The Fight You Didn’t See


Title: The Fight You Didn’t See

Photographer: Neil Leifer

Location: Lewiston, Maine at the Central Maine Youth Center

Date: 1965

Format: Magazine Cover

Currently resides in the Sports Illustrated Vault



This picture graced the cover over Sports Illustrated on June 7, 1965 after one of the most infamous punches in boxing history. The photo depicts the Heavyweight Boxing Championship between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. The title of the photograph, “The Fight You Didn’t See” is a play on words of what became known as the “Phantom Punch”. This fight took place during a time of racial turmoil, and during a time period where Muslim faith was rising around the black community.  Many believe that Ali never really delivered this knock out punch to Liston, and that Liston actually went down because he was threatened by followers of Malcom X and the Nation of Islam.

The picture chosen to grace the cover captures the uncertainty and controversy that surrounds the infamous “Phantom Punch”, for the picture never shows Ali landing the punch. The angling of the photograph allows the photographer to leave a lot of questions up in the air. To start, Liston’s glove is directly in front of Ali’s glove, making it impossible to see if Ali’s glove is making contact with Liston. Also, it appears that Liston already has his eyes closed and appears to be leaning away from the punch, rather than falling down, which alludes to the fact that Liston could have gone down on is own. Equally important to note, is that Ali’s punch, based on the camera angle, appears to be directly in between Liston’s glove and his face, making it appear that Ali did not land his knockout blow.




3 thoughts on “The Fight You Didn’t See”

  1. I could not find anything specific about the interpretation of this photograph from that time period. However, based on what I found about the public’s opinion of the fight, and more specifically the punch, there are a few inferences and conclusions that one could make. After the fight there was major controversy surrounding the punch, and the vast majority of the public believed that Liston actually went down on his own and that the fight was fixed. Ali, Liston, and many of the people surrounding the fight immediately denied these accusations. With this in mind, I believe that at this time, many people read this photograph with heavy bias for the “phantom” aspect of the punch. I believe that the photographer knew of this bias and chose this photo for a specific reason due to the fact that it left a lot up in the air. As a result of the bias associated with this photo and the questionable nature of the photo, I believe that during this time period people only saw what they wanted to see in this photo. Consequently, I believe that many people failed to look deeper into the photo.

  2. I think this is a really controversial photo as well. Ali’s glove has past Liston’s face, but Liston’s head is still turned in the opposite direction it would be if he had been hit. I wonder how he felt threatened by the muslim community, and how the muslim community would have reacted to an accusing controversy like this.

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