Could the fight that put Muhammad Ali on the map have been a sham? The FBI had reason to believe that 22-year-old Ali's first bout against heavyweight champ Sonny Liston was rigged, and that the mob may have been involved, according to decades-old documents obtained by the Washington Times under the Freedom of Information Act. The fight, which occurred 50 years ago today, is regarded as a classic. Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, came in as an 8-1 underdog, according to Sports Illustrated's retelling, but he emerged as the youngest heavyweight champion ever, after Liston failed to answer the bell in the seventh round, complaining of a hurt shoulder.
But in memos to J. Edgar Hoover, FBI agents said a Houston gambler had told them that Vegas gambler Ash Resnick had introduced him to Liston, and that on the day of the fight Resnick warned him not to bet on it, saying he'd know why when he saw the fight on TV. Resnick was allegedly friends with Meyer Lansky, among other notorious mob figures. Liston was said to have ties to Lucchese family figures, and rumors have long swirled that his mysterious death years later was a mob hit. The FBI was never able to prove anything, and a Florida post-fight investigation ruled the win legitimate. But in a 1998 book on Ali, one of Liston's corner men said the shoulder injury "was all BS," and that Liston had simply quit. Two things the Times points out: The documents at no time indicate Ali was party to the alleged scheme, and nothing in them "suggests the bureau ever fully corroborated the suspicions."