A long, long time ago – in a City Auditorium that was later better known on the same downtown Houston site as Jones Hall – two strident young college seniors at the University of Houston jogged hastily to the gate at the last minute. Those two young boxing fans and fraternity house roommates – Bob Murphy (accounting) and Bill McCurdy (psychology) – were hustling to get there in time to buy the cheapest five dollar tickets left on sale for a remote telecast of the local fight that was about to start between Sonny Liston of St. Louis (by way of Arkansas) and Roy Harris of Cut and Shoot, Texas. The actual live fight would be going on only a few blocks away at the also-now-defunct Sam Houston Coliseum near City Hall, but those tickets were priced far out of the reach of two broke college boys. Bob and Bill were just hoping for the availability of two remaining SRO ducats for the big fight’s new thing “remote” coverage.
A year earlier, Bob, Bill and a few others from the Phi Kappa Theta frat house had gone to the first local heavyweight “pay-per-view” title fight at Buff Stadium. That incredible knockout of then heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson by Swedish challenger Ingemar Johansson just stirred the boys to try it again. Had they not spent so much debating the value of going at all, they would not have been so late in their arrival for Liston v. Harris. It simply takes longer sometimes for the wiles of compulsion to wear down the reality of limited assets and common sense. And this was one of those times.
Bob and I got into the City Auditorium all right, but the first round already had started. And it looked at first glance at the so-called “big screen” that Roy Harris already had been stopped. Our first sight of Harris found him laying on the canvas with his head and shoulders sticking through the ropes on the left screen side. Then, as we joggled around the standing crowd, looking for a head and elbow-free view, the whole fight unfolded before us in under three minutes. Here’s UPI described it:
“Sonny Liston battered Roy Harris to the canvas three times in the 1st round for an automatic TKO under NBA rules. Liston dumped Harris underneath the ropes for a nine count with a solid left hook, then as Harris got to his feet, shaking his head, Liston decked him for the second time. Once more Harris staggered to his feet after a nine count, and once again Liston landed a vicious left to the chin. Referee Jimmy Webb called it off at 2:35 of the 1st round.” – United Press International
Here’s how the two combatants described their brief, but violent public appearance:
Roy Harris: “It seemed as though he had a foot of reach on me. One time I thought I was half-way across the ring from him and he popped my head back with a jab.” – Roy Harris
Sonny Liston: “I want a shot at the title next, but if I can’t get it, I’ll fight anybody that gets in my way.” – Sonny Liston
On the evening of April 25, 1960, Roy Harris got the message, most concussively, that we would never become the heavyweight champion of the world. Sonny Liston would go on to win and defend the heavyweight crown in 1962 and 1963 with first round knockouts of Floyd Patterson, Liston would then lose his crown in a sixth round KO loss to Muhammad Ali in 1964 and then follow that up with a first round KO loss of hid own to Ali in 1965 to end his last serious challenge as a fighter. Liston would continue to book and win 15 of 16 money fights through 1970, the year of his death.
If you care to see more than Bob Murphy and I had time to watch on that long ago 1960 night, here’s the YouTube coverage link:
In case you’re wondering, some of us UH “poor boy student fans” did get back to see one more of those early PPV telecasts. If memory serves, it was also staged at Buff Stadium and it featured Floyd Patterson putting the wood on Ingemar Johansson and recapturing his crown as the heavyweight champ.
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The Pecan Park Eagle