Charles L. "Sonny" Liston (unknown – December 30, 1970) was an American professional boxer who competed from 1953 to 1970. A dominant contender of his era, he became the world heavyweight champion in 1962 after knocking out Floyd Patterson in the first round, repeating the knockout the following year in defense of the title; in the latter fight he also became the inaugural WBC heavyweight champion. Liston was particularly known for his toughness, formidable punching power, long reach, and intimidating appearance.
Although Liston was widely regarded as unbeatable, he lost the title in 1964 to Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), who entered as a 7–1 underdog. Controversy followed with claims that Liston had been drinking heavily the night before the fight. In his 1965 rematch with Clay, Liston suffered an unexpected first-round knockout that led to unresolved suspicions of a fix. He was still a world-ranked boxer when he died under mysterious circumstances in 1970. Underworld connections and his unrecorded date of birth added to the enigma.
The Ring magazine ranks Liston as the seventh greatest heavyweight of all time, while boxing writer Herb Goldman ranked him second. In his book, The Gods of War, Springs Toledo argued that Liston, when at his peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s, could be favored to beat just about every heavyweight champion in the modern era with the possible exception of Muhammad Ali.