Muhammad Ali’s defeat of Sonny Liston in 1964 stunned everyone and catapulted the young Cassius Clay, who that night proclaimed himself as “The King of the World,” to the top of the boxing world.
But Liston’s decision to quit before the 8th round not only shocked the fans, but also the FBI.
The Washington Times published recently released documents that show the FBI suspected that the fight may have been rigged by the mob and launched an investigation to see if they influenced the outcome.
The most tantalizing evidence is contained in an FBI memo dated May 24, 1966, that details an interview with a Houston gambler named Barnett Magids, who described to agents his discussions with Resnick before the first Clay-Liston fight.
“On one occasion, Resnick introduced Magids to Sonny Liston at the Thunderbird, [one of the Las Vegas hotels organized crime controlled],” the memo states. “About a week before the Liston and Clay fight in Miami, Resnick called and invited Magids and his wife for two weeks in Florida on Resnick. Magids‘ wife was not interested in going, but Magids decided to go along, and Resnick was going to send him a ticket.
“Two or three days before the fight, Magids called Resnick at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami to say he could not come,” the memo states. “On this call, he asked Resnick who he liked in the fight, and Resnick said that Liston would knock Clay out in the second round. Resnick suggested he wait until just before the fight to place any bets because the odds may come down.
“At about noon on the day of the fight, [Magids] reached Resnick again by phone, and at this time, Resnick said for him to not make any bets, but just go watch the fight on pay TV and he would know why and that he could not talk further at that time.
“Magids did go see the fight on TV and immediately realized that Resnick knew that Liston was going to lose,” the document states. “A week later, there was an article in Sports Illustrated writing up Resnick as a big loser because of his backing of Liston. Later people ‘in the know’ in Las Vegas told Magids that Resnick and Liston both reportedly made over $1 million betting against Liston on the fight and that the magazine article was a cover for this.”
The FBI’s investigation found no definitive proof that the fight was rigged and showed no evidence that Ali knew anything about Liston’s relationship with the mob.