I’m midway through David Remnick’s biography of Muhammad Ali, which is pretty much as stellar as you would expect. Yet there are times when I wish the narrative would instead focus on the tragic figure of Sonny Liston—what can I say, I’m attracted to characters who will never be universally adored, and who perhaps take some modicum of pleasure in that fact. The snippets of Liston backstory that the book provides motivated me to delve more deeply into the man’s bittersweet arc. The most enjoyable contemporary story I’ve uncovered so far is this one, from a 1962 issue of Life. It’s hackneyed, for sure, especially in its structure; like every other account of Liston’s rise from convict to contender, it uses purplish prose to explore his moral fitness to wear the heavyweight crown. But the piece also contains plenty of gems based on interviews with the famously tight-lipped Liston; my favorite concerns the man’s pre-fight nutritional regimen:
When in hard training for a fight he eats only once a day. “When you get in the gym and start jumping the food hits the top of your stomach and sticks there,” he explains. His one meal never varies—steak eaten nearly raw. When he goes to camp he brings along 50 or 60 steaks packed in dry ice. “That’s why they have training camps,” he explains. “They take away women and feed you raw meat and this puts you in a fighting mood. It makes you angry and brings up the evil inside of you, so that when the man in your corner says, ‘Go in and kill ‘em,’ you do.”
For some reason, the one Liston bio written during his heyday is out-of-print and ludicrously expensive. If anyone has a copy they can loan out, I’ll send you a signed copy of Now the Hell Will Start.