The Phantom Punch at 50

Interactive guide to our stories, photos, audio and video | Audio: Listen to the radio broadcast from the fight | Video: Can you see the punch? | Interactive timeline of the fighters’ careers | Newspaper coverage & readers’ memories from 1965

According to Couturier’s widow, Monique, that piece might have understated the issue.

“He thought it was ridiculous, because he thought boxing was totally asinine, people punching each other,” she said. “He didn’t have a sense of it. I didn’t either. A lot of people didn’t.”

A wise man who enjoyed the many hats he wore during a decorated career in law and politics, Couturier never let that cat out of the bag.

The youngest mayor in America, 24 when Ali and Liston gave Lewiston a captive, international audience the night of May 25, 1965, Couturier clearly respected and appreciated the history.

Most of all, he loved what it meant to the city that was so close to his heart. That was evident inside a box Monique discovered during the couple’s marriage.

It contained that edition of Sports Illustrated, dated May 17, plus a near-mint version of the fight program, and an orange, ringside ticket, valued at $100 and in flawless condition except for a hole punched to mark it at the turnstiles.

Couturier’s pass was complimentary, of course.

“Somebody must have sent him that (magazine), because he never used to buy that stuff. He held onto it, so I’ve held onto it. He had that all in boxes,” Monique Couturier said. “I came across the ticket and thought that was absolutely fantastic. It says Row 3 but it was really the first row the way it was set it up, I guess.”

Early in his two-year term as leader of the city, Couturier took on mostly a ceremonial role leading up to the fight, welcoming media and other visitors after promoter Sam Michael secured the date. Gov. John Reed formally announced the fight’s switch from Boston to Lewiston, only 18 days before the event.

Couturier is pictured on page 22 of SI, which referred to him as “Child Mayor.”

“It will be great, worth millions in publicity. I could not be happier,” he was quoted, adding, “I like all people who come to Lewiston.”

The writer, John Underwood, also had Couturier on record as saying that you “could not drag him” to the fight itself. It was mentioned that the only other time the mayor attended a boxing match, he got sick and walked out.

Duty and function called, however. The mayor, indeed, attended Ali-Liston with his first wife, Rose, and Robert and Sylvia Langlais, his best friend and his sister-in-law.

“I just talked to Sylvia, and she said she didn’t even see the punch,” Monique said. “I remember someone else who said she was all excited and turned to talk to her friend and missed it. No one saw the punch, apparently. But somebody must have seen something.”

Monique was a senior in high school at the time, keenly aware of the event in town but with no burning desire to see it.

“Naturally I didn’t have much money to go there. My parents said, ‘No, no, you’ve got to go to bed.’ It was a big deal for Lewiston to get that fight,” she said. “I remember how people were talking about it, that it was going to bring a lot of people here.”

Robert Couturier’s first wife passed away in 1995. He was married to Monique when he died June 5, 2011, at age 70.

It had been a full life. After his time as mayor, Couturier, a St. Dom’s and Bates alum, was elected to the Maine Senate, served as Lewiston Police Commissioner, passed the bar and spent three terms as Androscoggin County Judge of Probate.

The latter role led him to many functions around the country. When colleagues heard the name of his hometown, one subject was never far behind.

“You want to know how much publicity? It’s still going on,” Monique said. “We used to go to meetings all over the United States, and everywhere we went, they all talked about (the fight). I was amazed, because I didn’t realize it was such a big deal, but everybody remembered that.”

The sight of Ali on television these days, silenced by Parkinson’s Disease, is a sad one, Monique said.

And her husband is one of several people with a significant connection to the fight who was lost in the years leading up to the golden anniversary. Gov. Reed and Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer, both died in 2012. National anthem singer Robert Goulet passed in 2007.

“When you think about it, it was 50 years ago. A lot of people aren’t there anymore,” Monique said. “Bob and Sylvia were close to his age and are still around, but a lot of them who could afford to go were older people.”

Or just ahead of their time, like her late husband.

“He loved what he did.”

The Phantom Punch at 50: Interactive guide to our stories, photos, audio and video


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