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

On the night of Liston’s heavyweight title rematch against Muhammad Ali at Saint Dominic’s Arena, Mattor sat in the second row. And for two weeks, Mattor was in seventh heaven.

Fifty years later, Mattor, a fit, trim 86, can rattle off the numbers and other pertinent details as if they happened yesterday.

Then a self-employed coin dealer from Mechanic Falls, Mattor had worked part-time at Poland Spring since 1943. When Liston’s large delegation rolled into town on short notice for the now-infamous May 1965 fight, Mattor was anointed as their liaison, their go-fer, their Mr. Everything.

“When they would have an overflow at the big house, like a convention, they would send them down to the mansion house,” Mattor said. “So they called me up. I’d have to be the doorman, desk clerk and bellhop.”

One of Liston’s first nights in town, Mattor was summoned to his suite to place a piece of plywood under the mattress. The bed, Mattor recalled, was more than 50 years old, and not quite to the challenger’s liking.


Indeed, no job was too small.

“There were rumors that he was drinking,” Mattor said. “He was: Club soda. I would buy it for him.”

Mattor said that Liston would run in the morning and hold his training camp in the dining room of the Mansion House in the afternoon.

It was open to the public for a nominal fee. Visitors received an eyeful of champions. Floyd Patterson, Jose Torres, George Chuvalo, Jim Braddock, Joe Walcott and Joe Louis were among the regular dignitaries. Patterson and Torres were “gentlemen,” Mattor said, who greeted him warmly each day.

Even the gruff, no-nonsense Liston flaunted a much different sense of humor to those within his circle.

“He treated me like a king,” Mattor said. “He was always messing with me. One night I kind of dozed off, and Liston put a firecracker under my chair. The manager came running out and thought somebody had shot Liston. He gave Liston the devil.”


Liston blew up his sparring partners with ease early in the camp, Mattor said, but seemed to tire in the week leading up to the fight.

There were no indications that a first-round knockout or any of the ensuing controversy were imminent, however. Mattor watched a Portland physician examine the 6-foot-1, 212-pound man with the freakish 84-inch reach at his prefight physical.

A passer-by asked how Liston looked. “He’s the finest specimen I’ve ever examined,” the doctor replied.

Mattor was dressed for his usual duties on Tuesday afternoon, May 25, when Liston furnished him a ringside ticket from his shirt pocket. Face value: $100.

The seat placed Mattor directly behind Ring Magazine editor Nat Fleischer, whose input led to the fight being ruled a knockout after the confusing finish.

“Liston was famous for left hooks. He threw a left hook and missed, and he kind of lunged forward a little,” Mattor said. “When he did, (Ali) nailed him right on the temple. He went down, but he wasn’t out.”


Mattor believes the ending was a poor decision, not a “phantom punch” or a fixed outcome. He was the first to meet Liston’s wife, Geraldine, back at the inn after she chose not to attend the fight. Mrs. Liston could read the outcome from his eyes, Mattor said. “I hope this fighting business is over with,” she lamented.

There was a subdued buffet dinner at the midnight hour. Again, the array of champions attended, along with maligned anthem singer Robert Goulet.

Liston departed the next morning, but not before presenting Mattor with a $100 tip.

“If you’ve ever seen that stare, he could put the fear of God into you,” Mattor said. “I thought he was a great guy. I watched his interact with everybody else. He wasn’t educated, but he wasn’t a fool. To people that were in his group, he was as nice a guy as I’ve ever met.”

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

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