Headlines of Yore

How racial profiling drove away Philly’s first heavyweight boxing champion

“I’d rather be a lamppost in Denver than the mayor of Philadelphia.”

Sonny Liston holds a china dog from his collection as he sits with his wife Geraldine in their Philadelphia home in October 1962

Sonny Liston holds a china dog from his collection as he sits with his wife Geraldine in their Philadelphia home in October 1962

AP Photo
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Boxing and Philadelphia go hand-in-hand, and not just because of Hollywood.

Joe Frazier is probably the best-known local champ, but over the past half-century the city produced many others. One of the asterisks on the list is Sonny Liston — partly because he only lived in Philly for about five years.

His time in Philadelphia culminated soon after he won the world heavyweight title in 1962, a goal he achieved after growing up in poverty and spending time behind bars. But people in power (reportedly including JFK) were fearful of Liston’s “bad boy” reputation, and he treated with little respect.

Those holding him in a negative light included the “Park Guards,” aka the police force patrolling Fairmount Park, who arrested him more than once.

This thread tells the tale of a champion whom Philadelphia profiled instead of celebrated, leading to his departure for a different city.

Want some more? Explore other Headlines of Yore stories.

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