Greatest Battles: Sonny Liston vs Evander Holyfield

Published on 14 February 2023 at 20:02

Charles L. “Sonny” Liston (c. 1930 – December 30, 1970) was an American professional boxer who competed from 1953 to 1970.  He gained notoriety for butchering Floyd Patterson for the World Heavyweight Championship in one round and repeating the feat in a title defense. He is also the man who Muhammad Ali defeated to win his first of three world championships.

Evander Holyfield (born October 19, 1962) is an American former professional boxer who competed between 1984 and 2011. He reigned as the undisputed champion at cruiserweight in the late 1980s and at heavyweight in the early 1990s, and is the only boxer in history to win the undisputed championship in two weight classes in the three belt era. Nicknamed “the Real Deal”, Holyfield is the only four-time world heavyweight champion, having held the unified WBA, WBC, and IBF titles from 1990 to 1992, the WBA and IBF titles again from 1993 to 1994, the WBA title a third time from 1996 to 1999; the IBF title a third time from 1997 to 1999 and the WBA title for a fourth time from 2000 to 2001. He is the man who knocked out Mike Tyson and had his ear bitten of in a rematch. Effectively, Evander Holyfield banished Mike Tyson from the heavyweight weight elite.

Both Sonny Liston and Evander Holyfield are second sons of their eras eclipsed by a more popular star. Their work was in delivering arduous punishment. Their work did not deliver adulation until the they hung up their gloves. Here, we’re going to offer more than adulation. We’re going to give them identification. This analysis will determine which of these second sons, shunned by the public, did the fight game better.


Tale of the tape

Sonny Liston

Real name Charles L. Liston

Nickname(s) The Big Bear

Weight(s)H Heavyweight 213lbs

Height 6 ft 1 in (185 cm)

Reach 84 in (213 cm)

Stance Orthodox

Boxing record

Total fights 54

Wins 50

Wins by KO 39

Losses 4



Evander Holyfield

Nickname(s) The Real Deal, The Warrior


Light heavyweight


Heavyweight 208 lbs.

Height 6 ft 2.5in (189 cm)

Reach 77.5 in (197 cm)


Stance Boxing record

Total fights 57

Wins 44

Wins by KO  29

Losses 10

Draws 2


Despite being an inch and a half shorter, Sonny Liston has a six and a half reach advantage. He is also 5lbs. heavier.


Best wins of Sonny Liston: Floyd Patterson (twice), Cleveland Williams(twice), Chuck Wepner, Eddie Machen, Zora Folley

Best wins of Evander Holyfield: Mike Tyson (twice), Michael Moorer, Hassim Rahman, Riddick Bowe, George Foreman, Dwight Muhammad Qawi

Evander Holyfield faced a more complete and technical array of fighters having competed across three weight classes and reigning as champion in the 1980’s,90’, and 200’s. Sonny Liston tore through many fighters, however mishandling of his career by dubious management cost him opportunities to fight against truly great names.

Score: Evander Holyfield 1, Sonny Liston 0


Notable losses of Sonny Liston: Much Ali (twice), Leotis Martin

Notable losses of Evander Holyfield : James Toney, Lennox Lewis, John Ruiz, Michael Moorer, Riddick Bowe, Victor Belfort

Sonny Liston was finished twice by Much Ali, the consensus greatest heavyweight of all time. Overall 3 of his 4 losses were by knockout.

Evander Holyfield was knocked out twice. Riddick Bowe and James Toney were able to stop Holyfield..However, fair is fair and Victor Belfort, an MMA champion did knock Evander Holyfield out in a boxing match. That’s 3 out 11 losses coming by way of knockout. Yes Evander is more likely to go the distance in a loss. But,  seeing as how they have such a close number of fights and Evander loses three times as much, I have to give the edge to Liston. I also have to weigh that half of Liston’s losses came against Muhammad Ali.

Score: Evander Holyfield 1, Sonny Liston 1


Power: Of Sonny Liston's 50 wins, 39 came via knockout. That’s good for 78%

Of Evander Holyfield’s 44 wins, 29 came inside the distance. That clocks in at a 66% rate. Also, Liston’s hit list is all heavyweight. Evander Holyfield’s streak comes across heavyweight and two lower weight classes.

Score: Sonny Liston 2, Evander Holyfield 1


Durability: In viewing losses, Sonny Liston has been stopped in 3 out of 4 losses. That’s 75%. If you count the Belfort fight, Evander Holyfield has lost 3 of 11 by knockout. That’s only 27%.

Score Sonny Liston 2, Evander Holyfield 2


Speed: Sonny Liston was not fleet footed. His style involved forcing opponents to the ropes or corner by blasting them with powerful jabs and then landing right hands on trapped opponents. Option b was to just land the jab and right hand. This worked well against Cleveland Williams and Floyd Patterson twice a piece.

Evander Holyfield was a fluid rolling moving who threw fast combinations on the inside. He depended on head movement and quick angle changes to deliver powerful hooks. His demolition of Mike Tyson and win of Dwight Muhammad Qawi are evidence of this.

Score: Evander Holyfield 3, Sonny Liston 2


Career Accolades: Sonny Liston was a one time heavyweight champion. Evander Holyfield is four time heavyweight champion, the only such. He is also the first fighter to hold a title in three decades.


Score: Evander Holyfield 4, Sonny Liston 2


Defense: Offense was defense for Sonny Liston. His goal was to hit until you couldn’t hit back. Liston’s method blocking incoming offense was to smother opponents in close and employ a high guard at range.

Evander Holyfield utilized a more complex defense. In addition to well places headbutts, Evander Holyfield could roll with punches, slip, block, clinch, and move. He would cut angles to avoid danger..


Final score: Evander Holyfield 5, Sonny Liston 2


This was a far more convincing win for Evander Holyfield than I had predicted, par the course for Holyfield. Both Evander Holyfield and Sonny Liston are remembered as the second most remembered name, or the other half of a famous fight.  Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson were side A's. The difference here is that Holyfield beat the big name while Liston could not. It only makes sense that here Holyfield finally gets just due and reverence as the favorite.






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