On May 25, 1965, Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston in their rematch for the heavyweight championship. Bettman/Getty Images

May 25 in sports history: Night of the phantom (punch)

Here's a look back at notable sports news on May 25 through the years:


1965: If there were any doubters before, they were a bit louder after an infamous evening in Lewistown, Maine. Muhammad Ali scored the quickest knockout in the history of the heavyweight crown over Sonny Liston in the rematch for the championship. Or was there even a knockdown?

From moments after the fight to this very day, there have been conspiracy theories about that night. They all point to the conclusion that Liston took a dive due to his alleged mob ties. Ali was believed to have connected with a short right to Liston’s chin, which had the champion stumbling backward on to his back. Seemingly unfazed, Liston laid on the canvas for much longer than the standard 10-count — some say he was down for as long as 20 seconds. Ali himself refused to go to a neutral corner, screaming at the challenger to “get up and fight, sucker!”

Jersey Joe Walcott, a former heavyweight champion-turned-referee, also focused on pushing Ali back despite the timekeeper already ticking down the seconds. When Walcott picked up on the 10-count, Liston was already back on his feet and trading punches with Ali. The champ’s corner was incensed, screaming at Walcott that Liston had already been counted out. (Walcott sort of owned up to his mishap by saying, “When I finally came back to pick up the count, the timekeeper told me he had reached 12.”) Seconds later, it was over, and Ali successfully defended his title for the first time.

Ali — who had changed his name from Cassius Clay to Cassius X to Muhammad Ali between the Liston fights — was not entirely sure how the former champ went down. Liston, who didn’t expect the right hand at all, quipped that he would fight anybody and ruefully claimed, “I could have continued. I just didn’t hear the count.”

Babe’s parting shots

1935: Babe Ruth was back with Boston…but not the Red Sox of his early lore. The Sultan of Swat was finishing his iconic career with the Braves, the National League outfit of Beantown. Perceived to be washed up, Ruth proved to be anything but for at least one more day. Ruth smashed what would be his final three home runs — including one that went over the right field roof at Forbes Field — in a 11-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Charles J. Doyle of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph observed that “Ruth’s batting feat so stirred the crowd of more than 10,000 fans that the spectators regarded the ultimate Pirate victory as a decided anti-climax.” Which was too bad because Tommy Thevenow had a pretty good game for the home team with a triple, double and five RBI.

And for what it’s worth, Ruth made some more history in the Pirates’ house. He was only the second player to hit three homers at Forbes Field (Rogers Hornsby was the first), and his seventh-inning moonshot over the right field roof was the first to ever leave the ballfield.

When legends are made

1935: As Ruth gave baseball fans a final show for the ages in Pittsburgh, Ohio State’s Jesse Owens was doing the same in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The soon-to-be Olympic icon set three world records and tied a fourth in “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport” during the Big Ten meet at the University of Michigan. Owens set then-world records for the long jump (26 feet, 8.25 inches), the 220-yard sprint (20.3 seconds) and the 220-yard low hurdles (22.6 seconds). He also tied the 100-yard dash record in 9.4 seconds.

1941: Ted Williams raised his batting average above .400 for the first time. The Splendid Splinter crossed the threshold with a strong day at the plate in a 10-3 walloping of the New York Yankees. Williams went 4-for-5 with three singles and an RBI double in the seventh, bringing his BA to .404.

1951: After blazing through the minor leagues, Willie Mays made his major league debut for the New York Giants. The Say Hey Kid had an inauspicious showing at the plate, going 0-for-5.

1984: The scuffling Boston Red Sox made a midseason trade that shifted many fortunes, sending disgruntled pitcher Dennis Eckersley to the Chicago Cubs for the sweet-hitting first baseman Bill Buckner and minor leaguer Mike Brumley. Although he was excited to swing the bat in the National League and pitch for a contending team in Chicago, Eck’s injuries would eventually push him into the bullpen, where he would eventually become a dominant, Hall of Fame closer. “My career was to the point that I needed a change,” a relieved Eckersley would say. “It was nice playing for the Red Sox. But it was time for a change.”

In Buckner, the Sox were getting a player who seemed to be building his own case for Cooperstown as both a premier hitter and defender. Yet they also gambled on taking him on because of a slew of injuries in recent years. Buckner was also happy for a new start after years of feuding with managers on the North Side. In his farewell press conference, Buckner would tell reporters, “When I came to the Cubs seven years ago, I thought it would be my last club because physically I wasn’t able to play well. Things have gone better since, and I hope to go on to play a few more years in Boston.”

Side note of sorts: Upon the trade, Boston would begin a youth movement in the rotation by giving Eckersley’s spot to right-hander Roger Clemens.

Several racers won the Indianapolis 500 on this day

1975: Bobby Unser

1980: Johnny Rutherford

1981: Bobby Unser was initially officially disqualified a day after a disputed finish, with Mario Andretti taking victory after protest. Unser was reinstated as the winner four months later.

2003: Gil de Ferran

2008: Scott Dixon

2014: Ryan Hunter-Reay

He told you so

1994: The New Jersey Devils were not going to stop destiny. Mark Messier said so after the New York Rangers lost Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final. The captain of the Blueshirts made his famous “guarantee” after the team found itself down 3-2 in the series, with the words “we will win tonight!” making one of the most iconic back pages in the history of New York Daily News. The four-time champion proceeded to make good on his promise with one of the best individual performances in Stanley Cup playoff history. Messier scored a hat trick and added an assist in a series-tying 4-2 win over the Hudson River rivals.

Rangers fans were praying that Messier, traded to New York two years before in the breakup of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty, would bring that Cup luster to a franchise that had not won it all since 1940. It seemed to take a while, and the brilliance of the defensive-minded Devils almost dashed their hopes.

“At the time I said it, in my mind it was more of a statement for my teammates,” Messier quipped after the game. “I didn’t think about the repercussions until later that night. I figured you got to get your teammates thinking positive.”

And the Rangers certainly rode the wave into Game 7 and beyond.

Happy birthday...

  • Brian Urlacher, a first-round draft pick by Chicago, where he spent his entire 13-year career. The Hall of Famer was the 2000 Rookie of the Year, the 2005 Defensive Player of the Year and an eight-time Pro Bowler. (42)
  • Mario Manningham, former NFL receiver for the New York Giants. Manningham is best remembered for his critical reception from Eli Manning in Super Bowl XLVI that led to the winning drive for the Giants over New England. (34)
  • Shawne Merriman, drafted 12th overall in 2005 by the San Diego Chargers. Merriman was named the 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year and made the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons along with two All-Pro selections. Merriman, who was suspended in 2006 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, became famous for his “Lights Out” sack dance. (36)
  • Aly Raisman, U.S. gymnast and six-time Olympic medalist. Raisman made headlines when she was one of several gymnasts to testify against Larry Nassar in his sex abuse case. (26)
  • Boston Bruins star winger David Pastrnak, who currently is tied for the season lead in goals at 48. The Czech was a first-round draft pick by Boston in 2014. (24)
  • Two–time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Matt Murray, who led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a championship as a rookie in 2016. Still considered a rookie the following season, Murray broke the record at the time for most postseason wins for a rookie. (26)

R.I.P

  • 2011: Paul Splittorff, the winningest pitcher in Kansas City Royals history. Splittorff spent his 15-year career with Kansas City, where he became the team’s first 20-game winner, in 1973. The bespectacled lefty holds the records for the most wins (166) and starts (392) for Kansas City. He died of cancer at 64.
  • 2018: Bill Mallory, college football coach who spent most of his career at the University of Indiana, where he holds the record for most wins. He also coached at Miami University, where he played his college career, as well as Northern Illinois and Colorado. He was 82.

Jason Clinkscales is the editor-in-chief and media analyst for The Sports Fan Journal, senior editor for Yardbarker, and a masochistic New York Knicks fan. Follow Jason on Twitter at @asportsscribe.

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