Former Lewiston Evening Journal Sports Editor Fred Gage worked for WLAM radio in 1965, and called the fight for the local AM station. These are his recollections of the fight and circumstances surrounding the events, as told to current Sports Editor Justin Pelletier in 2005.

“The event itself was kind of a disaster, but the two weeks leading up to it was probably the most amazing two weeks of my life.”

The second fight between two iconic heavyweights again ended in controversy, as Ali leveled Liston with what has become known as the ‘Phantom Punch.’

Former Lewiston Evening Journal Sports Editor Fred Gage called the fight for WLAM and describes how the controversy lasted longer than the fight.

“There were rumors all around that something was going to happen. (Joseph) Farrand was the police chief at the time, and he brought in a lot of extra guys and the state police had extra patrol here. I never got the impression that they were that worried about it. The thing why they heaved it out of Boston, the Attorney General, he didn’t like the whole setup. I think he was very suspicious of Liston’s background, I guess. What a character he was. It was like talking to a wall. Ali was just the opposite, gabbing all the time. Sonny Liston was sullen.

“I was absolutely amazed that anyone could knock that man down. Liston was a tremendous physical specimen. The trainer, he’d have Liston stand there, and he’d just stand there with his hands on his hips while the trainer would take that huge medicine ball and just heave that thing, heave it at him between 10 and 20 times. I wasn’t a squirt, but if he had done that to me he would have knocked me about 20 feet backwards. Liston, you just couldn’t knock him down.

“That was a very, very disappointing performance. That little flick, a phantom punch. Bah! They got us together the next day, all of the reporters, or a couple of days later, at Steckino’s. They showed us the video over and over in super-slow motion. I mean over and over. I still didn’t see any phantom punch. Liston actually got back up and they had started to scrap with each other again. There was no way he was knocked out. Good God, you would have had to hit him over the head with a sledgehammer. He was a rugged individual.

“It was a farce. (Referee Joe Walcott) was trying to get Clay to go over to a neutral corner, and Clay’s standing up over him yak, yak, yak. In trying to get him to the corner, Jersey Joe doesn’t know when he’s supposed to start counting. In the meanwhile, the guy on the bell’s already been counting. He must have been up to 25 or something by that point. It was really a farce. Very disappointing.

“There was a lot of buzzing for two or three days after the fight. There was a lot of people saying, ‘If that was the world heavyweight championship fight, I never want to see one of those again.

“Governor Reed had invited all of the other New England governors to be his guests, right there at ringside. Reed said himself, ‘I didn’t see any punch.’ And they were right up close. They were pretty disgusted.

“There was some reaction after this, in the two or three days later. Emil Jacques, a former mayor of Lewiston, he was in the Senate at the time, and he introduced a thing in the state Senate, he wanted an investigation into it. Someone in Congress then introduces a resolution, they wanted a study of boxing as a whole.

“This comes up every year. They’re always investigating something. There was that sort of reaction, but otherwise, as far as the city went, it went right back into its normal routine.”


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