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FBI Spent Year-Plus Investigating Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston Fight

Muhammad Ali in 1966

Muhammad Ali in 1966

By Steve Neavling

Soon after boxing great Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston in a 1965 championship fight, the FBI launched an investigation into rumors that the fight was fixed.

The investigation lasted more than a year and found no evidence to substantiate the allegations, according to newly released documents by the FBI.  

Two days after the fight, the FBI sent an internal memo about dedicating resources to investigate the rumors:

As you know, the Liston-Clay (Muhammad Ali) fight has received wide publicity by all forms of news media. Included in the publicity have been what appear to be unsubstantiated allegations by sports writers and persons long associated with the fight game that this fight was “fixed.”

Since we have received no information or allegations indicating improprieties in connection with this fight, no open investigation is being conducted. It is felt, however, that appropriate confidential informants and sources located in logical offices should be discreetly contacted for information on this matter.

Despite a lack of evidence, J. Edgar Hoover’s office insisted that the investigation continue into one of boxing’s most storied fights. Ali defeated heavyweight champion Liston from what some believed was a “phantom punch” that couldn’t have possibly knocked out Liston.

The FBI chased rumor after rumor until closing the investigation about 13 months after it began.

Ali was the subject of constant FBI scrutiny because of his ties to the Nation of Islam.

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