and rolling and flopping there in a manner embarrassing to all true fight lovers looked like one of the weakest ever to end a contest between professional pugilists.

And yet the fallout from this cuff by Cassius Clay will do as much harm to boxing as the fallout from an H-bomb does to the genes of mankind.

“Fake! Fake! Fake!” chanted the crowd, paused for breath, and changed the terrible litany to “Fix! Fix! Fix!”

Just think. This thing was seen not only by millions of Americans, but by millions of Europeans. My land. Will they now boast of how many people saw this — this abomination that confirmed the cynicisms of those who have predicted boxing’s end?

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Lewiston just could not cope with an event of this magnitude. Joe Walcott, the imported referee, could not cope. The timekeeper for knockdowns could not cope.

Liston was down nearly 20 seconds, during most of which Clay was trying to get past the referee as he yelled, “Get up, you bum! Get up, you yellow bum.”

Walcott was ready to let the fight resume — it seemed to Liston’s displeasure — when the timekeeper at last got his attention and Walcott got the message: Liston had been counted out a half-hour or so ago.

At ringside, old-timers, ex-champions, potential champions were left shaking their heads.

“I said boxing is dead, and I guess it’s true,” said Rocky Marciano, sadly.

“He got hit on the hairline, looked to his left, looked to his right, and went down,” said George Chuvalo with a grimace.

“Sad, sad, sad,” said Peter Fuller. “So many sad things happen to fighting. How many things can you have wrong with your house before it falls down?”

But Cus D’Amato, Floyd Patterson’s old associate, visualizing a Clay-Patterson bout for a $10 million gate (make it $15 million) said, “He got hit right on the button.”

The action was too brief to tell how the fight might have gone this time, but one thing was sure: If it had gone 15 rounds under the lights that made the ring a rotisserie, both men would have emerged as middleweights.

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The 50 seconds of boxing looked like a Miami Beach sequence, except that Clay was more aggressive and confident, like a fellow who knew the score.

All Liston hit him with was three frowns and two scowls.

They’ll be talking about this one for a long time at Bill Davis’s Smoke Shop on East Street, as well as in pubs in Trafalgar Square and bistros on the Champs-Elysees.

But Lewiston will not replace its soldier monument with a statue of Clay, nor rename Main Street for Liston, nor change its spelling to Louiston, not use the 10-point must system in its elections, nor replace the bandstand in the park with a boxing ring, nor embrace the Muslim religion in wholesale numbers.

Garrett Byrne had better not go fishing around here for a while, but he’s A-OK in Boston.