By Jim Amato

The great city of Philadelphia has produced several fine champions and contenders over the years. One boxer from Philly aspired to be the heavyweight champion of the world. He fell short of his goal as an eye injury ended his career. He sure went out with a bang though. His name was Leotis Martin and he was a ranked contender throughout most of the late 1960′s.

Leotis was born March 10,1939. He had a stellar amateur career and turned professional in 1962. Martin won his first nine bouts but in 1963 he was halted by Floyd McCoy. Leotis bounced right back to win fifteen straight contests that took him into 1967. Martin defeated Dave Bailey, Don Warner, Sonny Banks, Von Clay, Amos Johnson, Roberto Davila and Billy Daniels. The bout with Banks on May 10,1965 in Philadelphia ended tragically as Sonny died due to injuries sustained in the fight. Banks had been the first boxer in the pro ranks to put Cassius Clay on the seat of his pants.

In 1967 Muhammad Ali stripped of the heavyweight title for refusing to go into the United States Army. The World Boxing Association then held an eight man elimination tournament to find Ali’s successor. Martin was one of the eight contestants. On August 5,1967 at the Houston Astrodome Martin met former amateur foe Jimmy Ellis. In the very first round Ellis rocked Martin with a booming right hand. Leotis made it through the round but on this day Ellis just seemed a little bit sharper then Leotis. The fight was stopped in the ninth round as Martin was badly cut inside his mouth. Ellis would go on to decision Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry to win the tournament.

In his very next bout Martin was upset by Roger Russell. Leotis rebounded to take out Karl Mildenberger in seven. Martin then lost a decision to a talented upstart named Henry Clark. Martin got back on the winning track stopping Thad Spencer in London, England. Reports say this bout was a real donnybrook. Spencer had also participated in the Eight Man Tourney. Thad upset former World Boxing Association titleholder Ernie Terrell in his first tournament bout. In his next one Spencer was halted in the final round by Jerry Quarry. The bout in London between Martin and Spencer was a true crossroads contest for both men.

Martin would next travel to Argentina where he dropped a decision to rugged Oscar Bonavena. Leotis would then score two victories over the highly regarded prospect Alvin “Blue” Lewis. Martin then knocked out Wendell Newton and beat Roger Russell in a rematch. At this time the comeback of former world champion Sonny Liston was kicking into high gear. Sonny had been impressive taking apart Henry Clark. He was back in the rankings and looking for a title shot. On December 6,1969 Leotis and Sonny would meet in Las Vegas. At stake would be the newly created North American Boxing Federation heavyweight title. The bout was scheduled for twelve rounds. It was a slow paced fight that Sonny controlled through the first five rounds. He even decked Leotis in the fourth round. By the sixth round though there was a subtle change as Leotis began to come on. He was actually starting to out jab Liston. By the eighth round Sonny still had the lead but he was beginning to tire. A cut under his nose was bleeding freely and the blood flowed into his mouth impairing his breathing. Then in the ninth lightning struck. Sonny was using his jab trying to keep Martin off of him. Leotis threw a perfectly timed right over the jab that froze Sonny when it landed. A follow up left hook sent Liston face first to the canvas. Sonny was out cold. Leotis Martin had just knocked out Charles “Sonny” Liston.

Finally Leotis Martin appeared to be on the threshold of a world title fight. It seems like one thing Leotis didn’t have was luck. During the Liston bout Martin suffered a detached retina. Today surgery could have corrected that problem. In 1969 there was not much that could be done. Leotis had to retire. In his career he was 31-5 with 19 knockouts. Martin passed away on November 20,1995. Leotis will always be remembered as the man who bombed out Sonny !

Jim Amato

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